George Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant" Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Elephant, Literature, People, George Orwell, Orwell, England, Empire, Colonization

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/10/17

George Orwell’s, “Shooting an Elephant” is a short story that is a first person narrative of an English policeman working in Colonial Burma. The short story details the events of a day when the narrator is asked to shoot an elephant that has gone wild during must. Although at the time of the shooting, the elephant is no longer violent, the narrator shoots it dead. The shooting of the elephant by the narrator is not a wanton act, but a culmination of many emotions that the narrator undergoes throughout his stay in Burma. Although the short story is about the events of one day, the narrator through his description of the Burmese (their hatred for him and everything British), his confusion and secret support for the Burmese lets the reader know that the shooting of the elephant is not an impulsive act. The elephant in the short story is not just an animal that went wild and was shot dead. It stands as a symbol of the Burmese people in the story. The narrator becomes a representative of the British. Orwell uses the act of shooting the elephant to dwell into deeper issues like colonialism, pride and the measures men take and the distances they go to save their face. He thinks that the British colonial empire would go to any lengths and resort to unethical measures just to quell a rebellion or get what they want or in some cases commit acts of cruelty just so they would be looked at as weak and soft. The death of the elephant is not swift and is long and laborious and stands for the struggle of the Burmese people too who do not give in easily to the relentless onslaught of the British.
Orwell sets the tone of the story at the very beginning of the short story. He does not begin the story giving a description of the elephant although it is the killing of the elephant that forms the central premise of the story. Although the act of killing the elephant and the beast itself carries the story, there isn’t much to know about the elephant except the damage that he commits. Rather Orwell begins the story with the narrator examining his feeling of being in and working in Burma. He is a prototype of every British official in the colonies, an unimportant man everywhere but here. The narrator says that he was loathed by many and acknowledges that it was the only time he had “been important enough for this to happen (Orwell par 1).” He also goes on to say that, “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 par 1).” Orwell takes this stance to bring out the placement of the ruler and the ruled. It is the elephant which gets shot and dies an agonizing death but the narrator makes it about himself; the shooting a chance to analyze his motives and morals. Although the narrator is against the atrocities committed by the British Empire, he in the end becomes everything he once despised. Through his own actions he forms an opinion of the British Empire. He kills the elephant in order to save face and not wanting to look like a fool. Although he knows that it was an unethical act, he tries to justify it by saying that he was legally right as the elephant had killed a human. It is not just the narrator who epitomizes what the British stand for but also his fellow countrymen and soldiers who are stationed there. Their cavalier attitude against the colonized people is brought out when they say that the elephant must have been kept alive as it was a working elephant and therefore worth more than the life of a coolie. The elephant thus is symbolic of not only the Burmese people but also of the view that the colonial power had over the ruled.
The Elephant even though is killed at the end stands for a lot of things. It stands for the strength and resolve of the Burmese people. The narrator struggles to put it down. He empties the rifle, and shoots it multiple times and yet the elephant does not die. It dies only after the narrator leaves the place. The narrator says that “Thick red blood welled out of him but still he did not die (Orwell, par 12)”, when the elephant stays alive in spite of him shooting at its heart. The prolonged struggle of the elephant also stands for the determination of the people and their reluctance to give up so easily their pride and struggle against the empire. In spite of being pumped with bullets that elephant gets up and trumpets. Although it trumpets for the first and only time, this shows that even when felled the elephant is not going to go down without making a noise. The elephant personifies the fight left in the Burmese people in spite of their country and the people being torn down repeatedly. At the end of the story the narrator also tells the audience that the carcass of the elephant was almost stripped to the bones. This is again symbolic of what a colonial power does to a colony, kill it lowly and mercilessly and not be done till it is stripped to the bone. The killing of the elephant is what gives the narrator his sense of worth and his few minutes of glory. The narrator has to exert his power to look and feel important in the eyes of the many Burmese who had gathered to watch the spectacle, even if the feeling of importance is fleeting and imagined more than real. The Burmese people do not look at the narrator as an ally or a savior but as a spectacle and are more worried about the food they’d get out of the elephant than the supposed good that would have come out of killing it. The hatred that the narrator mentions at the beginning of the story still remains even if the narrator convinces himself of doing the right thing.
This in the short story, the elephant becomes a symbol of the Burmese people and is a personification of their grit, determination and their prolonged struggle against the empire. And through killing the empire the narrator shows that it served no other purpose than to save face. Orwell’s story resonates even to this day. Although colonialism no longer exists, the wars that the British and the Americans fight in places like Iraq and Afghanistan parallels the incident in the story. The local people hate them and the invaders have to resort to acts of violence just to get the upper hand, save face and convince themselves and other of their importance.

Works Cited

Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant”. n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.

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WePapers. (2020, October, 17) George Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant" Essay Sample. Retrieved June 25, 2022, from
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"George Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant" Essay Sample," Free Essay Examples -, 17-Oct-2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 25-Jun-2022].
George Orwell's "Shooting An Elephant" Essay Sample. Free Essay Examples - Published Oct 17, 2020. Accessed June 25, 2022.

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