Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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Was George Orwell justified in "Shooting an Elephant?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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On the whole, one would argue that the colonial policeman—based on Orwell himself—is indeed justified in shooting the elephant. The simple fact is that, under the circumstances, he has no choice in the matter. The indigenous Burmese expect him to restore order even though he's a functionary of a colonial system that they heartily detest.

The policeman is caught on the horns of a dilemma that most people would find difficult to deal with. On the one hand, if he shoots the elephant then his conscience will be tormented. The policeman doesn't really want to shoot this magnificent creature, even...

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hudsonvalley39 | Student

As I recall the story, George Orwell started out as a minor colonial official in Burma before World War II.   The story begins with the report of an elephant in "must."  Now precisely what that term means is beyond my memory, but we can assume the elephant was dangerously beyond human control.  It had already killed an unfortunate man.  Shooting a dangerous animal, however, is not the point of the story.

Orwell was a very minor, under-paid representative of the British  Empire in some forsaken, steaming  corner of Burma surrounded a resentful population who would miss no opportunity to  subtly mock and humiliate a particularly vulnerable representative of the "Raj."  At times, Orwell confessed, he would have liked nothing better than sinking a bayonet in the gut of some insulting Burmese monk.

Ironically, Orwell was sympathetic to their goal of independence, and he had little liking for the boorish, racist British colonial types who gathered at the club for "Whites Only."  However, in his assigned post as keeper of law and order, he had to act out the colonial role that the native Burmese expected of him. Here, Orwell tell us, is the trap of colonialism;the representative of an all powerful empire had not other option than follow the expectations a despised subject people.  Orwell follows this theme more completely in his novel "Burmese Days" which I read and enjoyed as a teenager.