Why do you think Orwell devotes so much time to the elephant's misery? (Paragraph 11 and 12)

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Towards the end of the short story, Orwell describes the moment that the British officer shoots the elephant in fascinating detail with extraordinary pathos. Orwell captures the brutal agony that the elephant suffers after being shot multiple times by the officer to represent the plight of the subjugated Burmese people. The elephant can symbolize the oppressed Burmese population, which is attempting to gain liberty from its British rulers. The three shots symbolically represent the three Anglo-Burmese Wars. The first war began in 1824, the second in 1852, and the third war, which resulted in the complete subjugation of the Burmese, took place in 1885. With each shot, the elephant gradually weakens but does not die. The shots, which represent the British invading forces, dramatically incapacitate the elephant but do not kill the beast. Similarly, the wars do not utterly destroy the Burmese population but significantly harm them as they suffer under their oppressive colonizers. The agony expressed during the elephant's death also illustrates the brutal, destructive nature of imperial conquest. Orwell shared the officer's negative feelings towards imperialism and the ugly, agonizing death of the majestic creature symbolizes the effects of exploiting weaker countries.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell devotes lots of time to describing the elephant's misery for two reasons. Firstly, because he wants the reader to experience this event from his perspective. He does this by depicting the elephant as an elderly and vulnerable creature:

"An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old."

By doing this, Orwell suggests that the elephant is a misunderstood creature which poses no real security threat. Shooting the elephant is, therefore, a political act which he was loathe to carry out.

Secondly, Orwell uses heavy description as a means of reinforcing his point that imperialism is evil and exploitative. He suggests, therefore, that imperialism targets the weak (an ageing elephant) and makes other people behave in a manner which goes against their nature. In this case, Orwell is forced to shoot the elephant to maintain his authority among the native population, even though he has no real desire to do so.  

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Orwell dwells on the elephant's misery because the creature's suffering is symbolic of the painful and slow decline of the British Empire. While Orwell, who is part of the Imperial Police, must try to control the local people in Burma (and is, in this capacity, asked to kill the elephant), his essay also makes the point that his actions are self-injurious. The ridiculousness of his situation, in which he feels compelled to kill the elephant against his better judgement and inclination, shows that the British Empire has put itself in a ridiculous situation in Burma and elsewhere. The elephant, which symbolizes the unwieldy British empire, dies a slow and painful death, showing that the British Empire is in the process of a drawn-out demise. While the British refuse to leave Burma, it is clear that they are not wanted there and do not belong there. 

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Shooting an Elephant

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