In the essay "Shooting an Elephant," what is the irony the author George Orwell poses?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One point of irony George Orwell portrays in his short story "Shooting an Elephant" concerns the fact that he, a British sub-divisional police officer, felt pushed by the Burmese natives to do their will. As a result of feeling pushed, he also realizes the irony that when the British Empire colonizes the East, the Empire is actually just destroying its own freedom.

During the story, once Orwell realizes the tamed elephant gone made has killed a man, he asks for someone to bring him an elephant gun, but he actually has neither any intention nor desire to shoot the elephant. However, once he has the elephant gun in his hands, he senses that the gathering Burmese crowd wants him to shoot it, and shooting it would be a "bit of fun" for the crowd.

As the crowd follows him into the rice paddy, he feels more and more pressured by the crowd. The more he feels pressured, the more he realizes he "was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind," which is ironic since the white man as the colonizer is supposed to have full control over those he has colonized. He further expresses the irony of colonization in his statement, "I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys," not just the freedom of those he colonizes.

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