In "Shooting an Elephant", what connection does Orwell assume to exist between being important and being hated by large number of people?

Expert Answers
cmcqueeney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first line of "Shooting an Elephant", Orwell answers this question.  The line reads, "In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me."  Orwell makes the assumption that when you are important, you will be hated by the people who are under you.This idea plays out in the story as the narrator struggles between his occupation as an English imperial police officer in Burma and his desire to be accepted and respected by the people he is supposed to control.  The narrator tries to mold the two ideas (being important and being liked) during the incident where he shoots the elephant.  As the authority figure, Orwell, takes his position in the scene, defending the masses from 'danger', hoping that this will appease them - but the masses simply use peer pressure to force Orwell into shooting the elephant so they can have the meat.  By giving into the desires of the masses, Orwell becomes their pawn and loses even more of their respect.  The conclusion of the story acknowledges once again that the narrator position as an important figure in the imperialistic setting will always insure that he is hated by many.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The line that his experience in Burma was the only time he has ever been "important enough to be hated" is a bit sardonic, but it speaks to Orwell's broader observation about the nature of empire. Orwell (or more accurately his narrator) is an imperial policeman. As such, he has no illusions about the British Empire. He knows that it is fundamentally about violence and power, and so do the Burmese people. This is one important aspect of the encounter with the elephant. When he comes across the elephant, it is no longer rampaging through the bazaar but is peacefully munching on grass. He does not want to kill the beast, but he knows that he has to because the crowd expects it. They have witnessed it trample a man to death, and they now demand that he, as the authority on the scene, shoot the animal. In other words, they expect him to act with violence, which is the thing they hate about him, and the empire he represents, in the first place. He kills the animal to avoid making a fool of himself—in other words, acting as the important man he sees himself to be. Being important forces him to act against his conscience and to live up to the expectations of the people that hate him.

Read the study guide:
Shooting an Elephant

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question