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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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How does "Shooting an Elephant" portray the Burmese people's behavior towards Europeans?

Quick answer:

The Burmese people resent and dislike the Europeans but do not challenge them openly. Instead, they jeer and insult them from a safe distance and annoy them with various petty acts of defiance.

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George Orwell begins "Shooting an Elephant" with the observation that the Burmese people in Moulmein hated him and the other Europeans. They displayed this hatred not in open rebellion and violence, but in numerous petty annoyances. The Burmese would jeer at the Europeans from a safe distance, shout insults at them, and sometimes spit at them in crowded bazaars. When Orwell played in a football match, one of the Burmese players tripped him up, and the referee pretended not to notice, to the delight of the crowd.

Although the Burmese clearly resent the Europeans, they show them a certain grudging respect as figures of authority. This is why Orwell had to try so hard not to look foolish when faced with the runaway elephant. The large crowd of Burmese people that gathered to watch him deal with the situation wanted to see him shoot the elephant. This course of action did not make him popular, but it did fulfil what the crowd saw as his obligation in his role as an authority figure.

It is clear at the end of the essay that the Burmese people still hate Orwell and will continue to insult him and jeer at him, but at least he has done what a European is expected to do and has therefore avoided looking a fool.

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