What argument is Orwell making in "Shooting an Elephant"?
Throughout Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant," he critiques imperialism by illustrating the conflicting nature of colonialism as well as the tense relationship between the ruling Europeans and the marginalized Burmese citizens. As a British police officer stationed in Lower Burma, the narrator describes his rough life being an authority figure who is continually ridiculed by the Burmese citizens. The narrator has his own particular views of imperialism and favors the oppressed Burmese citizens, despite being a British police officer. The narrator describes his perplexing situation by saying,
"All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible" (Orwell, 1).
As the story progresses, the narrator is informed of a loose elephant that is terrorizing the bazaar. The narrator begins his search for the elephant, and a crowd gathers behind him. Once the British officer finds the elephant calmly eating grass by itself, he feels an extraordinary pressure from the Burmese crowd to shoot the massive elephant. Despite not wanting to kill the animal, the narrator feels that he must shoot it because he is worried about how the Burmese citizens will view him. Herein lies Orwell's argument regarding the nature of imperialism. The narrator says,
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