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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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What is Orwell’s message in “Shooting an Elephant”?

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The message in George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” could be that human beings are vulnerable to pressure from others and might act against their conscience when pressured by society, crowds, or a government.

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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 narrator as partaking in activities that he disagrees with. The narrator starts off by declaring his dislike of the British Empire and his support of the Burmese. Yet he isn’t working for the Burmese. He’s employed by their “oppressors.” Though the narrator hates his job “bitterly,” he continues to perform his duties. His willingness to perpetuate the “evil thing” (i.e, British imperialism) highlights the ways in which an individual’s preferences and ideas can be abrogated by systems and society.

As the story unfolds, the Burmese people start to use the narrator for their own means as well. The narrator doesn’t want to shoot the elephant. However, when a crowd of Burmese people spot him with a gun, they grow excited and pressure him to shoot the elephant. He says, “I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces.”

Once again, the narrator feels the need to conform to the wants of a crowd and a culture. Only this time, it’s not the British who are using him: it’s the Burmese. The message seems to be that humans are vulnerable to pressure from others; when assessing their actions, it is necessary to consider the external pressures, norms, and conditions that caused them to make the choices that they did.

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What is the main point of the essay "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

One could argue that the main point of "Shooting an Elephant" is to show how colonialism corrupts the soul: not just the souls of those who are subject to colonial repression, but also the souls of the colonists themselves.

The colonial policeman in the story—clearly based on Orwell himself—doesn't really want to kill the elephant. But he knows that he must do so in order to satisfy the expectations of his superiors as well as those of the indigenous Burmese. In this way, the policeman's soul has been corrupted by his duties as a colonial functionary.

In the process, the policeman becomes someone he isn't. The indigenous people hate him without knowing anything about him as a person. All they see is a colonial authority figure. As such, they expect him to shoot the elephant. But the real man beneath the uniform doesn't want to do that. He's still the same person he ever was, even though his soul has been corrupted. The very fact that he's so uneasy about shooting the elephant shows that he still retains something of his humanity, though how much longer that will last after he's performed this latest act of duty is a matter of debate.

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What is the main point of the essay "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

An important point of George Orwell's "On Shooting an Elephant" is that colonial rule is ultimately evil.

In Orwell's opinion piece, it becomes apparent that he recognizes what he calls "the futility of the white man's dominion in the East" and the problematic nature of imperialism. It is impossible for one country to subjugate people from another country without hatred resulting. To maintain dominance over Burma, Orwell writes, British colonial rule exerts a particular cruelty to the Burmese. This "bloody work of Empire" involves beatings, imprisonment, and other acts of brutality. As a result, there is a mutual hatred between natives and Europeans. There is also an expectation in the Burmese of brutality from their colonial rulers.

Then, "[W]hen the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys," Orwell concludes. Orwell perceives his shooting of the rogue elephant as an act of cowardice. For he kills this majestic animal only to "avoid looking a fool" because of the natives' expectation of violence. As an officer of the British government, he feels that he has no choice but to shoot the elephant since the crowd anticipates this violence from him.

...I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it: I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment...that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East.

With his rifle in his hand and a native crowd behind him who are all unarmed, Orwell, nevertheless, feels that he is manipulated by the existence of the empire and his position in it. 

I perceived at this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

Orwell shoots the elephant, not because it is dangerous. He shoots the magnificent creature because he must "impress" the natives, and it is what they expect of him. In this act, he loses his freedom because he really does not want to shoot the elephant, but he does so "solely to avoid looking the fool." Thus, he concludes that the concept of imperialism is irreconcilable with his moral assessment of the situation.  

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What is the main point of the essay "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell?

The main point, the theme, of "Shooting an Elephant" is to expose the conflict between the law and one's moral conscience as this pertains to British imperialism specifically, but by extension any imperialism. Orwell makes his point in two major ways. First comes the decision of the narrator British police officer in Burma as to whether to shoot the rogue elephant or not. The very definition of rogue (having become savage and unpredictable) means that some sort of action is required in order to protect the people.

The narrator doesn't personally want to shoot the elephant and cause it to suffer a painful death but because of his position as the representative of British law he must and he does. Later he is torn with terrible emotions of pity at the sight of the elephant's death. He is also shown the body of a man who was trampled to death by the rogue elephant, a body in a sacrificial crucifixion position. As a result, the narrator has an epiphany (spiritual awakening) and realizes that even when acting within the law, the law can be at conflict with moral conscience and in the case of British imperialism, law does oppose conscience.

George Orwell drew upon his experiences as a British colonial official stationed in Burma and in India for writing "Shooting an Elephant." By the time he wrote this, he had already established a reputation for writing from a social conscience because of his nonfiction work Down and Out in London and Paris (1933) and novel Burmese Days (1934). Critics are divided as to whether "Shooting an Elephant is an essay or a short story.

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What argument is Orwell making in "Shooting an Elephant"?

Throughout Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant," he critiques imperialism by illustrating the conflicting nature of colonialism as well as the tense relationship between the ruling Europeans and the marginalized Burmese citizens. As a British police officer stationed in Lower Burma, the narrator describes his rough life being an authority figure who is continually ridiculed by the Burmese citizens. The narrator has his own particular views of imperialism and favors the oppressed Burmese citizens, despite being a British police officer. The narrator describes his perplexing situation by saying,

"All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible" (Orwell, 1).

As the story progresses, the narrator is informed of a loose elephant that is terrorizing the bazaar. The narrator begins his search for the elephant, and a crowd gathers behind him. Once the British officer finds the elephant calmly eating grass by itself, he feels an extraordinary pressure from the Burmese crowd to shoot the massive elephant. Despite not wanting to kill the animal, the narrator feels that he must shoot it because he is worried about how the Burmese citizens will view him. Herein lies Orwell's argument regarding the nature of imperialism. The narrator says,

"I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant" (Orwell, 3). 

Orwell's short story gives a unique insight into the life of a British police officer who represents an imperial regime that he does not inherently support. Interestingly, Orwell not only portrays the jaded, perplexed feelings of the British officer but also depicts how his position of authority negatively affects his decisions and conscience.

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What argument is Orwell making in "Shooting an Elephant"?

In this powerful essay, George Orwell uses the symbol of when he was forced to shoot an elephant to describe the foolhardiness and inherent weakness of the colonial endeavour. He describes how the elephant did not need to be shot and how he really didn't want to shoot it. However, when he finally reaches the elephant, the crowd that is getting bigger with every moment pressurises him into shooting the elephant and he feels as if he is being looked at as if he were a "conjurer about to perform a trick." It is this moment that triggers an epiphany in Orwell's mind about the futility of what Britain is trying to achieve through her colonial exploits:

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grapsed the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd--seeming the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.

Thus it is that he realises the cental paradox that lies behind colonialism, that "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys." The narrator feels that people expect powerful action from him as he is the all-powerful white man who rules them. He cannot free himself from the role in which he has been cast and thus actually destroys his own freedom. It is this point that this essay so powerfully makes.

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What is the meaning of "Shooting an Elephant" by Geroge Orwell?

In the short story "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell examines the true nature of colonialism and its negative effects on the oppressors by illustrating the paradoxical emotions of a British police officer stationed in Lower Burma. As a colonial authority figure, the narrator struggles on a daily basis to embrace his role as an oppressor while simultaneously "theoretically" supporting the plight of the disenfranchised Burmese citizens. Orwell illustrates the paradoxical relationship between the narrator's hatred and sympathy towards the Burmese citizens. The British police officer realizes that he must appear authoritative and fears being ridiculed by the native citizens, which is why he reluctantly shoots the elephant. Through the unique perspective of the perplexed British officer, Orwell illustrates the complex emotions and difficult decisions colonial authority figures must deal with on a daily basis. Orwell's short story critiques colonialism and examines the paradoxical emotions many British police officers encounter while interacting with oppressed, native citizens.

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What is the meaning of "Shooting an Elephant" by Geroge Orwell?

At first glance, "Shooting An Elephant" is a tale of a colonial policeman who is forced to take control after an elephant breaks free and ravages the town of Moulmein in Burma. But, looking closer, this essay reveals much about the nature of colonialism and colonial relationships. Through Orwell's dilemma over whether or not to shoot the elephant, for example, we come to realise that he must behave in a very specific manner if he is to maintain his authority as a colonial officer:

"A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things."

Moreover, Orwell uses a metaphor to describe the pressure he feels from the local people:

"I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly."

This demonstrates that colonialism also has expectations for the native population. Specifically, they will mock him if he does not shoot the elephant because that is what they expect from a colonial officer.

In essence, then, the real meaning of Orwell's essay is that colonialism has a negative impact on everyone because it forces them to behave in a way which is neither natural nor ethical. 

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What is the meaning of "Shooting an Elephant" by Geroge Orwell?

In "Shooting an Elephant," George Orwell portrays a British colonial police officer in Burma who is called upon to kill a rogue elephant that has stormed through a bazaar, destroying some people's property and even killing a man. The officer is reluctant to shoot the beast, which he finds standing calmly in a clearing, but is driven to do so by the fear that the Burmese people will think him weak if he does not do it. The story is basically a commentary on the hostility between the supposedly paternalistic British and their colonial subjects. Because the narrator knows he is so hated, he must kill the elephant to attempt to gain their respect, and demonstrate that the British are willing to use brutal force to maintain control. Basically, though he is morally against killing the elephant, he must play the part of the brutal tyrant that the Burmese people imagine him to be. In this way, the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized is inherently corrupting. This is made clear at the end of the story when the narrator claims that he is happy the elephant had killed a man, because otherwise he would have had to reimburse the animal's owner.

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The subject and purpose of the essay "shooting an elephant" By Gorge Orwell

In this essay, the narrator is a colonial officer in Burma. He discusses the tense relationship between the British overlords who run the country and the native Burmese. The two groups hate each other. The narrator himself both loathes the brutality of the British and understands it.

A pivotal moment comes when the narrator is called to take care of a rampaging elephant. The natives call on the narrator for protection because they are not allowed to have guns. The narrator arrives on the scene and realizes that the elephant is no longer a threat. Nevertheless, because so many Burmese are watching, the narrator feels compelled to shoot the animal. It is senseless, unnecessary and cruel to do so, but the narrator feels he must save face. The animal suffers and dies slowly.

The incident crystallizes in the narrator's mind the systemic evil of colonialism. Colonialism  locks everyone into a system of brutality that in the end serves nobody. 

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The subject and purpose of the essay "shooting an elephant" By Gorge Orwell

The subject of the story was in fact a young George Orwell, servant of the British Crown in India.  He was  working for the government and was called out to deal with an elephant that had broken away from its master and was rampaging through the town.  The story follows his journey through the town to find the elephant and his difficulties in actually killing it and focuses in particular on his disgust for the task itself and his role there among the indigenous population.

The story is considered a metaphor for the role of the British in India, something that Orwell felt was deeply troubling, and his self-loathing attitude in the story reflects his attitude towards the British colonial power.  So the purpose of the essay, according to many, is to demonstrate the conflicts inherent in such an occupation and their effect on Indians and British alike.

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What is a thesis statement for an essay about George Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant?"

George Orwell's 1936 essay "Shooting an Elephant" is about a British police officer, serving the Empire in occupied Burma, who has grown weary and bitter about the role of his nation in the less-developed regions the occupation of which constituted that empire. The narrator recognizes that he is, in the eyes of the Burmese people, synonymous with the British Empire and, as such, is a lightening rod for anti-British sentiments that run deep among the indigenous population. The narrator's description of his responsibilities as a colonial police officer and of the quandary in which he found himself when an elephant temporarily rampaged and killed a local serves as a microcosm for the far greater conflict that inevitably results when one nation invades and occupies another. As Orwell's essay progresses, the narrator is convinced that he must shoot the elephant, which is now passive and nonthreatening, in order to prove himself in the eyes of the public he has come to loathe while secretly cheering on as his attitude towards his own country continues to deteriorate. In Orwell's narrative, then, neither side is particularly meritorious, although his sympathies clearly lie with the victim and not with the oppressor. 

When contemplating a thesis statement for "Shooting an Elephant," it is precisely the narrator's bitterness and observations regarding the effects of occupation on occupier as well as on occupied that should form the basis of such a statement. Illustrating this point is the following sentence from Orwell's essay that encapsulates the author's sentiments well:

"All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evilspirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible."

A logical thesis statement for "Shooting an Elephant," then, could be "George Orwell's essay is an indictment of the injustices of empire and a scathing comment on the nefarious way imperialism dehumanizes the conqueror as much as it does the conquered." 

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What is Orwell's argument in the essay "Shooting an Elephant"?

"Shooting an Elephant" describes an incident in George Orwell's early life, when he was working in Burma as a sub-divisional police officer--in other words, as a lower-ranking government official of the occupying white British government. Burma, which is modern-day Myanmar, is bordered by India, China, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. It was initially colonized by Britain in 1824, and following the Anglo-Burmese wars, was fully annexed in 1885. Thus, Burma became part of the British Empire in the East.

Orwell describes the incident with the elephant as revealing, although in a roundabout way:

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

Orwell's argument is that those who would rule and subjugate others do so at the price of their own liberty: absolute control of others is actually a constant struggle, not only to maintain control but also to maintain the appearance of control, which becomes of subjugation of the ruler himself. Though the tyrant may wear the crown, Orwell argues, it is a very hollow crown indeed. The ruler is no more free than the people he rules, and the barbarities rulers are enticed into committing ultimately cost the rulers their own humanity.

Orwell notes that he shot the elephant not because he wanted to, not because he felt the elephant deserved it, but because maintaining the appearance of control meant he had to do something personally distasteful:

I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

For young Orwell, the elephant becomes a symbol of the nations subjugated under British rule. He sees that killing the elephant does not make him greater or more in control or a better official. Crushing the imperial subjects does not, in Orwell's dawning understanding, make Britain greater than they. It removes the humanity of the British rulers, forcing them to do distasteful and barbaric things, much like shooting the elephant feels to Orwell.

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What is Orwell's message to the audience in "Shooting an Elephant"?

For a literary commentator, it's usually unwise to reduce a story, or even a relatively short essay like "Shooting an Elephant," to a single message. Orwell presents an episode in the daily work of a colonial policeman in Burma in order to analyze the dynamic that exists between the British and the "native" population. But his intent seems more to understand the internal dynamic of imperialism and the effect it has on the colonial "occupiers," such as himself.

Though the elephant in this narrative has become dangerous and has even killed a man, Orwell repeatedly states that he doesn't want to shoot it. The attack of "must" which has caused the animal's violent behavior has apparently passed, and it seems likely that it can be recaptured by its owner without further mayhem. But Orwell feels himself egged on by a huge crowd of Burmese people to act, because the white man has put himself into a situation where he's the one in charge and is expected to do something decisive to resolve every crisis. He feels that his own ability to choose his actions has been constricted by the very nature of his position within the colonial authority. His ultimate conclusion, which he states explicitly, is that "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys."

Because this is a critique of a system (imperialism) which nearly every enlightened person today agrees was unjust and immoral, a modern reader may be inclined to accept Orwell's analysis at face value. There is an element of truth in his seeing himself as the victim in the elephant episode. But it is also to some degree a sign of his own narcissism. The "native" population, in Burma and elsewhere, were much more victimized by imperialism than even the low-level functionaries, such as Orwell, of the colonial authority. In any event, however, "Shooting an Elephant" is a remarkably insightful essay, like all of Orwell's writings.

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What is Orwell's message to the audience in "Shooting an Elephant"?

Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" is concerned mainly with imperialism.  Orwell was writing in the 1930s, at a time when Great Britain still controlled India as well as colonies in Southeast Asia, such as Burma, where this essay is set.

In the essay, Orwell argues that imperialism degrades both the rulers and the ruled, making them hate each other.  He also reflects on how imperialism drives him, as a member of the ruling race, to do things he would rather not do, simply so as to not look weak in front of the "inferior" race.

While the theme of the essay is imperialism, there is some dispute among scholars as to whether Orwell is really anti-imperialist or if he condones it.  Generally, pro-empire people think he was condemning it while critics of the empire feel he was condoning it.

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What is the argument in George Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant"?

While the short one- or two-page essays you are expected to write in introductory writing classes are expected to have a singular argument, George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" is a longer, more complex work attempting to portray the experience of being a colonial policeman in Burma. Generally, the essay argues that the effect of colonialism is to demoralize and brutalize both the British and the natives, but it also makes important points about how mob pressure can make one act against one's best judgment and how fear can lead to mob hysteria.

For the British, to control a large native populace despite being outnumbered, they felt that they constantly needed to project an image of strength. This meant always appearing to act decisively and with what appeared efficiency bordering on brutality. Orwell himself, young and insecure, would have preferred a more moderate and reflective approach but caves in to the way the people expect him to act and is ashamed of it. He suspects that the outward appearance of strength often is grounded in inner weakness and is ashamed when his fellow policemen compliment him on killing (slowly and painfully) a harmless and innocent creature, concluding:

I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

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