Shooting an Elephant” is an autobiographically influenced short story written by George Orwell and published in 1936. It deals with the inner conflict of an imperial police officer in Burma who feels pressured by the Burmese and forced to kill an outraged elephant in order to prove himself and his status as an imperial police officer.
The short story can be divided into two parts. In the first two paragraphs the narrator introduces himself and talks about his life and experience in working as a “sub-divisional police officer” in the town of Moulmein in Lower Burma. He also talks about his ambiguous attitude towards the Burmese people who ridicule and mock him because of anti-European feelings and towards the British Empire whose “dirty work” he now has to witness in his job. In the second part of the short story the narrator tells the readers about a specific incident, already indicated in the title of the story, which gave him a better understanding of imperialism and the way it works. One day in his service as an imperial police officer he is asked to stop an outraged elephant from ravaging the town and attacking the people. He takes along a rifle just in case he needs protection from the wild animal and starts on his way to find the elephant and see for himself what is happening. When a man is killed by the outraged elephant and the Burmese people follow the police officer on his way to the elephant he realizes that the Burmese expect him to shoot the elephant. He knows it would not be right to kill the animal because of its worth and because it has started to calm down and would be the tame, harmless animal it is used to be. But under the pressure of the crowd the police man does not see leaving the elephant alive as an option because it would make him look weak and he might get laughed at if he gets attacked by the animal. This is when he realizes that imperialism does not only mean to oppress a nation but to give up his own freedom and act as the “natives” expect him to in order to impress them. After this realization he feels forced to kill the elephant and he shots the animal twice and leaves it to die. In the last paragraph of the short story he reflects on this incident and talks about discussions whether it was right of him to shoot the elephant or not.
The story is set in the early 20th century in a town in Lower Burma and the only character introduced to the reader is the European imperial police officer, whose name is unknown. The main thesis of the story is not presented at the beginning of the text but rather develops through the course of the actions. With his opposing attitude towards the British Empire the police officer is in a conflict with himself right from the beginning of the story which makes him a complex character.
￼He works for an Empire which ideals and actions he does not support but he can not identify with the Burmese people either because, as an European, he is not accepted in their country. Being mocked by the...