The Elephant As A Symbol For Imperialism In "Shooting An Elephant”

1264 words - 5 pages

In “Shooting an Elephant,” Orwell retold an occasion where he was struggling to come to a final decision of whether to shoot the elephant or not. With his final decision, the elephant finally lay dying in front of thousands of people. He said that he was forced to shoot it because the Burmese people were expecting him to do that. In addition, he also explained that he had to do it “to avoid looking like a fool” in front of the crowd (14). At first glance, one would think that it makes sense for him to kill the elephant to save his face, but that was not the case. He effectively uses this incident to demonstrate the “real nature of imperialism” (3), whereas the elephant represents the British Empire.
Orwell was ambivalent about imperialism. At the beginning of his essay, he recalls how Burmese people treated him when he was still working in Burma as a police officer. He was “hated by [a] large numbers of people” (1). Not only he was hated by Burmese, but all Europeans who were living in Burma went through the same experience. The way Burmese treated Europeans were upsetting to him, yet, he is secretly supporting them and against their oppressors because he thinks that “imperialism was an evil thing” (2). He feels like he is the “by-product of imperialism” (2) since he does not fully support the victim, but also does not like the culprit.
One day, Orwell was ordered by the sub-inspector to do something about the elephant that was rampaging around the bazaar. He did not want to kill it; he just want to frighten it with a loud noise from the gun. The elephant had destroyed the whole town, from killing animals to damaging houses and stores. Moreover, it had killed an Indian. The Burmese people have no defense against it; they “had no weapons and were quite helpless against it” (3). Seeing the massive destruction done by the elephant, Orwell sent an order to borrow the elephant rifle from his friend to defend himself. Upon seeing the rifle, a huge crowd started to follow him. He had no intention to kill the elephant. However, the crowd was expecting him to shoot it. They did not want to kill it because it had destroyed the bazaar, but rather to enjoy the fun and to get the elephant meat. The crowd’s expectation leaves Orwell no choice but to shoot the elephant. He points out that he had to shoot it to “impress the ‘natives’” (7). If he had not done it, the crowd would have laugh at him, and it would hurt his pride as a white man living in the East. In the end, he decided to trigger the gun and shot the elephant.
The elephant, in this case, represent imperialism. Orwell, being in the middle of imperialism and the Burmese people, did not want to destroy imperialism in the first place even though he does not like the way it treated the innocent Burmese people. However, seeing the elephant destroying Burmese’s homes and lives, he finally realized what imperialism had done to the people of Burma. The Indian man who died represent the fact that Burmese...

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