Why did Orwell decide to shoot the elephant at last? And why three times?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the short story, the narrator continually remarks that he has no intentions of shooting the elephant. However, when the British police officer requests an elephant gun to ensure his safety, a large crowd begins to gather and follow him towards the elephant. Upon spotting the elephant calmly eating grass by itself, the narrator believes that there is absolutely no reason to take its life. However, the police officer feels pressure from the crowd of Burmese citizens to shoot the elephant. Being a figure of colonial authority, the police officer feels the pressure to be perceived as callous and resolute in his decision-making. He also does not want to look like a fool in front of the Burmese citizens and decides to shoot the majestic creature out of peer-pressure.

After his initial shot, the elephant remains standing, and the narrator shoots it two more times. The British officer simply wants to put the elephant out of its misery and end the uncomfortable situation. The three shots are symbolically significant, as they can be seen as representing the three Anglo-Burmese Wars. The elephant's resilience, then, represents the Burmese citizens and culture under the oppressive rule of the British. Despite the three shots, the police officer continues to shoot the dying elephant without ending its life. Later on, the officer receives word that it took the elephant half an hour to die.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell shoots the elephant not because he wants to but because imperialism dictates that he must act in a certain way. As an imperial policeman, Orwell must maintain authority at all times. As he says in the text:

A sahib has got to act like a sahib.

In this case, the crowd demands that he shoot the elephant. After all, it is causing chaos in the village, and they want to share in its meat. Because of the nature of imperialism, Orwell must oblige them. If he does not, he will lose face and be humiliated. This idea is shown clearly through the following line:

The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill . . . That would never do.

He shoots the elephant three times because he wants to ensure a quick death. Neither the first nor the second shot kills the elephant, and Orwell observes how much the animal suffers. To put it out of its misery, therefore, he fires for a third and final time. 

Orwell derives no pleasure from this act, but it teaches him an important lesson about imperialism: that it forces people to do things that they do not always want to do. 

wildcattmg eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" is ultimately his metaphor for giving in to peer pressure. Orwell only shoots the elephant because it is what is expected of him. He gives in to pressure from those around him and does what, under other circumstances, he ordinarily would not choose to do.

He shoots the elephant three times out of mercy. He references the fact that after he shoots it the first time, the elephant was obviously hurt but had not moved. After the second shot, the elephant falls down but is still not dead. The third shot is necessary to end the suffering of the animal. Orwell immediately regrets his decision after the first shot but follows through to the third out of a feeling of mercy.

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Shooting an Elephant

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