In the story “Shooting an Elephant” George Orwell spoke of many reasons for telling the story but the one of the main reasons was because it gave Orwell a glimpse of the “real nature imperialism.” Imperialism demeans the individual, reducing them to inferior status in their own country. Then forces the individuals into making immoral decisions to maintain their power over the people. In “Shooting an Elephant,” the speaker turns against his own conscience to save his appearance for himself and his fellow officers.
Orwell states that the power in colonial and Burma are far from clear-cut. Although the authority that Orwell holds is symbolic, Orwell is still incapable of stopping the insults and abuse he received from enslaved Burmese. The abuse he suffers from the Burmese confuses Orwell, because he is “theoretically—and secretly” on their side and opposed to the cruel British Empire he serves. As a police officer he sees the cruelties of the imperial scheme up close and first hand. He dislikes the British being in the country. “In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters.” Orwell’s entire focus as a police officer had become avoiding the mockery of the Burmese.
A slight incident took places that gives Orwell awareness into the true nature of imperialism and the details about it. He receives a call from another officer, notifying him that a rogue elephant has been causing harm in the town. On the way, locals clarify that the elephant is not wild, but rather a tame one that has had an attack of “must.” “Must” occurs when tame elephants, held in chains, break their restraints and go crazy. On its rage, the elephant has wrecked public and private property and slaughtered livestock. Orwell can better understand imperialism through his run-in with the elephant because the elephant serves as a symbol of colonialism.
Orwell nearly concludes that the whole story was a joke. Suddenly, he hears a uproar nearby and rounds a corner to find a “coolie”—a laborer—lying dead in the mud, crumpled and skinned alive by the rogue elephant. Orwell walks to the field, and a large group who weren’t previously concerned in the destructive elephant, have seen the gun and are excited to see the beast shot. Orwell wasn’t comfortable with shooting the elephant and had the rifle only for self-defense. It appears that Burmese wield power over Orwell, overthrowing the colonial pyramid. He was no longer an authority figure, but rather a spectacle, and the power of the Burmese’ expectation is beginning to make Orwell feel like he can’t entirely control how to handles the matter. Orwell recognizes that the elephant is a nonviolent animal that has been driven to revolt due to its mistreatment.