Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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In "Shooting an Elephant," what is Orwell's message about political power and the nature of abusive governments?  

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Orwell's point is that abusive governments, such as the British imperial government in Burma, hurt everybody—even those on top.

Orwell's narrator describes a situation in which the Burmese are deeply resentful of the British presence in their country and the British are resentful of the Burmese. As the shooting of the elephant illustrates, imperialism encourages (and even demands) that those on the top do senseless and cruel things merely because it is expected. Shooting the elephant makes no sense, but Orwell's speaker does it anyway because he fears he will look weak if he does not make a show of force in front of the Burmese.

He tells this story, he says, because:

it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism — the real motives for which despotic governments act.

Such governments, Orwell implies, become abusive because they make staying in power and appearing powerful more important than serving the real needs of the people.

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