Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Short Stories on Wednesday: Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

Hosted by Risa of Breadcrumb Reads.

"Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell

First published in 1936, George Orwell’s "Shooting an Elephant" tells the story about a disgruntled white police officer in Burma who hates his job. He is a symbol of imperialism and therefore disliked by the masses. He is called upon to find and take care of an elephant who on the loose wreaking havoc and violence everywhere. He finds the elephant eating peaceably in a field and is reluctant to shoot it. Behind him, however, is a crowd of Burmese anxious for him to shoot the elephant. To give into the crowd or save the elephant? The narrator must decide.

There is some question as to whether George Orwell’s essay is a true account or based purely in fiction. Regardless, it’s a suspenseful story and well told. I am not the biggest fan of short stories, often coming away from them wishing there was more. In this case, George Orwell does an excellent job of introducing his reader to the main character and setting up the story. I wasn’t left wanting in the end.

The essay carries with it a deeper meaning, beyond just the surface story. The anti-European is heavy in Burma at the time the story is set and the narrator himself is clearly opposed to imperialism, having grown more so based on his experiences as the masses see him as a symbol of that imperialism. The question of how far will a person go to please a crowd even if it may not be the right thing to do is also raised. It’s particularly significant given the role of the narrator.

It’s a fairly easy read if you have a few minutes to spare. "Shooting an Elephant" is a disturbing tale—so be forewarned.


© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

13 comments:

  1. This story was in one of the text books I used for years. The kids hated it because of the long paragraphs but I always liked it and tried to give them some historical background and bio info about Orwell.

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    1. How funny! I didn't notice the length of the paragraphs. I suppose that might be daunting to kids that age initially.

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  2. I've not heard about any controversy over whether or not this is a true story before. All of it rings true as far as I can tell. I've always seen it called an essay. Of course, I guess we just have Orwell's word on it, don't we.

    My sense of it was that he really blamed imperialism for putting him in that position rather than the crowd's demands. If not for imperialism, the crowd or the elephant would have dealt with the situation somehow, I guess.

    It's a wonderful essay/story in any case.

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    1. When I first read this story many years ago for a class, the question came up of whether it was true or not. It really makes no difference to me, one way or the other.

      I think you are right about him blaming imperialism for putting him in that position, although I don't think he would have done what he did had the crowd not been there, expecting something to happen.

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  3. Makes you really understand how peer pressure works, doesn't it?

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  4. Oh, I think I would cry. I often tell my kids that my favorite animal is the elephant, but the ultimate animal would be an elephant with a butterfly on his head! This does sound like a really powerful piece of short fiction, so I am sure to read it now that you have highly recommended it, but I will have the tissues ready.

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    1. Heather - I love that image: an elephant with a butterfly on his head. :-) It is powerful and very well written. I confess I didn't like the ending at all. It made me sad. And mad. And now I've spoiled the ending, haven't I?

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  5. I should check that out. I've read very little Orwell apart from 1984 and the Road to Wigan Pier.

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    1. What did you think of Road to Wigan Pier, Marie? I haven't read that one.

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  6. I read this story well over 40 years ago and I was able to recall much of it thanks to your very well done post. I like Orwell because he strives to speak the truth.

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    1. Mel U - His writing is still relevant today, which makes it all the more powerful, I think.

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  7. Sounds like one I will like to read and discuss. Maybe I can get my son to read it with me!

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