What is the summary of "Shooting an Elephant"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, first it is important to remember that this is not a story, it is an essay, and a very fine example of this literary form. In this essay, Orwell recounts an experience he had while serving as a police officer of the British Empire in colonial Burma. One day, a frenzied elephant went on a rampage in a bazaar, killing one person. By the time Orwell arrives on the scene to deal with the matter, a large crowd of Burmese has gathered to watch. Although he hates his job, which he refers to as "doing the dirty work of the Empire," and does not want to kill the elephant, Orwell feels pressurised by the crowd and his position to take action. If he does not he will risk being laughed at. He therefore shoots the animal repeatedly and clumsily, giving the elephant a painful and slow demise.

Key to this essay is Orwell's comment on colonialism - through this experience Orwell comes to realise that the white man through the power he has taken actually makes himself nothing more than an "absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind." As he goes on to comment:

I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalised figure of a sahib.

Therefore, paradoxically, by seizing power over others, the white man actually decreases his own freedom, because he is forced to act in the way that the indigenous population expect.

Hope this helps you grasp the central points of this fascinating essay. Good luck!

j2007035 | Student

The story is about a police man in Burma. Burma was a colony of England. The police man is hated by the villagers of Burma, because he's English. One day, the sub-inspector at the police station, at the other end of the town, rang the police man up and told him about an elephant. The elephant was ravaging the bazaar, and his owner was not there. He had to do something about the problem, the elephant went crazy, and nobody was able to stop him. The police man gets into a dilemma, and has to make a difficult choice. He could shoot the elephant, but he was under pressure. If he missed, there was a chance that the elephant went even crazier, and killed him. If he didn't shoot the elephant, there was a chance that the elephant killed several villagers. He didn't want to shoot the elephant, because almost 2000 villagers were watching him, but he had to. He doesn't feel good about it, but in the end he decided to shoot the elephant. He fired several shots into the elephant, and killed him. In Europe, the opinions were divided. The older men thought it was right to kill him, but the younger people didn't think so. They thought the elephants life had a bigger value than the lives of the villagers.


This summary is written by two Dutch students.