Shooting an Elephant

Table of Content

In the essay, Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell writes about his experiences as a British police officer in Burma, and compares it to the nature of imperialism. Orwell hates his job because imperialism has negatively affected him, as well as others around him. Orwell’; the white man is being treated very disrespectfully by the Burmese. Giving him a reason to hate his job as well as the British Empire; the root of everything. The situation of shooting of an elephant gives him a real look of the real nature and the evils of imperialism.

To show the effects of imperialism, Orwell powerfully illustrates the shooting the elephant scene by using various rhetorical devices, dictions, sentence structures, and creates the proper mood and tone. He does a good job sharing his experiences and feelings of living under imperialism as the oppressor and the oppressed, showing the terrible effects of imperialism. Orwell does a great job conveying the message and feelings that he is trying to get across to the reader. He often calls Burmese the Natives”: “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd” (412).

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Through this sentence, he shows his emotions and the respect he has for the Burmese. Because by calling them “natives” declares them the true owners of Burma instead of the British Empire. By using this diction in the essay frequently, Orwell reminds his readers of the imperialism living in Burma so the readers aren’t just hanging on to the death of the elephant so they also get the message inside of the essay. Orwell also uses different sentence structures to establish particular effects in his essay. He describes the image, “To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible” (412). In this essay parallel phrases are used to reproduce the situation, and the sudden lack of grammatical sequence in the end of the sentence allows Orwell show how he is pressurized and that there is no way Orwell can leave the elephant to live in this situation.

Orwell uses parallel phrases again to describe the effects of the first shot on elephant: “In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant” (413). The structure of this sets off emotion in readers and helps him to prove what it takes for just one decision. When he goes out to kill the elephant and says, “I had no intention of shooting the elephant – I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary – and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you” (411), there is a lack of grammatical sequence. The way this is structured can make the reader feel that Orwell’s speech is declining because of his nervousness, because he does not want to shoot an elephant.

But the people “Natives” are following him and expect Orwell to shoot the elephant. To make the point more effective and to create a strong feeling in the reader, Orwell uses some rhetorical devices. To compare the blood of the elephant he uses a simile: “The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die” (414). The comparison of the blood of an elephant to the red velvet symbolizes the British Empire’s wealth. Like the blood welling out of the dying elephant, it implies that the British Empire is dying.

Throughout this essay the tone varies on how Orwell feels about each of the events going on in the story. In the beginning of the essay, Orwell tells the reader how the Burmese is treating him while he is working as a British police officer. He says, “As a police officer, I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so… This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves… none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans” (407-408). The words he uses such as hooted, insult, worst, nerves, her that he is pissed off and annoyed with his job and giving an example of how this frustration is because of imperialism.

At the end of the essay, Orwell is relieved and demonstrates this by saying, “I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant” (415). He is relieved because he only killed the elephant because he felt pressured by the “natives”, which is not a legal reason to shoot and kill an elephant. But, after realizing the elephant had killed a coolie that could be the legal reason for killing the elephant. This part of the essay shows how imperialism can negatively affect the concern for moral values when it comes to making decisions. When Orwell states “when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib” (412), he creates a serious mood.

This helps the reader to see the effects imperialism has on individuals. When he describes the death of an elephant, he does it in very sad and regretful way. He says, “It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open.

He was dying very slowly and in great agony… the tortured breathing continued without a pause” (414). Having this type of mood in the essay helps Orwell to make the readers really realize the complete results of imperialism, which is a long awful death, meaning devastation created in society. By using various styles in his essay “Shooting an Elephant”, George Orwell was successful in sending the message of imperialism to his readers. Because of the topic of the essay, it seems like his mainly writing this to the people imperialism is more of concern to. He teaches us that imperialism is an awful way to control a country and it is also harmful to one way of thinking and their worth of morality. Orwell reaches this by working with dictions, rhetorical devices, and sentence structure to create emotion in the audience the way he wants to. And, to keep his reader’s attention throughout this essay, he uses proper tone and mood. Orwell did a great job using the situation of killing an elephant to show the effects of imperialism.

Works Cited

  1. “Welcome to the Purdue OWL.” Purdue OWL: MLA Formatting and Style Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. Austin, Michael. Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2007. Print. Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.
  2. “Welcome, Writers!” Write Site: W. W. Norton StudySpace. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.

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Shooting an Elephant. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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