The subject and purpose of the essay "shooting an elephant" By Gorge Orwell

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this essay, the narrator is a colonial officer in Burma. He discusses the tense relationship between the British overlords who run the country and the native Burmese. The two groups hate each other. The narrator himself both loathes the brutality of the British and understands it.

A pivotal moment comes when the narrator is called to take care of a rampaging elephant. The natives call on the narrator for protection because they are not allowed to have guns. The narrator arrives on the scene and realizes that the elephant is no longer a threat. Nevertheless, because so many Burmese are watching, the narrator feels compelled to shoot the animal. It is senseless, unnecessary and cruel to do so, but the narrator feels he must save face. The animal suffers and dies slowly.

The incident crystallizes in the narrator's mind the systemic evil of colonialism. Colonialism  locks everyone into a system of brutality that in the end serves nobody. 


kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The subject of the story was in fact a young George Orwell, servant of the British Crown in India.  He was  working for the government and was called out to deal with an elephant that had broken away from its master and was rampaging through the town.  The story follows his journey through the town to find the elephant and his difficulties in actually killing it and focuses in particular on his disgust for the task itself and his role there among the indigenous population.

The story is considered a metaphor for the role of the British in India, something that Orwell felt was deeply troubling, and his self-loathing attitude in the story reflects his attitude towards the British colonial power.  So the purpose of the essay, according to many, is to demonstrate the conflicts inherent in such an occupation and their effect on Indians and British alike.

kc4u | Student

It is a narrative essay about the act of shooting an elephant in a place called Moulmein in Burma. The narrator, a fictional alter-self of Orwell is a police officer there. Despite the fact that he has a lot of sympathy for the native people at the heart of his hearts, he is poked by them simply because he is of a European origin.

When a mad elephant destroys things all around the place and the narrator is reported about its exploits, he goes out to kill it with his elephant rifle. This creates quite a breathtaking spectacle for the native people over there and even though he does not really kill the elephant, he has to kill it, in the end, simply because of the burden of expectation, set on him by the native onlookers.

The essay approaches the irony of power and shows how the victor is also subjected to the constructing gaze of the victim. The narrator is in a peculiar position in relation to the workings of colonial power and that his mastery also depends on the acknowledgement of it from the ruled is the ironic impetus for the supposedly heroic action. The heroic myth of colonial power has to be sustained and so it has to be displayed through the shooting of the elephant and it is here that the individual decisions of the man has to be sacrificed completely.

albertcandykim | Student

dude do the hw yourself... man so sad

esthervolmer | Student

subject of the essay "shooting an elephant"


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Shooting an Elephant

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