In Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant," a British police officer stationed in Lower Burma succumbs to peer pressure from the native people and shoots a harmless elephant against his will. Moments before firing his rifle, the British officer experiences an epiphany and recognizes the futility of colonial oppression. Orwell writes,
For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant.
The mask the British officer wears refers to his reputation as a resolute, callous master who is unsympathetic and always in control of every situation. As an agent of the colonial regime, the British officer recognizes that he must always maintain a certain disposition, even if it means acting against his will in order to uphold his expected standard. For example, the British officer understands that the elephant is no longer a threat and that he should simply wait for its mahout to return. However, he also knows that he must behave a certain way in front of the native people, who expect him to kill the beast.
The mask creates an internal conflict in the officer, who wrestles with his conscience and struggles to live up to the expectations of what his job demands. When the officer wears the symbolic mask, he behaves like a callous enforcer and his character will eventually change, transforming him into a new man. By continuing to perform and act like a resolute oppressor, the British officer will become the person he pretends to be on an everyday basis.