Where does Orwell start telling the story of the elephant? What information did he need you to have before you began reading?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Orwell actually begins telling about the elephant in the title of the essay "Shooting an Elephant". However, before he begins to give the details of this incident, he explains the predicament that he finds himself in. He is a British police officer who hates colonialism but he also hates the colonial people of Burma, whom he is expected to police. He says, " All I knew was that 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." This irony is then exemplified in his story about shooting the elephant. In that episode, Orwell is able to show that, even though he did not want to shoot the elephant, he represented the British empire, and therefore was forced to take an action which he did not believe in or think was right. He did this because the "evil little beasts" expected him to shoot the elephant and to not do so would reflect badly on the empire. He had been given so much power by the local people who did not realize his hatred for his job nor for them. Even more ironically, he also did not know how to shoot the elephant so it did not suffer. Thus, Orwell is "stuck" as he mentions at the beginning of the essay. As he says at the end," I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool." He thus reaffirms the selfish motives for much of colonialism.