Summary of “Shooting an Elephant”

The book Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell tells a story inter-woven around the relationship between Burmese and European people on one hand, and the relationship between human beings and animals on the other; and how the views of a European differs from the views of a Burma regarding elephants. The story is told in the first person, showing that the author faced the experiences of the story and participated in the events that unfolded within the story.

The story begins with the writer’s view of how Indians of Burma disliked or hated Europeans. The writer was sub-divisional police officer in Burma at a time when a large number of Burmese hated him. The hatred of Europeans by the people of Burma can be seen in all quarters. Orwell says, “No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress” (p.1). Orwell also explains his own experience when he was on a football pitch and a Burmese tripped him up.  He says that even the referee on the pitch did not care about him, and thousands of Buddhist priests in town jeered Europeans in every street corner of the town.

According to Orwell, the unequal treatment of Europeans in Burma was a kind of imperialism which he considered as evil. As a police officer, Orwell experiences “dirty work” of the empire. He watches sympathetically but helplessly as prisoners are oppressed. Therefore, he was at a crossroad – between the empire which oppressed its people, and the people who made his job almost impossible by causing him trouble everywhere he goes. As he performs his job, he hopes to serve his empire while at the same time get people to like him.

George Orwell then uses his experience with an elephant to explain how the Burma people hated animals that tried to destroy them, but could not do anything about it because they did not have sufficient weapons to deal with them. He says that the elephant had attacked the village and caused a lot of destruction before he thought of taking any action. It happened when a sub-inspector called him to inform him of an incident where an elephant had attacke3d the locals of Burma. He was called to do something about it, so he went.

It was through this encounter with the elephant that the hatred of Burmese people against him as European vanished. Their problem now was the elephant – and they all wanted it killed. They did not have weapons, but the policeman did. When Orwell arrived at the village, the elephant had destroyed someone’s house, killed a cow and raided a grocery and destroyed stock. The writer explains the place where the incident occurred as a poor quarter. On a cloudy stuffy morning, Orwell started asking people where the elephant had gone. No one seemed to know where the elephant was, and Orwell almost concluded that everything was just a lie. However, noises of people yelling were heard again from a distance. Orwell then went towards the direction of the noises to face the elephant.

When the writer arrived at the place where the noise came from, he realized that the elephant had already killed a man. He asked the whereabouts of the elephant, and he was told where the elephant had gone. He asked for an elephant rifle from the orderly and he was given. He headed to the paddy fields where the elephant was grazing, and thousands of people followed him to witness the killing of the elephant. Orwell saw the elephant grazing peacefully, and he did not want to kill such a peaceful animal. However, the people who followed him expected him to kill the elephant. If left the elephant, the people would hate him even more; and they could make his job even harder. The writer says, “The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills press me forward, irresistibly” (p.4).  So he killed the elephant with several shots of the gun. The elephant died after about thirty minutes of agony. Orwell had killed with the pressure of the people.

References list

Orwell, G. Shooting an elephant.

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