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Shooting an Elephant

by George Orwell

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Student Question

Which position in the final paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant" does Orwell expect agreement with?

Quick answer:

Orwell does not expect his readers to agree with any of the three positions stated in the final paragraph of "Shooting an Elephant." Rather, he probably expects the reader to share his own view that the killing was a pointless waste of a life which was valuable in itself.

Expert Answers

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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 thing. The younger Europeans said it was a shame to shoot the elephant merely "for killing a coolie."

Orwell does not expect his readers to agree exactly with any of these positions, and he makes it clear that he does not align with any of them either. Ironically, the most reasonable position is made least attractive by the reasoning which accompanies it. The reader and Orwell may agree with the younger Europeans that it was a shame to shoot the elephant, but they will not agree that this is because the man killed by the elephant was worthless. Similarly, the reader might be angry at the senseless killing of a splendid animal but probably not for the same reason as the owner: that the elephant represents a substantial sum of money.

The reader, particularly the twenty-first century reader, may not agree with Orwell's action, and they may think he should have resisted shooting the elephant and braved the wrath of the crowd. However, most people will nonetheless sympathize with Orwell's attitude and his view that the killing was objectively unnecessary and wasteful.

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