What is an explanation of the differences in Europeans' views of the elephant killing in "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The denouement of "Shooting an Elephant" describes the quibbling over the death of the elephant and the justifications for its shooting. The Europeans disagree about the outcome; some think the killing a wasteful act, while others think it was the proper thing to do.

The owner is furious his elephant has been shot, but has no recourse because he is an Indian. Orwell is relieved the coolie died because the death puts him legally in the right. Among the Europeans, there are different viewpoints:

  • An older man contends Orwell has done the right thing. (Appearances are important.)
  • Younger men feel it is a pity an elephant was shot only because it killed a coolie; an elephant, they reason, is worth far more than an Indian. (Practicality is important.)

While the disputes take place, Orwell feels shame because he knows he shot the elephant because he did not want to appear weak or frightened in front of the natives.

For it is the condition of his rule [the imperialist] that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.

Orwell feels shame that he has shot the elephant because he thought if he did not shoot it, "[T]he crowd would laugh at me." Furthermore, he is disturbed because he realizes being an imperialist is one long struggle not to appear weak or foolish. The idea of empire has become incompatible with Orwell's moral analysis of the ordeal.

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Shooting an Elephant

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