Shooting an Elephant Symbolism: Power Dynamics and Colonial Oppression

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Words: 536 |

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3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 536|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

George Orwell's renowned essay "Shooting an Elephant" is a powerful exploration of the complexities of power dynamics and the dehumanizing effects of colonialism. Through the use of vivid symbolism, Orwell delves into the experience of an imperial police officer in British-controlled Burma who is faced with the moral dilemma of shooting an elephant. This essay will analyze the symbolism of the elephant in Orwell's narrative, exploring its multifaceted representation of power, oppression, and imperialism.

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Orwell strategically employs the symbolism of the elephant to shed light on the various themes and issues at play in the essay. First and foremost, the elephant symbolizes the immense power and control held by the colonizers. In the essay, the elephant is described as a "huge and costly piece of machinery" that requires the presence of Western authority to maintain order. This representation highlights the oppressive nature of imperialism, where the subjugated population is forced to submit to the whims of the colonizers.

Furthermore, the elephant symbolizes the burden of responsibility that the imperial police officer carries. Despite his personal moral qualms about shooting the elephant, he feels compelled to do so due to the pressure of the local Burmese crowd. The symbolism of the elephant emphasizes the weight of the officer's duty and the expectations placed upon him by both the colonizers and the colonized.

Moreover, the elephant's behavior serves as a metaphor for the resistance and rebellion of the colonized people. The essay describes the elephant's destructive rampage through the village, causing chaos and fear among the locals. This symbolic representation highlights the frustration and anger that builds up within the colonized population, eventually leading to acts of resistance against their oppressors.

Additionally, the elephant symbolizes the loss of humanity and moral decay caused by colonialism. Orwell vividly describes the elephant's agonizing death, portraying the brutal consequences of the imperialist system. This symbolism serves as a critique of the dehumanizing effects of colonialism, which not only strips the colonized people of their rights and autonomy but also corrupts the moral compass of those in positions of power.

In conclusion, the symbolism of the elephant in George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" is rich and multifaceted, representing various aspects of power dynamics and colonial oppression. Through this symbolism, Orwell unveils the complexities of imperialism and its detrimental effects on both the colonizers and the colonized. The elephant serves as a powerful metaphor for the immense power held by the colonizers, the burden of responsibility carried by the imperial police officer, the resistance of the colonized people, and the loss of humanity caused by the imperialist system.

By delving into the symbolism of the elephant in "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell invites readers to critically examine the power dynamics and oppressive nature of colonialism. The essay serves as a powerful critique of imperialism, shedding light on the dehumanizing effects it has on both the oppressors and the oppressed. The symbolism of the elephant forces us to confront the uncomfortable realities of power and oppression, urging us to challenge systems of dominance and strive for a more just and equitable future.


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Orwell, George. "Shooting an Elephant." Literature and Society: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction, 5th ed., edited by Pamela J. Annas and Robert C. Rosen, Pearson, 2012, pp. 109-116.

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Shooting An Elephant Symbolism: Power Dynamics and Colonial Oppression. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
“Shooting An Elephant Symbolism: Power Dynamics and Colonial Oppression.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Shooting An Elephant Symbolism: Power Dynamics and Colonial Oppression. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jul. 2024].
Shooting An Elephant Symbolism: Power Dynamics and Colonial Oppression [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 24]. Available from:
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