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    A Theme Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay “Shooting an Elephant”

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    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. Orwell’s experience with the elephant provided the insight for his essay, and gives a clear example of the control the natives have over the authorities.

    The authorities in Lower Burma were there to police the state that their government controlled, but were only accomplished in being controlled by the people of the state. Orwell finds this truth in his encounter with the elephant that has ravaged parts of the city. Orwell develops a following of the native people after he finds the Indian who has been trampled by the elephant, but doesn’t realize that these people are going to make him shoot the elephant. As Orwell comes upon the elephant, peacefully eating grass, he knows that he is not going to harm the animal, but rather watch him and make sure it doesn’t go “mad” again.

    Orwell then notices the immense crown of natives that has formed around him, all hoping to get a little entertainment. It is at this moment that Orwell understands that he must now kill the animal. Orwell writes, “They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all.” This understanding by Orwell is how the people, who Orwell was meant to control, had turned the tables and seized control of the situation with their presence alone. How could Orwell waiver the people around him were expecting that the animal be killed? If Orwell had walked away the air of control would be lost, leaving Orwell to the laughter and jeers of the crowd, “And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughedat.”

    This influence on Orwell, by the natives, to shoot the elephant was enough to overcome Orwell’s own sense of right and wrong, leaving him to the will of the mob around him. Orwell could not test the elephant; if it charged him and trampled him to the ground he would be left open to laughter from the crowd. This was an unacceptable notion to Orwell, he was laughed at constantly by these people around him and he would do anything to avoid it, including shooting the elephant. “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 mere threat of laughter was the only reason Orwell shot the elephant. Not for fear of his own life but the mere chance that he might lose face in the presence of the natives was all Orwell needed to shoot the animal.

    This power the natives had over Orwell was compounded as Orwell was forced to watch the mighty elephant die in agony. Orwell had not wanted to shoot the animal from the start but the threat of laughter from the people around him forced him into doing their bidding. Giving into the mob would alleviate the problem of looking the fool in front of the natives, but watching the animal die set Orwell in his place.

    Orwell was forced to shoot the animal repeatedly, until he ran out of ammunition, further adding to the animals suffering. Orwell watched the animal die, and was forced to hear elephant’s slow gasps as the animal lay in front of him. Orwell shot round after round into the animal, but with no effect and he was forced to listen to the elephant gasp for every breath. This proved too much for Orwell, and he walked away, “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.” Instead of hearing the laughter from the crowd, Orwell was faced with listening to the creature he shot die in extreme pain.

    This situation put all the guilt on Orwell, to save face he shot an elephant and was forced to watch the creature die. This need not to be laughed at is the control that the people had over the authorities. Orwell could not back down for fear of ridicule by the people who he was to police, so he shot the animal. Then as to further solidify the natives control over him, Orwell was forced to listen to the elephant he shot die in agony. The crowd around him dictated his decision, and Orwell was powerless to their influence.

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    A Theme Analysis of George Orwell’s Essay “Shooting an Elephant”. (2022, Dec 15). Retrieved from

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