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Summary of "Shooting an Elephant"

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A life of an elephant for not losing face, still being able to stagger, falter, hobble, limp, totter, dodder, or say, scrape his way out. Anyway, fair to George if no guilty conscience haunted him.

This section contains words approx. Browse all BookRags Study Guides. Get Summary of "Shooting an Elephant" from Amazon. View the Study Pack. View the Lesson Plans. A summary of George Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant," which describes an "accident" Orwell came across when he was a policeman in Burma. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving.

They all said the same thing: It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step.

If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened.

The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do. There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats.

They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward. When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick--one never does when a shot goes home--but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd.

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. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frighfful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time--it might have been five seconds, I dare say--he sagged flabbily to his knees.

An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping.

I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree.

He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. 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--I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken.

Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise.

It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression.

The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock. In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. His elderly colleagues agree that killing the elephant was the best thing to do, but the younger ones believe that it was worth more than the Indian it killed.

The narrator then wonders if they will ever understand that he did it "solely to avoid looking a fool. An anti-imperialist writer, Orwell promotes the idea that, through imperialism, both conqueror and conquered are destroyed. I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As ruler, he notes that it is his duty to appear resolute, with his word being final. I perceived in this moment that 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. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him.

He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things.

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. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at. Although it is not the narrator's wish to shoot the elephant, and even though he holds a weapon far beyond the technological capabilities of the natives, his will is not his own and, due to their expectation, he realises that he must shoot the elephant; "I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.

The narrator's situation throughout the essay is one of little prospect or prominence. He comments on how, even though he is of the ruling class, he finds himself either largely ignored by the Burmese people or hated. He remarks in the first sentence, "I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. In contrast to his description of the natives as "little beasts", the narrator labels the elephant as a "great beast", suggesting he holds it in higher esteem than the locals.

This is somewhat paradoxical, however, as the narrator's own job is demeaning and forces him to see "the dirty work of the Empire at close quarters". The narrator singles out "Buddhist priests"—persons synonymous with peace and goodwill—to be "the worst of all" and comments on how he would gladly "drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts".

Having killed the elephant, the narrator considers how he was glad it killed the " coolie " as that gave him full legal backing.


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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.

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George Orwell, best known for his novels, was also an accomplished essayist. Among his most powerful essays is the autobiographical essay "Shooting an Elephant," which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.

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In the essay “Shooting an Elephant” George Orwell argues that imperialism ruins and hurts not just a countries’ economic, cultural and social structure, but has other far reaching consequences; oppression undermines the psychological, emotional and behavioral development of mankind. Orwell served his country, the British Empire, in Burma during the early 20’s as a police [ ]. "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell is a narrative essay about Orwell's time as a police officer for the British Raj in colonial Burma. The essay delves into an inner conflict that Orwell experiences in his role of representing the British Empire and upholding the law.

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- George Orwells Shooting an Elephant In George Orwell's essay "Shooting An Elephant," he writes about racial prejudice. Orwell is a British officer in Burma. The author is, "for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British"(). Orwell feels caught in the middle of this cultural struggle. Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell In his essay Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell explains how the controlling authorities in a hostile country are not controlling the country's population but are in fact a mere tool of the populous.