George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” basically recounts the story of the harsh realities in Moulmein, Burma, when it was still under the control of the British Empire. Orwell’s essay revolves around the life of a British police officer, who is also the narrator and who is assigned in the town, at a time when the Burmese people expressed great disgust for the oppressive British Empire. At the first part of Orwell’s essay, he shows how the police officer, being a representative of the Empire, is hated by the Burmese, especially the Buddhist priests, whom he describes as “the worst of all” (143) in the story.
However, it was also shown in the essay that although the police officer is constantly jeered by the Burmese, he sympathizes with them due to the sufferings that the British Empire has caused. In other words, Orwell portrayed the main character as a person who is torn between serving the corrupt and oppressive country he works for and sharing the sentiments of the Burmese people who has been giving him a hard time doing his job as a police officer.
In the latter part of Orwell’s essay, the police officer is then requested to quell the chaos created by a loose elephant in bazaar, where it was last seen. In his investigation, the officer then sees the corpse of an Indian whom the elephant has trampled to death and then commands an orderly to bring him an elephant rifle. Although he originally brought the rifle for his protection since the elephant appeared to be harmless at present, he is suddenly pressured to kill the animal as the thousands of Burmese who were behind him were expecting him to do so.
He decides to shoots the brain of the elephant, which dies thirty minutes later. At the end of the story, the narrator explains that he only shot the elephant “solely to avoid looking a fool” (150).
Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant. ” The Longman Reader. 7th Edition. Eds. Judith Nadell, John Langan, and Eliza A. Comodromos. Pearson Education, Inc. 2005. 143-150.