Student Dialogue: “Shooting an Elephant” Analysis

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The essay Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell explores the issues of imperialism and corruption in government. Orwell, who was policing during the British occupation of India, uses the symbol of an elephant to represent the British Empire. The story shows how the Burmese people were oppressed by the British and how they needed to fight for their independence. Through his experiences, Orwell expresses his feelings of hostility towards the British Empire and his belief that imperialism is evil. The essay shows the struggle between doing what is right and what people in power tell you to do. Although the outcome of the events in the essay is not necessarily good, it brings an experience that changes the author’s perspective into seeing the reality of the situation.

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One of the biggest issues in governments is corruption. Corruption however, is an issue created by the individuals through how they choose to use their power, whether it is for the good of everyone or not. The struggle with doing what is right, and what people in power tell you to do, is one of the biggest elements in George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant. ” The true story tells about George’s experiences policing during the British occupation of India with a rogue elephant and him killing it.

Orwell uses detailed diction and imagery to paint the experience and use the image of the elephant as a symbol for the British Empire, and the need for the Barman citizens to remove their imperialistic oppressor. One way Orwell expresses the general opinion on imperialism is by showing his experiences. Throughout the essay he talks about how badly the villagers hate him. He uses examples of their anger and uses hyperboles to express just how much the system turned people against each other because of the situation.

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He would say how, “there were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans,” (Orwell). From the start, he claims that it is evil and he is fully against the oppressors, the British. Though he is a British officer himself at the time in Burma, he feels a certain hatred and guilt towards himself, his empire, and the “evil-spirited little beasts,” the Burma people. In the essay he writes not just about his personal experience with the elephant but how metaphorical the experience is to Imperialism and his views on the matter.

Orwell’s feelings are the hostile feelings toward the British, Imperialism, and Britain’s justification for their actions in taking over Burma. Even claiming that “the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better,” (Orwell). He uses all of these things through the novel to set up his political position in the novel to create a better understanding of where he comes from and why his opinion is valid. But the biggest tool he used in the essay, was the symbol of the empire as an elephant. In Orwell’s essay, he writes “When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel he kick…I fired again into the same spot…I fired a third time. That was the shot that did it for him,” (Orwell).

The elephant is a symbol of the British control because it took 3 shots to bring the elephant down, just like Burma would take 3 wars to fight for their independence. The long time it took for the Burmese people to free themselves mirrors the slow crippling of the grasp of the imperialist British clutches. His reluctance shows how he and other Indian and Burmese people were reluctant to fight back, but they found it necessary and justified, even though it was hard, but the outcome was worthwhile.

Although the outcome of the events in this essay are not necessarily good, the story told brings an experience that changes the author’s perspective into seeing the reality of what the situation. The essay, in sum, tells a story that tries to show the issues concerning imperialism and the struggle of the Burmese in killing their own elephant for the good of their people.

Works Cited

  1. Muller, Gilbert H. The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues across the Disciplines. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print.

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Student Dialogue: “Shooting an Elephant” Analysis. (2016, Oct 22). Retrieved from

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