What is his purpose in comparing his situation to theatre?
Orwell is trying to show, as he says in the opening of the story, the "real nature of imperialism." The event he describes is in many ways a performance. Orwell does not want to kill the elephant, but he recognizes that the realities of imperialism require him to kill the beast. This is because, in the final analysis, imperialism is based on naked, brute force. This is why the people of Burma hate Orwell, but it is, paradoxically, the role they are calling on him to play as they demand the death of the animal, which has killed a man in the bazaar. As he notes the massive crowd behind him, he realizes that he would have to kill the animal: "The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly." The Burmese people did not like Orwell because he represented British rule, based on violence. But if he did not kill the elephant, fulfilling his role, they would not respect him. In this sense, the story, and the role of the narrator in it, is highly dramatugical. By comparing the situation to theater, Orwell hopes to highlight the degree to which imperialism is based on force and violence.