George Orwell

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What is the irony of "Shooting an Elephant"?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The principal irony in "Shooting an Elephant" is that although the story is a picture of colonialism, in which the British have placed themselves in charge of an Asian country, Orwell himself, as a British policeman, finds himself "controlled" by the crowd of Burmese people. It is as if the power dynamic we would expect to be in force has been reversed. This, at any rate, is the situation as Orwell perceives it. His major point is that the white man destroys his own freedom when he turns tyrant over other people.

The case of an elephant gone berserk seems at first to be a straightforward one, but because the animal's violent behavior is only temporary (due to an attack of "must"), Orwell's judgment in the moment is that there's no longer any need to kill it. The beast can presumably be recaptured by its owner without further mayhem. However, a huge crowd of "natives" has gathered, and Orwell, the "white man with the gun," feels egged on by them to do something decisive, even if it's wrong,...

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