Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

Shooting an Elephant book cover
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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

The theme of sacrifice in ‘‘Shooting an Elephant’’ is also evident in Orwell’s essay ‘‘A Hanging.’’ Read ‘‘A Hanging’’ and compare it with ‘‘Shooting an Elephant.’’ What elements do the two pieces have in common? What fundamental human traits do they explore?

The narrator of ‘‘Shooting an Elephant’’ is an agent of the British Empire and is thus implicated in the ‘‘dirty business’’ of British imperial affairs. He is also a man of conscience. Discuss the narrator’s guilt. To what extent should he be condemned for participating in the shooting of the elephant? To what extent should he be vindicated for identifying the intricacies of the situation?

Despite being an agent of the British Empire, the narrator of ‘‘Shooting an Elephant’’ deplores his role in the business of imperial colonization. Contrast this attitude with that of the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Is it possibly to theorize about the respective attitudes of the two authors toward colonization from their literary works?

‘‘Shooting an Elephant’’ concerns mob behavior. Think of some other instances of mob behavior, either from real-life stories or works of fiction. Are the actions of the mob similar to those in Orwell’s account? Discuss the human tendency for people to resent the differences of others. How does this resentment lead to conflict and violence?