Gary Hammontree

Gary Hammontree

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Orwell’s Elephant

On Shooting an Elephant

Officer Blair received a report of a run away elephant within his
jurisdiction. Leaving in response to the emergency, he is followed.
The crowd following him swells to the thousands, all intent on
witnessing the killing of the elephant and profiting from the
carcass. As they grew nearer to the beast, the crowd grew more
agitated. They were expecting him to shoot the elephant. Oddly, the
nearer Blair/ Orwell came to the elephant the less he wanted to shoot
the beast. The elephant had not intentionally caused harm; he was
just being an elephant.

The villagers had, by now whipped themselves into some kind of
vigilante frenzy, hell-bent for the elephant’s execution. Orwell felt
as though he had no choice but to kill the giant. If not, all respect
for the territorial police and authority would be lost. The sahib, as
he expresses it must maintain the allusion of authority and respect.
He had to shoot the elephant now. To fail at this would seal his fate
as any type of authority figure.

Orwell eventually shoots the elephant and watches as the elephant
reacts. Not mortally wounded, Orwell shoots repeatedly. Each time he
fires at the elephant there is a different and violent reaction by the
elephant; a reluctance to die. Orwell empathizes with the elephant’s
suffering. There is no reason for this animal to suffer like this
except ego and crowd rule.

Orwell could just as easily not killed the elephant. His position,
one of authority, shielded him to a degree; He could have just made a
proclamation in favor of sparing the animal, showing an imperial
largess, and mercy in sparing the elephant. These animals were after
all; extremely valuable as work animals being able to move huge loads
and pull whole trees out of the ground.

Orwell continues to justify his action. He sought validation through
the members of the village. Polling the older men then the younger
ones there is a difference of opinion. The older men approve of the
killing, the younger ones see the value of the beast and the
possibility of some other solution. Eventually Orwell succeeded in
justifying his action to himself. His conscience is clear, although
he expresses no remorse for the coolie that was killed by the

Orwell had alternatives available. He was the authority in this

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village. Whatever reason he gave for sparing the life of the elephant
was good enough. The problem? Complicated by his ego and fear of
losing face, the life of the giant beast became secondary to his
self-interest. A man more secure in his position may have been able
spare the animal simply because he knew that to be the right thing,
regardless of popular sentiment.

Finally, having saved his self-esteem and maintaining imperial
authority, Orwell continues to justify his actions, validating the
shooting of the elephant and saves himself from looking like a fool to
the rest of the villagers.
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