Shooting an Elephant Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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Examine the motivation behind Orwell's use of this story in pointing out the problems with colonialism.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that one of Orwell's primary motivations in using the story to point out the problems with colonization is to uncover the reality that the cultural dynamics of colonialism has created a reality in which no one is really free.  The imperial powers are not free.  The people being occupied are not free.  In the end, Orwell's story reflects a condition of colonialism in which no one is really free to act.  Orwell shows that the colonizers are trapped by the gaze of those who they oppress.  The narrator is not free to let the animal go, even though the elephant has ceased to be a threat.  If he lets the elephant go, he will be the object of ridicule as he will be deemed as impotent of action.  He is trapped by the gaze of those he supposedly controls. He must act in accordance to what others see of him. At the same time, the people who are subjugated expect those in the position of power to be violent.  They cannot see that the animal is no longer a threat, being trapped by the cultural constraints of what the British "are supposed" to do.  In this, they are not free, having capitulated to expecting violence out of the British and nothing else.  They are no longer able to see anything outside of the constraints of controller and controlled, and thus expect the narrator to us violence.  In such a condition, Orwell's story shows that no one is really free.  Neither side has power for they are constantly trapped in the gaze of another.  Cultural reality has become the norm in which self definition is formed.  It becomes interesting to note that the desire to exert power has actually limited it.  It is here where one of the most glaring and astute observations about the problems with colonialism is made.

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