What is the tone and setting of "Shooting an Elephant?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a clever and typically British wry remark, the introductory sentence of "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell indicates the relationship between the Burmese and himself, a relationship that extends to the one between the British and the Burmese people:

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people--the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

Later in the passage, Orwell writes,

Theoretically--and secretly, of course--I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressor, the British.  As for the job I was doing. I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear.  In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters.

Thus, it can be deduced from statements such as the above-mentioned that Orwell resents his post with what he calls as a "despotic government."  For close readers, those words that indicate the author's feelings are what determine the author's attitude or tone toward his subject. And, of course, Orwell's actions, such as his reluctance to perform his assignment suggest as well that he is not in agreement with what his duties demand.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting of this story is Burma, what is now Myanmar.  The story is set some time in the 1920s or 1930s.  At that time, Burma was a colony of the British Empire.  This fact really has an impact on the setting and the tone of the story.  It impacts the setting because the narrator is one of very few white people among a population of Asians.

I would say that the tone of the story is somewhat regretful and unhappy.  The narrator is thinking back on a part of his life when he did something, when he was forced to do something, that he did not want to do.  He regrets having shot the elephant, but more to the point he regrets having been part of colonialism and imperialism.  He thinks those were harmful to both colonized and colonizers and he regrets his involvement.