With respect to George Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant," how would one answer the following questions: Explore Orwell’s use of the lines of argument. Where does he use arguments from...

With respect to George Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant," how would one answer the following questions:

Explore Orwell’s use of the lines of argument. Where does he use arguments from the heart, from character, from values, from facts and reason? Which uses seem the most effective? Which seem less effective? Why?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In George Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant," the narrator Orwell has been called to look into a situation in which a domesticated elephant has escaped its chains and has been seen "ravaging the bazaar." As Orwell examines the situation, he senses that the Burmese crowd that has gathered wants him to shoot the elephant. Though the elephant has attacked and killed a man, Orwell doesn't want to shoot the elephant, so as the story progresses, the narrator goes through a series of arguments for as to why he should and should not shoot the elephant. It's these arguments your reading-response question is asking you to analyze.

His first rationalization against shooting the elephant is that shooting a "working elephant" is the equivalent of "destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery," which should certainly be avoided if possible. Since he equates the elephant with how much money it is worth, we can call this first argument an "argument from values" as well as from facts and reason. His second argument against shooting the elephant is that the elephant is now calm and peaceful and would "wander peacefully about" unit it was recaptured. This is most definitely a very rational argument, so we can call it an argument from reason.

Later, he even says he doesn't want to shoot the elephant because it has a "grandmotherly air" and it would seem to him to be "murder," especially since in his mind killing large animals is worse than killing small ones. These arguments are certainly less rational than the others; they are stemming from his emotions. Plus, the elephant doesn't literally resemble a grandmother, so we know the narrator's association of an elephant with a grandmother also stems from an emotional response to the elephant. We can call these arguments "from the heart."

From there, you can keep picking out both the reasons why he feels he must shoot the elephant and why he doesn't want to and determining what types of rationalizations these are. Also, considering his decision at the end of the story, you can also see which arguments had the most bearing on his decision and which did not.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell uses a number of arguments to justify his desire to not shoot the elephant. Firstly, speaking from the heart, Orwell says that he had never wanted to shoot such a big animal because it is "considered worse" than killing something smaller. 

Secondly, speaking from character, Orwell talks about being forced to shoot the elephant because he does not want to lose face in front of the local population. He notices, for example, how he can feel the force of their "two thousand wills" pressing him toward the animal. Moreover, he knows that they expect him to kill the animal because imperialism demands it: he is an officer of the British Empire and must act accordingly. 

Finally, from fact and reason, Orwell notes that he does not have the correct equipment to kill the elephant. Armed with only an "old .44 Winchester," he knows that this is not strong enough to kill the elephant with one bullet. 

Arguably, it is Orwell's character arguments which makes the most effective case, as we see in the lines preceding him shooting the elephant:

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. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do. 

Orwell, therefore, shoots the elephant because he must save face, no matter what the cost to his heart or his principles.