Orwell is clearly directing "Shooting an Elephant," as with most of his writings in general, toward a largely liberal audience which shares his own negative feelings about imperialism. What makes the essay so convincing is that it's written by a man who participates in the colonial system (even though he knows it's wrong). So there is a conflict within the narrator's perspective on the situation in Burma, where, as a British policeman, he is tasked with killing an elephant for no other reason than, as he writes, "to avoid looking a fool."
The underlying purpose of the essay is not simply to expose the failure of colonialism, but also potentially to criticize the racism implicit in the imperialist system. Yet Orwell's views are in some sense ambivalent. Some writers, such as Alok Rai, have criticized Orwell for portraying Asian people in a demeaning way. In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell makes no secret of his reflexive antagonism toward many of the Burmese. But this, he says, is a psychological result of being placed in a situation where one race presumes to rule another. His message is directed to people of European descent in general, and he cautions them that "when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom he destroys."