Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

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What reasons does Orwell give for the shooting of the elephant in "Shooting an Elephant"?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As an agent and representative of the mighty British Empire, the officer is expected to behave as a resolute, callous authoritarian at all times in front of the oppressed Burmese natives. The British officer has no desire to shoot the elephant but feels compelled to do so against his will in order to live up to his role as a representative of the ruling colonial regime. Once the British officer discovers the elephant peacefully grazing, he contemplates walking away but experiences an enormous amount of peer pressure from the crowd of Burmese natives to shoot the tranquil beast. At this moment,...

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quddoos | Student

Orwell shoots the elephant because the two thousand native people standing behind him expect him to. They want vengeance for the man it killed, the meat the carcass will provide, and the entertainment of watching the shooting. “The people expected it of me and I had got to do it” (7), he writes.

There is an implication that if he decided not to shoot the elephant, both he and the empire would suffer a loss of prestige, but the main concern in Orwell’s mind is the “long struggle not to be laughed at” (7). He is even afraid to “test” the animal’s mood by going closer for fear it might attack and kill him before he could shoot, thus giving the crowd a sight it would enjoy as much as the slaughter of the beast.

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Orwell says that he did not intend to shoot the elephant.  He only got the gun so that he could protect himself if need be.  When he actually saw the elephant, he became convinced that there was no point in shooting it.  But then, he found the main reason why he had to shoot it.  Here's how he puts it:

The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.

Because of this, he had to shoot the elephant.  He says he had to shoot it because that's what the natives expected him to do and he had to uphold the image of the white colonizers.  He had to appear decisive and resolute or else the natives won't respect the colonizers anymor

epollock | Student

dinegirl89,

Orwell shoots the elephant because the two thousand native people standing behind him expect him to. They want vengeance for the man it killed, the meat the carcass will provide, and the entertainment of watching the shooting. “The people expected it of me and I had got to do it” (7), he writes.

There is an implication that if he decided not to shoot the elephant, both he and the empire would suffer a loss of prestige, but the main concern in Orwell’s mind is the “long struggle not to be laughed at” (7). He is even afraid to “test” the animal’s mood by going closer for fear it might attack and kill him before he could shoot, thus giving the crowd a sight it would enjoy as much as the slaughter of the beast.

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