Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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What is the significance of the shooting episode in "Shooting An Elephant"?

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booksnake eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The shooting in "Shooting an Elephant" is full of conflict for Orwell, the narrator in the story. The elephant in question has killed a man after rampaging through a bazaar, but Orwell does not believe that the elephant is still dangerous and does not want to kill it. The crowd, however, is insistent that he take action, and so, in order to not be deemed a coward, he acts against his own better judgement.

Killing the elephant is not easy. One shot does not take it down. Two shots is still not enough. Eventually Orwell is emptying a whole weapon at it, and then he feels that he must leave, in shame and unable to look at the poor creature any longer. This is a metaphor for the British colonization of Burma: the British were afraid to look like cowards, and so they continued to challenge an enemy they knew wasn't a threat. Eventually they won, but only after a humiliating and degrading show of force.

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Once the British officer discovers the elephant peacefully grazing in a field, he realizes...

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