close-up illustration of an elephant's face

Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

Start Free Trial

Why don't the Burmese have weapons in "Shooting an Elephant"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Orwell's short story takes place in Lower Burma during the 1920s, which was a time when Britain controlled the entire country under colonial rule. Under colonial rule, the Burmese citizens were prohibited from possessing, manufacturing, selling, or carrying firearms after the Indian Arms Act was passed in 1878. The Indian Arms Act was passed in response to several uprising and mutinies, which threatened the stability of Britain's colonial rule. Therefore, none of the Burmese natives could have owned a gun to kill the elephant. During the short story, an elephant escapes and terrorizes a town in Lower Burma. The only person with a license to possess a weapon powerful enough to kill the massive beast is the British police officer, who requests an elephant gun as a precaution. The British police officer has no desire to shoot the elephant but ends up succumbing to peer pressure from the Burmese citizens, who have formed a large crowd and followed him through the streets.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are three general reasons why the Burmese might not have weapons, reasons that each might apply but that are very different from one another.

The first reason is there is a history of nonviolence in Burma. The Burmese might not have weapons due to their philosophical orientation.

The second reason is the Burmese might well have had weapons, but no guns (and Orwell is simply generalizing too broadly). You could have a staff or knife and not be able to stop an elephant.

The third reason is political. Decades earlier, the British had passed laws limiting gun ownership among their colonies. For example, in 1878 the British passed a law allowing Europeans to carry guns freely, but markedly limiting Indian access to guns. It was hard for colonial subjects to get the licenses required to own guns.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial