Introduction to Shooting an Elephant

“Shooting an Elephant” is an essay by George Orwell. It was first published in New Writing magazine in 1936, and it is unknown whether the events it describes are fiction or not. Orwell served in a similar position to that described within the essay while living in Burma, and his anti-imperialist sentiments were well established. However, there is no definitive proof one way or another as to whether such an incident truly occured or whether the essay is a primarily fictitious exercise in pursuit of an anti-imperial cause.

One of the central ideas presented in the essay is that conquerors sacrifice their own freedom in order to subjugate others. The narrator notes that even prior to the incident with the elephant, he was already against the occupation of Burma by the British. However, the shooting of the elephant highlights his already developing beliefs: Though he is a part of the ruling class and is therefore responsible for maintaining order over the native Burmese people, the narrator finds himself powerless in the face of their calls for the elephant’s death. Power, then, is a double-edged sword. Those who seek to wield power over others must sacrifice their own freedom in favor of maintaining that unnatural hierarchy. Once someone has lost the respect of those they seek to rule over, disorder will follow.

A Brief Biography of George Orwell

George Orwell (1903–1950) was a socialist, born Eric Arthur Blair, who wrote some of the greatest criticisms of totalitarianism published in the twentieth century. He did so through honesty and direct personal experience, and is best known for his novels Animal Farm and 1984. The first is a fable written in simple language; the second is a dystopian novel full of brutal descriptions and dense theoretical discussions of politics. Both novels methodically expose the dangers of the totalitarian state. Orwell is also known as one of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century. “Shooting an Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language” are still widely read today and still offer powerful statements on the nature of ethics, responsibility, politics, and writing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Shooting an Elephant

Shooting an Elephant

In the story, Orwell is a sub-divisional police officer in Moulmein, Burma. He serves at the pleasure of the British Empire, and his position bestows him with great authority and influence....

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 1:23 pm (UTC)

2 educator answers

Shooting an Elephant

There are a couple of ways to read and understand the elephant death scene in "Shooting an Elephant." From a psychological point of view, the narrator definitely feels that killing the elephant is...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 12:26 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The principal cultural conflict in "Shooting an Elephant" is between the colonized Burmese people and their British colonizers. At the time the story is set, the 1920s, Burma was a part of India,...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 11:24 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The phrase "when the white man turns tyrant" alludes to the British Empire's oppressive imperial rule in Burma and the transformation experienced by agents of the colonial regime. The British waged...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 1:59 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The narrator, who is likely to be George Orwell, feels anguish, self-disgust, and remorse over shooting the elephant. If we are told to live with integrity by being true to ourselves, killing the...

Latest answer posted December 23, 2020, 11:28 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The audience of "Shooting an Elephant" is the British people back at home in the early 1930s who have been propagandized to believe in the glory of the British empire. Orwell, like many...

Latest answer posted December 23, 2020, 11:45 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

Assuming that Orwell himself is the narrator and protagonist, the most immediately obvious choice for the role of antagonist in "Shooting an Elephant" is the elephant itself. Orwell shoots and...

Latest answer posted December 23, 2020, 11:46 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

Orwell's narrator's inner conflict in "Killing an Elephant" is whether to be true to himself and lose face by walking away from killing an elephant or doing the socially acceptable thing, which is...

Latest answer posted December 23, 2020, 12:06 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

In the story, the narrator is reluctant to shoot the elephant. However, he does so after realizing that his reputation among the local populace depends on him doing so. To shoot the elephant, the...

Latest answer posted December 23, 2020, 12:46 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The elephant symbolizes the sacrifice of the innocent to the British imperial system. The elephant has gone on a hormone-induced rampage, but by the time the narrator gets to it, the creature has...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 12:02 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The narrator first learns through a phone call from a sub-inspector that an elephant is "ravaging" a bazaar nearby. Riding on horseback on his way to see what is going on, the narrator is told more...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 11:40 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

In "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell says that he had no intention of shooting the elephant, until he saw the crowd. He had called for his gun as a precautionary measure, but when he saw how...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 11:41 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The three positions stated in the final paragraph are as follows. The elephant's owner was furious that Orwell had shot the elephant. The older Europeans in Moulmein said Orwell had done the right...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 11:58 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

The mood of "Shooting an Elephant" might best be described as one of carefully controlled anger. This seems to have been the mood with which Orwell approached his duties in the Burmese Imperial...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 12:15 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

Rhetorical devices are persuasive devices. Orwell, in this essay, wants to persuade us that imperialism is a system that is destructive towards everyone involved in it. One way he does this is...

Latest answer posted December 22, 2020, 12:23 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell begins his essay (sometimes classed as a short story) "Shooting an Elephant" with a description of his ambiguous status in Moulmein, lower Burma. In the story, the narrator is a...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2020, 11:57 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

An episode in which he feels forced to kill an elephant against his will crystallizes for the narrator everything that is wrong with the imperialist system in Burma that he is a part of. Although...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2020, 12:53 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

An elephant is a valuable commodity in Burma, as the narrator notes. He states, as he is faced with the task of needlessly shooting an elephant that was once rampaging but is now peaceful, that...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2020, 1:11 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

Orwell's story is not an allegory in the traditional sense, but it can be read in a similar way. An allegory is a symbolic story in which the main elements have specific meanings that relate to a...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2020, 1:12 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Shooting an Elephant

One message that George Orwell might be trying to get across in “Shooting an Elephant” is the ease in which humans can be coopted by society or groups of people. In the story, Orwell presents his...

Latest answer posted December 21, 2020, 2:44 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer
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Summary