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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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The essay is written in two tenses: past and present. What effect does this have on its telling?  

The present tense that is used throughout the essay, Shooting an Elephant, contributes to its tone. The essay was written in the past tense, but by using the present tense we are made aware of Orwell's feelings about his act and current problems of imperialism and colonialism.

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George Orwell's essay, "Shooting an Elephant" is an addendum to his work, Burmese Days, a novel on the colonialism of Great Britain.  As such, it is concerned with the incident in which Orwell felt obligated to shoot a rogue elephant, while at the same time there are reflections on the dilemmas of existing colonialism that continue to surround him.  For instance, in the second paragraph, Orwell writes that he was in favor of " the wretched Burmese," but he could get nothing into perspective:

I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it.

This comment in the present tense illustrates Orwell's connecting of his act of shooting the elephant with problems that currently exist for England, thus making his essay a political piece.  Later in this same paragraph, Orwell also comments about his thoughts of killing a Buddhist monk as a consequence of becoming a colonialist,

Feelings like these are the normal byproducts of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

Further, in the next paragraph, Orwell again comments in present tense upon the nature of despotic imperialism in critical words.  These reflections in the present tense contribute to the tone of the author, George Orwell, and underscore the final statement of Orwell that he had shot the elephant "solely to avoid looking a fool."  He was and is aware of the tremendous effect that colonialism has had upon him.


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