Shooting an Elephant Characters

“Shooting an Elephant” key characters:

  • In “Shooting an Elephant,” the crowd is characterized by malicious laughter and a lack of reason. It vents its resentment by attacking an arbitrary victim.

  • The elephant is personified in the story and represents the submissive situation of the Burmese relative to the British.

  • The narrator understands the attitude of the Burmese but resents their antagonism toward him. He shoots the elephant despite his sympathy for the creature.


The Crowd
The crowd makes itself known through ‘‘hideous laughter,’’ the cackling that accompanies the petty acts of revenge which the Burmese inflict on their foreign rulers. This same laughter coercively implies a choice which the narrator cannot escape— the choice between becoming the object of the mob’s disappointment and ire, or shooting the elephant, a creature which he knows ought to be left alone. The crowd is not a ‘‘Burmese crowd,’’ or even vaguely an ‘‘Asian’’ as opposed to a ‘‘European crowd’’; it is a generic crowd, behaving as all crowds do, with less and less reason the larger it grows and with an increasing taste for for venting its collective resentment against some arbitrary victim, here either the narrator himself, conspicuous because of his office, or the elephant, a convenient substitute and safer because, as a non-human, its victimage entails less possibility of reprisal.

The Elephant
The elephant acquires a character during the course of Orwell’s narrative, so that even though he is not human, he deserves to be mentioned. The narrator describes him as a rogue who has escaped his mahout (driver). Indian, Burmese, and Thai elephants are working animals, used for lifting and hauling. The elephant therefore has something analogous to a social station—he is a ‘‘worker‘‘—and resembles, in his servant-to-master relation the native Burmese, those who have been enrolled without...

(The entire section is 347 words.)