George Orwell: Essays

Introduction

"Shooting an Elephant" is an essay by George Orwell, first published in the literary magazine New Writing in the autumn of 1936 and broadcast by the BBC Home Service on October 12, 1948.

The essay describes the experience of the English narrator, possibly Orwell himself, called upon to shoot an aggressive elephant while working as a police officer in Burma. Because the locals expect him to do the job, he does so against his better judgment, his anguish increased by the elephant's slow and painful death. The story is regarded as a metaphor for British imperialism, and for Orwell's view that "when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys."[2]

Orwell spent some of his life in Burma in a position akin to that of the narrator, but the degree to which his account is autobiographical is disputed, with no conclusive evidence to prove it to be fact or fiction.[3] After Orwell's death in 1950, the essay was republished several times, including in Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (1950), Inside the Whale and Other Essays (1957), and Selected Writings (1958).


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