What does the slow death of the elephant symbolize?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the slow and agonizing death of the elephant helps to bring out many of Orwell's themes in the narrative.  The fact that there is a sadly human element to the elephant's death is revealed through the slow and almost deliberate nature in which it died.  For example, Orwell's description of a "great mound of a side painfully rising and falling" seeks to humanize an animal that had been seen in such a negative light throughout the piece.  At the same time, there is futility revealed the slow death of the animal.  This is in the idea that the "great beast lay there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die."  This is a powerful vision.  It is one in which Orwell is making it clear that there is a futility associated with imperialism, control, and the basic premise that there is a distinct right and wrong in the conditions of one nation imposing its will on another.  The savage reactions of the Burmese to the death has constructed them to be almost as bad as the British in terms of their reaction to the death of this animal.  The slow death of the elephant helps to bring out the futility and pain that lies at the heart of British Imperialism and its impact on both the colonizer and the colonized.  There is only the constant of suffering, agonizing pain, and slow death.  Little else remains.

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Shooting an Elephant

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