Summary of 'Shooting an Elephant': Imperialism, Power and Morals

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About this sample


Words: 490 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jul 3, 2023

Words: 490|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jul 3, 2023

'Shooting an Elephant' is an autobiographical essay written by George Orwell, reflecting his experiences as a British police officer in colonial Burma (present-day Myanmar) during the early 20th century. In the summary of 'Shooting an Elephant' we explore themes of imperialism, power dynamics, and the moral dilemmas faced by individuals in oppressive systems.

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The narrative begins with Orwell receiving news of an elephant causing havoc in a small town. As the sole representative of the colonial authority, he feels compelled to respond. However, he is conflicted. He despises the oppressive nature of imperialism and resents the Burmese people's hatred towards the British. Nonetheless, he succumbs to the pressure and decides to shoot the elephant.

Throughout the essay, Orwell vividly describes the atmosphere and the ethical struggle he experiences. He walks us through the journey to find the elephant, which becomes an allegory for the oppressive nature of imperialism. The elephant itself symbolizes the burdensome weight of imperialism that both the colonizers and the colonized carry.

As Orwell encounters the elephant, it appears calm and non-threatening. He realizes that it has become docile, and its previous rampage was merely a result of being provoked. Orwell's internal conflict deepens. He contemplates whether he should kill the elephant, as doing so would please the Burmese crowd and maintain the authority of the colonial power. One of the underlying themes of 'Shooting an Elephant' is conscience, as seen by the narrator's internal dilemma. The narrator has a duty to maintain as a colonial police officer. While he despises the local Burmese for considering him as their foreign oppressor and pestering them as a result, he understands their feelings. Themes like self-awareness, cultural strife, and order and anarchy all play important roles in 'Shooting an Elephant'. The narrator's moral code is fought against colonial legislation throughout the essay, notably in the context of elephant slaughter and the treatment of Burmese refugees.

However, Orwell is aware that shooting the elephant is unnecessary and morally wrong. He recognizes the futility of the act, as the elephant is no longer a threat. Nevertheless, the expectations of the crowd and the desire to preserve his image as a powerful figure push him to follow through with the act.

In the end, Orwell reluctantly shoots the elephant. The elephant's slow, agonizing death mirrors the dehumanizing effects of imperialism on both the oppressor and the oppressed. Orwell is left feeling remorseful and guilty for his actions, realizing that the true victims of imperialism are not only the colonized but also the colonizers themselves.

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In conclusion, 'Shooting an Elephant' serves as a powerful critique of imperialism, exposing the contradictions and moral dilemmas faced by individuals caught within oppressive systems. Orwell's vivid descriptions and personal introspection reveal the complexities of power dynamics and the devastating consequences they have on both the oppressed and the oppressors. The essay ultimately challenges the notion of power as an instrument of control and highlights the destructive nature of imperialism on the human spirit.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Summary of ‘Shooting an Elephant’: Imperialism, Power and Morals. (2023, July 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Summary of ‘Shooting an Elephant’: Imperialism, Power and Morals.” GradesFixer, 03 Jul. 2023,
Summary of ‘Shooting an Elephant’: Imperialism, Power and Morals. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 Apr. 2024].
Summary of ‘Shooting an Elephant’: Imperialism, Power and Morals [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Jul 03 [cited 2024 Apr 17]. Available from:
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