Do you think that in "Shooting an Elephant" Orwell believes that humans are inherently ethical?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In essence, Orwell 's message in "Shooting in Elephant" is that people are inherently ethical but that imperialism forces them to act unethically. This is shown by Orwell's feelings as he prepares to shoot the elephant. He does not want to kill the animal, for instance, but realises that he...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In essence, Orwell's message in "Shooting in Elephant" is that people are inherently ethical but that imperialism forces them to act unethically. This is shown by Orwell's feelings as he prepares to shoot the elephant. He does not want to kill the animal, for instance, but realises that he has to do it because it is expected of him:

For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him.

In this understanding, imperialism functions like a "mask" which dictates how a person ought to behave:

He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.

This same principle applies to the Burmese population: while Orwell's relationship with the natives is one of mutual hatred, he realises that they too are victims of this imperial mindset. We see this through Orwell's depiction of the Burmese prisoners, who are horribly mistreated by the English, causing Orwell to feel an "intolerable sense of guilt." He realizes, then, that they are simply the victims of oppression and not unethical by nature. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team