Shooting an elephant

Essay by one4kel June 2004

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In "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell, the author recalls an incident from his days as an English imperial officer in Burma, where he finds himself at the mercy of a hooting crowd of Burmese villagers eager to see him shoot an elephant gone "must". If it deals with, as Orwell himself states, "a tiny incident in itself"(118) why should we care about the day Orwell shot an elephant? What is Orwell really shooting? That is the question. The real story is not about an elephant at all. It's a story of the "evils of imperialism." The "tiny incident" Orwell reflects upon, gave him, in his own words, "a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism - the real motives for which despotic governments act"(Orwell, 118).

Orwell comes right out and tells us how much he hates imperialism and the British political views "For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing...

Theoretically - and secretly of course- I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors the British"(Orwell, 118). His numerous references to imperialism throughout the story should automatically trigger that he is not just shooting an innocent elephant but something of much more important significance.

As the story progresses, we learn about the "ravaging" elephant, the trampling death of a "coolie" who gets in the way of the huge animal, and of Orwell's summoning to come and destroy the beast. We also learn the elephant seems not to need destroyed. It is not mad. In fact, it is rather "grandmotherly" in demeanor. Why was the "coolie" killed? He got in the way of the animal. Not so hard to do in a crowded bazaar, one would think. And...