In paragraph 3 of "Shooting an Elephant" why does George Orwell say that the tiny incident with the elephant was "enlightening"?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For George Orwell, the incident encapsulated much of his experience of how British colonialism affects both the colonizers and the colonized. The first thing he emphasizes is that even though he was an ignorant and untrained young man, brought up on Greek and Latin classics rather than expert in policing, his mere position as a colonial policeman gave him a completely unjustified air of authority and competence.

One of the key elements in the essay is his reaction to the way people turned to him for help, and the way the situation of colonial power nearly infantilized the natives, giving them a sort of learned helplessness; as the locals in the market were far more familiar with elephants that Orwell, why did they not deal with it?

Conversely, this imputed authority and omniscience turned the British into bullies. For him, the incident revealed the way in which colonial power and way it created expectations of how people would act created a system harmful to both natives and British, and this incident was one which crystallized that dynamic for Orwell on a personal experiential level.