What is the tone used in the essay, "Shooting an Elephant"?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout "Shooting an Elephant," the narrator's tone is both candid and frank as he talks openly and honestly about his experiences as a sub-divisional police officer in Burma. In the second paragraph, for example, the speaker admits that he, like all imperial officers, felt very conflicted about his role. On the one hand, he hated imperialism because of its tyranny but, on the other hand, he hated the Burmese people for the way they treated him. In addition, he also admits that he had no choice but to continue working in Burma because he needed a job. By confessing these thoughts and feelings, the narrator develops a strong sense of honesty with his audience.

Later, when the narrator shoots the elephant, the tone becomes depressing as he describes this animal in its final moments. He uses visual imagery to convey this change of tone. He highlights the "desperate slowness" of the elephant, for example, and the crashing of its body after he fires the final shot.

The candid tone resumes in the closing paragraphs of the essay. He wonders if anybody realized his true motives for shooting the elephant—namely, that he shot the elephant because he did not want to "look a fool" in front of the Burmese.

blacksheepunite eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tone Orwell's narrative adopts toward his readers is friendly, revealing, and informal. This approach draws the reader in. We trust his voice because he shares intimate details of his experience: he is hated, he is conflicted.

The tone is particularly effective because this approach allows the narrator to reveal glimpses of his personality that we might not otherwise get to see. For instance, when he speaks of the conflict he feels, his voice is the voice of a worker trying to do the right thing in an impossible (from his perspective) situation:"I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. Later, the narrator reveals his racism and alienation when he refers to the people watching him as a "sea of yellow faces.

Because he is so honest about his difficulties, we can follow him and share in his experience. We may never have had to shoot an elephant, but many of us have performed an act we knew in our heart to be wrong
because we felt forced to wear a particular mask or because we wanted to avoid humiliation.His tone allows us to see ourselves in him.

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tone is the author's attitude toward the subject he is writing about. Critics have debated whether Orwell is apologizing for or condemning imperialism. Either way, Orwell is against imperialism, when a more powerful country governs and controls a less powerful one. The British ruled India in 1930s when Orwell was a colonial official. He felt the hatred, distrust, and resentment of the Burmese people toward officials of the British empire and agreed with them that Britain shouldn't have been there. Yet, he also experienced his hatred of the natives when they treated him terribly.