In George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” narrative, I believe he was completely justified in the actions he had taken. He had to do his duty as a British subdivisional police officer in Lower Burma and he couldn’t afford to look weak in front of the native Burmese people who already had a mistrust and disliking of him because of the fact that he was European.
If he had not done what he had done then it could’ve caused more damage and the people would’ve hated him even more than they already did.
Orwell’s narration describes tension in Burma at this time and their hatred for the British occupiers. He mentions how despite that, he still sympathized with them against the British Empire which he also did not care for. Word comes around to him that an elephant had gone “must” and had escaped it’s chains and was rampaging through the village. He searched for the elephant while not getting any clear answers from the people as to where the elephant was. Eventually he found the corpse of an Indian man that was killed by the elephant. Now he knew that it was close by so he called for his rifle and a crowd of Burmans started gathering around when they thought that he planned on shooting the elephant which excited them. In his head he did not plan on shooting the elephant but wanted his rifle just in case he had no other choice. Orwell found the elephant in a field and ironically it looked very calm, though he did not know much about elephants and didn’t know for sure if it was still in “must”. One of the locals told him that he’d have to approach it and see how it reacts. He wanted to do that however he wasn’t too sure of himself and did not want to send it back into a rampage with the huge crowd watching and feared they would see him be trampled to death, which would be highly embarrassing. Eventually he fired at the elephant but it did not die, the crowd cheered. He kept firing at the animal to try and put it down, but it still would not die and guilt swept over Orwell. The crowd raced past him to be in lines to carve the elephant up for the meat. Orwell said it took nearly half an hour for the elephant to finally die.
George Orwell does an excellent job of setting up the time and place for this narrative. “In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves” (Orwell, 620). Shows how the Burmans deeply hated the British occupiers in Burma and did not respect them. “All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the Empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.” (Orwell, 620). This shows how Orwell did not care for his role that he played in Burma and while he did sympathize with the Burmans, he did not like them because they made his job harder on him. George Orwell states in his narrative that one thing he learned during this ordeal was that by being the occupier in Burma, the irony was that he was a pawn to both the will of the British Empire and the people he has to police over or else the peace would be lost. “Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind.” (Orwell, 623). The epiphany he experiences is very important because he realizes that he has no real control over what happens, he has to do his job and do the will of the native people, and thus the epiphany is one of the factors that pushed him to actually shoot the elephant, because he basically had no choice.
I believe Orwell’s purpose was to show the folly of trying to control others. His epiphany was that although he was the subdivisional police officer in the region, he was a puppet of the masses and the will of the Empire. The more control the Empire would try to put down onto people, the more the people like him who were tasked with dealing with the people directly would be in situations like he describes in the narrative, where he has to go along with the crowd as to maintain control, though he personally never really had any control. The narrative was most likely intended for the people back home in Britain that were well read so that they could understand more clearly what imperialism was like abroad and the experiences of British soldiers and police officers that had to deal with the native populations. I can relate somewhat to Orwell in that I work as a server and sometimes I have to deal with rude customers but I have to remain polite and provide good service both for the good tip and because the company would fire me if I was rude back. That is very similar to the rude Burmans Orwell had to deal with but had to still do his duty or be reprimanded by the Empire.
Orwell was justified in shooting the elephant, he needed to do so in order to keep the order with the people. Even though he did not want to go through with it if he had not, and it was still in “must” and it attacked, then any more deaths would be on his hands, or if it had killed him then the Burmans would all see it as they had crowded around. He was legally obligated to shoot the elephant as he states, “I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it.” (Orwell, 625). In the end it was his duty, though it was also the pressure from the crowds that ultimately pushed him into action.