“Shooting an Elephant” is an essay written by George Orwell in 1936.
“Shooting an Elephant” is written chronologically and is a 1st person narrative. The tone of the essay is discomforting. The story takes place in Burma in the 1920’s. It depicts a situation in which the main character, a young Englishman, who is serving as a police officer, encounters a ravaging elephant while he is on duty.
The anonymous narrator is a questioning colonialist that throughout the story struggles with three conflicts: one of which is against the British Empire. He describes imperialism as tyrannical and even though he resents the Burmese natives for their disrespect, he understands it. Furthermore the young Englishman experiences an inner conflict that is defined by the struggle between his integrity and morality and the expectations he is met with from the Burmese society.
The elephant is one of the main symbols in the story, with a dual symbolism. Elephants in Burma are working animals and can in their “servant-to-master”-relation draw a parallel to the native Burmese who have served the British Empire. The rampaging elephant on the other hand is a metaphor of the destructive power of the British Empire. The death of the elephant could therefore be a metaphor for the downfall of the British Imperialism in Burma. Historically there is a connection between the three wars Burma underwent against Britain and the three shots that the main character put into the elephant. The elephant is therefore also a symbol of Burma and its struggle to remain alive.
Another symbol in the text is the dead coolie, who is an allegory for the entire Burmese people that have been subjugated.
Throughout the essay the narrator repeatedly states how immoral it is to shoot the elephant. But despite the many reasons to not shoot the animal, he ultimately succumbs to the peer pressure of the crowd, as he does not want to “look like a fool” in front of the villagers who expect him to...
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