George Orwell’s short story Shooting an Elephant chronicles his experience of shooting an elephant while he was a British police officer in Burma

George Orwell’s short story Shooting an Elephant chronicles his experience of shooting an elephant while he was a British police officer in Burma. By describing the events that took place in Moulmein, Orwell emphasizes the impacts of imperialism and how someone can easily become a slave to the mob mentality around them.
Beginning the story, Orwell explains his authoritative position and how he is powerless amongst the village. Since he is considered a European who imposed on Burmese land, the Burmese do not respect him instead, they would “sneer” and jeer” at him (1). The abuse he suffers from Burmese confuses Orwell because he is realized that “imperialism is an evil thing” and he is “theoretically—and secretly” on their side since he opposed to the oppressive British empire he serves (2). His work handling wretched prisoners gives him a close-up view of “the dirty work of Europe” and makes him feel guilty for his role in colonialism. However, while Orwell considers the empire an “unbreakable tyranny” (2), he still hates the insolent Burmese who torment him.
A minor incident takes places that gives Orwell insight into the reasons behind imperialism. The sub-inspector informed him that an elephant was “ravaging the bazaar” (3) and he asked Orwell if he could do something about it. The elephant serves as a symbol of colonialism. Locals explain that the elephant is not wild, but rather a domesticated one that has had an attack of “must” (2), much like the Burmese who have been colonized and who abuse Orwell. While the elephant’s destructive behavior and the Burmese’ more subtle rebelliousness may not be good things, they are made understandable given the oppressive conditions both the elephant and the Burmese have had to endure.
In the same way that Orwell does not understand precisely how he fits into the power dynamics of colonial Burma, he also has trouble finding a clear-cut narrative of the elephant’s rampage. Evidently, colonialism and the power dynamics it entails are too convoluted to be contained within a single straightforward point of view. Orwell says “I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him.” But when he lays eyes at the huge mass of people behind him he changes his stance to “…but I did not want to shoot the elephant.” Orwell then repeatedly states how immoral and guilty it is to shoot the elephant. Despite the many reasons to not shoot the elephant such as how it is worth more alive rather than dead, or how he is a “poor shot,” he ultimately falls into the expectations of the Burma people. Against his will and moral belief, he decides to kill the elephant. Orwell uses the death of the elephant as another metaphor of British Imperialism in Burma. The elephant is a symbol of Burma and it’s struggle to remain alive.
In the end, Orwell explains that someone can easily fall to mob mentality around them and that imperialism is unjust by explaining how the Burmese pressured him into killing the elephant and emphasizing how the elephant suffered as it died.

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