Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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What are the main conflicts in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A main conflict in "Shooting an Elephant" is between the narrator's hatred of the colonial and imperialist system he is part of and his concomitant hatred of the Burmese people. As he so memorably puts it, he "bitterly" despises being part of the British police state in Burma, but

I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.

He recognizes that imperialism has created the hatred the Burmese feel towards their British overlords, but he also resents that hatred, which manifests itself in attempts to jeer at, harm, passively resist, and discredit the English.

The conflict that arises from this situation is between common sense and the British need to keep up an appearance of invulnerability. This is best expressed when the narrator feels compelled to save face by shooting and killing a harmless elephant. He knows it is cruel—the elephant will die slowly—and wasteful—the elephant poses no threat at this point—but he does it...

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