What is the summary of "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell is an essay first published in 1936 in a literary magazine called New Writing. Orwell, an English author, had been employed in Indian Imperial Police, part of the bureaucracy that administered and controlled Britain's vast empire, from 1922 to 1927. The essay is set in Moulmein in Burma, an area where elephants were used as draft animals. The narrator, probably Orwell himself, is British, with a traditional British upper class education, which focused primarily on learning the Greek and Latin classics, and utterly unprepared for his duties as an administrator and policeman. 

A Burmese man has been killed by an elephant in musth, or rut, a heightened frenzy due to the effects of a surge of testosterone in mating season. The narrator knows that once musth has passed, the elephant is no longer dangerous, and does not need to be killed; in fact the elephant has returned to a state of calm. The crowd, however, demands that Orwell kill the elephant. Orwell does so, but as he has only a small caliber rifle, the animal dies slowly and in great agony. Despite the approval of both whites and Burmese, the narrator feels brutalized by the experience. The essay is strongly anti-colonialist in tone. 

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