Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell Character Analysis

Because “Shooting an Elephant” is a short autobiographical reflection, Orwell is the only named character in the piece, as well as its narrator. At the time the story takes place, he works as a sub-divisional police officer in Moulmein, a town in the British colony of Burma. He is conflicted about his complicity in the British Empire—on one hand, he recognizes that it is a reprehensible and oppressive institution. On the other hand, however, he detests the resentful locals who abuse him because of his role in the imperial police force. The experience of shooting an elephant gives him insight into the way imperialism warps the colonists’ freedoms as much as it oppresses the colonized.

George Orwell Quotes in Shooting an Elephant

The Shooting an Elephant quotes below are all either spoken by George Orwell or refer to George Orwell. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harvest Books edition of Shooting an Elephant published in 1970.
“Shooting an Elephant” Quotes

With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupi

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – 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. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. 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. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Elephant
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Elephant
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Elephant
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

It seemed dreadful to see the great beast lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Elephant
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Related Characters: George Orwell (speaker)
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit e

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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George Orwell Character Timeline in Shooting an Elephant

The timeline below shows where the character George Orwell appears in Shooting an Elephant. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
“Shooting an Elephant”
Colonialism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
George Orwell works as the sub-divisional police officer of Moulmein, a town in the British colony of... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Principles Theme Icon
The abuse he suffers from Burmese confuses Orwell, because he is “theoretically—and secretly” on their side, and opposed to the oppressive British empire... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
One day, a minor incident takes places that gives Orwell insight into the true nature of imperialism and the reasons behind it. He receives a... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Orwell goes to the neighborhood where the elephant was last spotted, which is one of the... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Performance Theme Icon
Orwell’s subordinate returns with the gun, and locals reveal that the elephant is in a nearby... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Principles Theme Icon
The crowd reaches the rice paddies, and Orwell spots the elephant standing next to the road. The animal is calmly eating grass. Killing... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Principles Theme Icon
Performance Theme Icon
However, after he makes this decision, Orwell glances back at the crowd behind him. It has swelled to over two thousand people,... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
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Principles Theme Icon
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His inability to resist the crowd’s bloodlust makes Orwell realize that his authority over the locals is a hollow sort of power. Orwell, the... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Principles Theme Icon
Performance Theme Icon
Still, Orwell does not want to kill the beast. It appears “grandmotherly” to him; killing it would... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
Power Theme Icon
Principles Theme Icon
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There is only one thing Orwell can do. He loads the gun, lies on the road, and takes aim at the... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
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The elephant lies on the ground, breathing laboriously. Orwell waits for it to die, but it continues to breathe. He fires at its heart,... (full context)
Colonialism Theme Icon
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Principles Theme Icon
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Orwell’s choice to kill the elephant was controversial. The elephant’s owner was angry, but, as an... (full context)