In the story "Shooting an Elephant," what does the narrator symbolize?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We are never completely certain of the extent to which the story "Shooting an Elephant" is autobiographical. Orwell was actually an imperial policeman in Burma, and he uses the first person and an autobiographical tone throughout. So the narrator, in some sense, at least, is Orwell himself. Beyond that, the narrator represents the corrupting effects of British imperialism on the colonizers themselves, as well as the colonized. The narrator is placed in a situation where he is forced, as he sees it, by his relationship with the Burmese people to shoot the elephant, which he does not want to do. But they expect him to, and he does it to avoid, in his words, "looking a fool." He feels insecure and hated (he discusses this at length in the beginning of the story) and the only way he can avoid looking foolish is by living up to their expectations of him. Imperialism is, at the end of the day, a violent enterprise, and the narrator, insecure in his power in the face of a mob, must satisfy them by behaving violently and against his wishes. 

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