It could be argued that the purpose of “Shooting An Elephant” is to reveal how imperialism affects those who live in conquered countries. This story takes place in Moulmein, a town in Burma, which became a British colony in 1824. From the opening lines of the story, it is clear...
that the Burmese hate their role as a subjugated people. Just look, for example, at how they treat Europeans: they spit on women’s dresses and insult, jeer, and even trip upOrwell during a football match. Since they cannot riot against the British for fear of reprisal, they express their anti-imperialist sentiments in small ways.
Later in the story, the reader gets a sense of why the Burmese feel such anger and resentment towards the British:
The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos.
Orwell does not hold back. His description of life for these prisoners is vivid and emotive. He wants the reader to understand why the Burmese feel such hatred towards the British and through his descriptions we get a sense of their plight.
At the end of the story, Orwell describes the aftermath of the shooting incident. He also tells us that in the minds of older British imperialists, the elephant was “worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie.” This clearly demonstrates the real tyranny of imperialism: that the British believed they had the right to invade Burma and mistreat its citizens because they felt themselves to be racially and culturally superior.