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Shooting an Elephant Essay

George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” was a first-person narration by an Indian Imperial Police officer. Set in British colony of Burma during the early 20th century, the officer was seen as white foreign repressive authority figure. His relationship with Burmese natives was poor. The officer sympathized with the feelings of the Burmese, but still resented them. The story revolved around an elephant that killed a Burmese man and the officer’s moral dilemma about having to shoot it.

A large crowd gathered wanting the beast dead, while the officer deliberated the elephant’s fate. The officer shot several times wounding the elephant. Unable to watch the elephant suffer the officer left, while the crowd stayed to watch it died slowly in agony. The officer questioned whether the right decision was made. Orwell effectively used rhetorical strategies to argue the shooting by implementing response to opposing views, assumptions, and emotional appeals. Orwell responded to opposing views by claiming the shooting was legitimate and fulfilled the wishes of the natives.

Orwell argued, “legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owners fails to control it” as a justification for the shooting. (383) The narrator was trying to vindicate the killing of the elephant through law. He acknowledged that the shooting had divided opinions among Europeans (Orwell 383). The elder people felt he was right while the younger Europeans thought it was wrong to kill the animal just because it had a slayed native (Orwell 383).

The death of the native gave the officer a defense for the shooting. The narrator explained that the shooting was a necessity; his own life was in danger if he did not pull the trigger because of the size of the crowd that wanted the beast dead (Orwell 382). Orwell wrote, “it put me legally in the right and it gave me sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant” (383). Orwell assumptions start at the beginning of the essay when the Burmese hassle the narrator. The author claimed he was hated by many of the Burmese (Orwell 378).

Orwell summarized the natives despised him because he was an officer of the Imperial police; “As an officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it was safe to do so” (378). The narrator was appalled at the treatment of the Burmese by the British, yet beholden to do his job. Orwell contended that imperialism was wrong (378). When it was time to shoot the elephant, the officer was in a difficult situation. He had the authority, the means, and the skill, but he did not have the will. He did not want to shoot the elephant (Orwell 380).

The author compared the elephant to a piece of machinery; the officer realized the importance of the elephant to the owner and the financial cost (Orwell 380). Assumptions were made about animal significance and worth. He believed as the Burmese did about the Empire. The assumptions facilitated Orwell realization that he would have to shoot the elephant (381). Orwell’s use of emotional appeal was strongly evident in this essay. Orwell showed with convincing imagery the narrator’s shame of the British Empire (379). Orwell appeal was reinforced by an unbearable sense of remorse (379).

The officer was overwhelmed by massive burden and pressure over having to decide on whether or not to shoot the elephant. The writer said, “The people expected it of me and I got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward” (Orwell 381). Several times the officer repeated his feelings about not wanting to shoot the elephant (Orwell 380-381). The officer expressed the pressure he was under by the native to shoot the elephant (Orwell 381). Orwell wanted the readers to understand his position about the shooting by writing the essay.

The officer had the ultimate authority amongst the crowd to shoot the elephant however; the crowd’s large numbers essentially ordered and forced him into compliance. One cannot forget about a man’s pride being blemished, especially in the early twentieth century. Orwell wrote, “my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at” (381). The emotional appeal Orwell makes is strong through the entire essay. The argument that Orwell made about having to shoot an elephant was strong. He responded to opposing views and the reasons why the elephant had to be put down.

Orwell was legally justified but also provided sufficient evidence for self-perseveration. There were two thousand natives wanting the execution to happen. Orwell used assumptions to enhance the mood and perception the Burmese people had of him and of the British Empire. The author acknowledged that his assumptions of the Empire were the same. Orwell used the emotional appeals throughout the entire essay. The author cited reasons for having to shoot the elephant; he denied his inner voice and did the opposite. Clearly, Orwell argument for having to shoot the elephant was proven through use of the rhetorical strategies.


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