What does "Shooting an Elephant" gain from having been written years after the events it recounts?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant" is set in 1931 during Britain's colonial rule of Burma (formerly Myanmar), and it's based on Orwell's difficult experiences as a British police officer in the region from 1922 to 1928. Orwell's short story was published in 1936, which was eight years after he initially resigned as a British imperial police officer. At the beginning of Orwell's short story, he describes his thoughts as a young police officer in Burma by saying,

I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. (Orwell, 1)

This statement is telling because it reveals that Orwell benefitted from taking several years to contemplate and analyze his experiences in East Asia before writing about them. Orwell's short story reveals the pressure and complex nature of being part of an authoritative colonial force in a region. Orwell confesses that he was firmly against the imperialist agenda of Britain and was in favor of the oppressed Burmese citizens, but his job as an imperial police officer made his life extremely difficult.

At the time when Orwell published "Shooting an Elephant," Britain was gradually losing their imperial influence throughout the world and decolonization began the following decade. Orwell's ability to truthfully elaborate on his conflicting feelings of working for an imperial power is a result of him writing several years after his experiences in Burma. Orwell had time to collect his thoughts, analyze British imperialism, and truthfully write about his experiences without fear of being punished.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By writing about his experience years later, Orwell has had time to reflect on his experience and put it in perspective. As he says, "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." He has had time to realize why the policy of colonialism forced him to act as he did. He represented the British empire, and as such, could not afford to look ineffective. As he says at the end of the essay, "I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool." And thus he is able to show the audience the selfish motives that drove much of the colonial power structure. Had he written the essay just after the incident, he probably would not have been able to be so openly reflective and would have taken stand that defended himself more vehemently . Now, as an older man, he has nothing to prove and can be honest about the the reasons for the event and its consequences.