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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell
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Why did he shoot the elephant?

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The narrator, a colonial police officer in Burma, then a British possession, must shoot the elephant because it is the only way to avoid the scorn of the native Burmese people. The elephant has rampaged through a bazaar and even killed a man. The scorn of the natives is the worst possible thing for an agent of empire. As the crowd gets bigger and bigger, and their anger increases, he has little choice. Orwell makes it clear earlier in the story that the opinion of the Burmese people toward the British is not generally positive. He describes a football match in which a Burmese player trips the narrator, to the delight of the overwhelmingly Burmese crowd. Ironically, the elephant, having stormed through the city, is calm, and simply standing in a field by the time the narrator happens upon him. But he has killed a man, and the crowd is angry, so he has to die. This story is Orwell's comment on the corrupting power of colonialism, which forces the British to use shows of power to retain control over Burmese people.

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