In "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, why was the writer willing to shoot the elephant, and why did he finally shoot it?

Expert Answers
sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the last paragraph of the essay, the narrator states very clearly why he felt compelled to kill the elephant and in doing so exposes the heart of imperialism:

"Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool."

The essay is provided on various internet sites, and below I provide one.

merehughes eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is not so much that the writer was willing to shoot the elephant but rather, he felt as if he must shoot the elephant.  He was surrounded by the native people and he was a representative of the British colonial government; therefore he felt as if he had no other alternative but to shoot the elephant.  He also does not want to appear weak or cowardly so he shoots the elephant even though he does not really want to.  

This story (or essay) highlights the conflicts both sides in a colonial situation have.  For both sides, it is morally debasing and the writer's shooting the elephant exemplifies this situation.

cmcqueeney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The author shoots the elephant because he feels he must maintain his authority position, but he also does it from a very human position of peer pressure.  He feels the two thousand wills pressing against him, and he just cannot go against them.  The story presents a struggle that most people deal with at one time or another in their lives.

user7962859 | Student
  • He is created by Russell to be a friendly, excitable boy in Act One. He likes to play adventure games with others and sneak off to pull pranks.

  • He looks up to his older brother Sammy and often feels like a cast-off in comparison to him. He feels the need to impress Sammy and finds it hard to say no to him. Later in the play this will influence him into helping in Sammy’s crime.

  • He is very shy about his emotions and takes years to ask Linda out even on a date. He finds it hard to tell Linda that he loves her. He tries to prove himself to her through working hard but becomes even more withdrawn after becoming unemployed.

  • He is energetic, bright and witty, but not very well educated. He does not show interest in his schooling and gets suspended for ridiculing his teacher. He is more interested in getting a job.

  • He likes Edward’s generosity and, in turn, enjoys being able to show him new things. Edward gives Mickey a chance to shine and be a leader and escape the oppression he feels from his brother, school and general poverty.

user7962859 | Student

no point


Read the study guide:
Shooting an Elephant

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question