In "Shooting an Elephant," what are at least three arguments that support George Orwell's justification for killing the animal?

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The entire purpose of the essay is that there was no real and sturdy justification for Orwell, or whomever the essay concerns, be they real or fictitious, for shooting the elephant. The murder of the elephant was, in Orwell's own words, every bit as meaningless as the imperial presence of the white man in the East.

However, while the existential reason for killing the beast remains vacuous, there were several immediate reasons that helped the speaker rationalize killing the animal.

  1. The elephant had already killed a man. The beast was undergoing an attack of "must," a term which refers to a huge surge of testosterone that causes large animals to attack and rampage indiscriminately, typically while they are being contained too restrictively. The speaker describes the body of the victim in gruesome detail, and after seeing his mangled form, it is not hard to imagine why it would be prudent to put the elephant down.
  2. He had already sent for an elephant rifle. Orwell originally simply requested the weapon for his own protection, but soon realizes that by asking for it, he had given the natives some thin assurance that he was going to kill the elephant. The natives were evidently excited not only for the "sport" of seeing the beast die, but for the huge amount of meat that they could harvest from its corpse.
  3. He did not want to disappoint his audience. Despite his best efforts to convince himself otherwise, the speaker cannot deny that his real reason for shooting the elephant was to maintain appearances. The speaker is tired of being a joke in the eyes of the natives, and wants to, for once, give them what they want as a symbol of authority. Ironically, he finds, they are the ones that control him. It is in this moment that the speaker is overwhelmed by the futility of imperialism.
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At the pivotal moment just before he kills the elephant, Orwell doesn't want to do it. He sees it standing peacefully, posing no threat to anyone in that moment. Orwell also realizes that a working elephant is worth a lot of money, and the owner isn't nearby. He contemplates the impending shooting with these principles:

And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him.

Nevertheless, he does shoot the elephant. These are several reasons why:

1. The elephant has killed a man. Witnesses testify that the elephant grabbed the man with its trunk while it stepped on his back and "ground him into the earth." The elephant thus poses a potential threat to other people.

2. As a representative of Britain, Orwell cannot appear cowardly in front of thousands of Burmese people. He knows that they hate him already. The entire crowd wants the "terrorizing" elephant shot, and Orwell is the only one standing among the crowd with a gun. To refuse would be to risk his own safety:

A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill.

He believes on some level that either he or the elephant (or both) must die, and shooting the elephant satisfies the locals and spares him further persecution.

3. It's simply the law of the land. Local law states that a "mad elephant" must be killed if the owner cannot control it, and since the owner could not be located or reached, the responsibility has fallen to Orwell to carry out the law.

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The incident of the rogue elephant that has destroyed a bazaar and killed a man causes Orwell an undesired involvement as he is summoned to do something about the situation. This incident proves enlightening to Orwell as it presents him with

...the real nature of imperialism--the real motives for which despotic governments act.

Despite his distaste for his involvement in this situation, Orwell finds that as a representative of British imperialism he must act by doing certain things.

1. He must display his authority:

A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives."

Orwell knows that he must not hesitate to act.

2. Orwell must not put himself in a position in which he can be mocked.

He must shoot the elephant because if he waits to see how the elephant acts when he approaches, he could be trampled and "it was quite probable that some of them would laugh."

3. Orwell must act according to the law. Orwell states that he has done the right thing legally, at least:

...a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it.

Personally, Orwell is relieved that the coolie has been killed because his death provides him with "sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant."

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