Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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What do you see as the narrative style in "Shooting an Elephant," and what is the purpose and tone?

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Kelvin Brakus eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell uses the first-person point of view. The story is told completely from his memory and perspective. This gives the reader a very one-sided view of events but enables Orwell to write candidly and frankly about this particular memory of his time in Burma.

The purpose of this story is to expose the ugly truth about British imperialism. Orwell wants to show that imperialism not only subjugates the local population but also the British since it forces them to act in a very specific way. This is shown most clearly through Orwell himself: he is forced to shoot the elephant not because he wants to but because his position of authority demands and expects it.

As such, the tone of "Shooting an Elephant" is serious and reflective. Orwell's images of the Burmese prisoners, for example, show the brutal nature of imperialism. Similarly, Orwell's description of the dying elephant is both serious and emotive. This makes Orwell's narrative style very effective: the reader finishes the story believing that imperialism truly is an evil and destructive force.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Orwell's tone in "Shooting an Elephant" is both personal and reflective as he recounts the dramatic incident that clearly affected him and that he remembers so vividly. In his story, the reader comes to understand Orwell's conflicting feelings toward the Burmese people among whom he lives as an official of the colonial government. He felt sympathy for them, but he also hated being hated by them. At the time when he was forced by circumstances to destroy the elephant, senselessly, he was largely motivated by fear. He was outnumbered by the crowd and trapped by the role of authority he was expected to play. Orwell "does his duty" as the representative of the government, but as a man, he could not stomach the animal's terrible suffering as it dies. It troubled his conscience at the time, and it continued to trouble him when writing his narrative.

Through his narrative style and tone, Orwell puts a face on colonialism as it was practiced by the British in Burma. In "Shooting an Elephant," he makes a strong statement against it, presenting it as a system that demeaned and dehumanized both the oppressed and the oppressor.

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