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Shooting an Elephant, by George Orwell – the nom de plume of Eric Blair – is a political essay masquerading as a short story. Set in Burma, now Myanmar, in its final years as a British colony, it is on one level the first person account of a low-ranking official compelled to shoot a ‘wild’ elephant. But on a deeper level, it is Orwell’s trenchant argument against British imperialism. Summoned to simply investigate a rampaging elephant, the narrator too late realizes that in order to save the appearance of the British Raj and appease the Burmese mob shadowing him, he will have to shoot the animal. The hapless elephant, doomed both by the bloodlust of the natives and the helplessness of the official, symbolizes Orwell’s powerful critique of the futility of the imperial project in the East.
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