In "Shooting an Elephant," why did George Orwell feel that he "would have to shoot the elephant after all"?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Orwell discovers through this scenario the intense irony of imperial power. As he puts it, by turning tyrant, the white man destroys only "his own freedom." When he approaches the elephant, Orwell is determined not to shoot it. What makes him realise that he will have to shoot it is the crowd that has gathered to watch the show and who expect the elephant to be killed:

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road fro a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes--faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was giong to be shot.

Orwell realises at this moment, as he sees these expectant faces looking at him as if he were "a conjuror about to do a trick," that if he did not kill the elephant, he would look ridiculous, which is what the whole imperial endeavour tried to avoid at all times. He feels the "two thousand wills" of the people watching "pressing him forward," urging him to kill the elephant. As such the slaughter of the elephant becomes an eloquent symbol of the futility of the colonial endeavour.

Read the study guide:
Shooting an Elephant

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question