Shooting an Elephant

This study guide will help you analyse the short story “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Shooting an Elephant” (1936)
Author: George Orwell
Genre: Short story

George Orwell (1903-1950) is the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, an English writer and journalist who was born in British India. Orwell lived in India, Burma and England, places that inspired his writings. Today he is mostly known for his dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm, in which he explores totalitarian regimes and unequal societies The short story “Shooting an Elephant” is inspired by Orwell's experience as a police officer in Burma.

Note on genre

Orwell published "Shooting an Elephant" as an essay, so it is supposed to be a true story from Orwell's life. However, experts disagree on whether the story should be regarded as fact or fiction, so many choose to analyse the text as a short story instead. We have also chosen to regard it as a short story in this study guide.

Excerpt

Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide:

Title

“Shooting an Elephant” is an explicit title, setting readers’ expectations for an event involving the shooting of an elephant. The exotic animal also hints at the setting, indicating that the story probably takes place in a country where elephants live. Readers may be aware that George Orwell spent time in Burma and India, so might expect the events to take place in one of these countries.  The story confirms that the action takes place in Burma during the British rule. 

The title also suggests that the events are tragic, as shooting an elephant is not generally seen as something good or positive, but only something which should be done in an emergency. From the story we find out that the shooting of the elephant is all the more unethical since the narrator does it solely to protect his own reputation: “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.” 

On a symbolic level, the elephant might symbolise the British Empire and its demise – something the narrator also reflects on: “I did not even know that the British Empire is dying…” 

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Shooting an Elephant

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