Shooting an Elephant

An essay by George Orwell


'Shooting an Elephant' is a essay written by George Orwell. It is set in Burma (now Myanmar), during the height of the English Empire. During Britain's rule of Burma, three Anglo-Burmese Wars took place, meaning Burma was in a constant state of tension. There was also a lot of hatred directed towards England.

Website that helped

Primary or Secondary Source?

What are primary and secondary sources?

A primary source is information, that is taken "straight from the horses mouth". Which is to say, it is info taken from a source from the era in question. For example, old jewellery.

A secondary source is information that comes from an indirect knowledge of history. For example, a history website.

Is the essay a primary or secondary source?

There has been a large amount if debate as to whether 'Shooting an Elephant' is a primary or secondary source. Although it is unknown whether Orwell shot the elephant himself (however that is debated also), he did serve in Burma as a policeman, and was in a position very like the man he wrote about. Also, even though Orwell may not have shot the elephant, it is known that a violent elephant was shot, however it is not know who shot it.

I would classify it as a primary source because, although he may have not shot the elephant himself, he still experienced aspects of the life of the character and lived during that time period.

What can we learn about imperialism?

'Shooting an Elephant' teaches us a lot about imperialism. Firstly, that imperialism hurts both sides of the imperial relationship. It develops an unhealthy co-dependence between the two. The essay also teaches us about the unenthusiastic nature that develops in the foreign country. Once the other country has taken control, the native people work begrudgingly and slowly. It means that imperialism is counter productive.

Whose perspective is it from?

Parts of the text

In his essay, Orwell demonstrates how the English regime is despised, by the host country. People do not like to be controlled, especially by a different country. They will go out of their way to humiliate them. "...if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress."

In his essay, Orwell explains that, once a country occupies another, its officials becomes a slave to what the masses expect. "The people expected it of me and I had got to do it... [I was] seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.... For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him."

In his essay, Orwell explores the cruelty that arises through imperialism. "The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt."

In his essay, Orwell explains that when a country is colonized, the people there become only their financial value. The natives are completely dehumanized until they are worth less than an animal. "The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing... Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie."

Purpose and Objective

The purpose of Orwell's essay was to demonstrate the degrading, debilitating and dehumanizing effect of imperialism for both the occupied people and the imperialists.

The debilitating effect of imperialism, is the occupied country's refuses to co-operate with the imperialist country. This means that the country's productivity plumets.

The dehumanising effect of imperialism is when the ruled people become only their financial worth.

The allegorical meanings:

- Officer: Imperialist country

- Elephant: Colonised country

- Elephant's owner: Old rulers of Burma


In my opinion, in his essay, Orwell is not very typical. He describes all other officers feeling like this, that it was an average thing. However he was not an average man. He essay is his perspective from an intellectual standpoint rather than a typical one needed for this kind of generalisation.

Secondly, in his essay, Orwell doesn't mention any positive effects of imperialism such as improved infrastructure and better economy.

Personal Assessment

'Shooting an Elephant' taught me a lot about imperialism and gave me a first hand account of life in the colonies. It made me think harder about the symbolism in everyday life and in the other texts I read. However, I would warn other readers not to get too bogged down in the negative side of imperialism, without it, I wouldn't be writing this.


itfhjiltw, September 2008, Imperialism: Shooting an Elephant, April 27th,

CFOB, 2009, History Of Burma, April 22nd,