What is the narrator’s attitude toward his own position in relation to imperialism in 'Shooting an Elephant'?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator's atittude towards his own position regarding imperialism is one of cool understanding. He is narrating events in retrospect, looking back to his younger days when he was a colonial officer in Burma (as such, the story has strong autobiographical overtones). With the passing of time he is better able to comprehend his position in those earlier days as a confused young man experiencing ill-directed feelings of frustration and anger.

I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East.

The narrator, therefore, can now candidly admit his real helplessness and isolation of that period, not to mention his hatred of both the colonisers and the colonised. He casts a somewhat dispassionate, ironic eye over the picture of his younger, tormented self who battled to make some headway and to retain a shred of respect among the hostile native peoples while at the same time struggling to contain his fury at his own imperialistic government. As an (albeit unwilling) agent of imperialism, he does not appear in a flattering light. Nor is the least attempt made to sentimentalise the colonised people. Quite the opposite: the 'natives' appear as a sneering, unpleasant bunch who take the greatest delight in making things as uncomfortable for their self-imposed overlords as they possibly can.

In fact, in the end, we might say that the character that comes off best in this work is the elephant, who appears infinitely more dignified than any of the humans. In a world that appears generally petty, mean-spirited and downright spiteful, only the elephant's death strikes any real note of pathos.