Shooting an Elephant

shooting an elephantThis story by George Orwell is a which discusses some of the wrongs of British Imperialism. A young officer in the British Police in the early 1920’s describes an experience with an elephant that had killed a villager. He tells how he felt forced to do something that he believed was wrong in order to please a large crowd of local people.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Simplified English story which are not in our Intermediate Level 1800 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

General Comments on the Story

Orwell is generally considered to be one of the best historical recorders of early twentieth century British culture. The events in this story take place in Burma (modern day Myanmar) in a town called Moulmein. Before becoming a writer, Orwell worked for 5 years as a police officer in Burma. Because most of his time as a policeman was spent in Moulmein, some people believe that he may have been writing of a personal experience. Something that may confuse readers is that although Orwell is writing about experiences in Burma, he talks a number of times about ‘Indians’ and British rule over India. This is because Burma was part of Britain’s Indian Empire at the time.

Most good stories are built around some kind of conflict. In “Shooting an Elephant”, the narrator experiences three. In literary terms the first two are called external conflicts because they have to do with the outside world. One is with the British Empire because of its unjust rule over Burma; the other is with the Burmese people because he thinks that they hate and continually make fun of him as a representative of the British Empire. His third and most difficult conflict is internal; it exists totally in his mind. This is the struggle he has in choosing between doing what he believes to be the right thing, and maintaining what he believes to be the correct image in front of the crowd.

A number of critics suggest that the narrator’s internal conflict is an example of peer pressure. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The policeman does not think of the Burmese people as his equals. Instead he looks down on them as being of a lower class, calling them at various points mean-minded, evil-spirited coolies and natives. At the end of the story he comments that his true peers – other younger officers in the police force – agreed with his thoughts that he should not have shot the elephant, using the sad reasoning that “it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Indian coolie”.

In my opinion, the story is an interesting example of what people call “face”. For many years I thought that “face” was an Asian cultural concept. However, in a discussion on the issue with a university colleague from South Africa, he mentioned that the concept of “face” was also a major reason behind some of the terrible apartheid laws that existed in his country between 1948 and 1994. As I think about it, it may also have been part of the thinking behind the government approved racism which existed in the United States before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of the messages of “Shooting an Elephant” is that, in a society with many social classes, people will go to great lengths to look good and not lose “face” in the eyes of those who they consider to be of a lower class… even if this requires actions against their peer group beliefs or personal ideas about what is right and wrong.

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(n: narrative essay) A story about something that happened in the past, often a real event in the life of the author, that includes and supports a thesis [an opinion that the author wishes to discuss or prove].

(adj: colonial) Of or relating to a colony.
(n: colony pl colonies) 1. An area that is controlled by or belongs to a country and is usually far away from it. 2. A group of people sent by a country to live in such an area. 4000

bamboo(n: bamboo pl bamboos) A tall plant with hard hollow stems that are used for building and to make furniture, tools, etc. 8000

(n: belief pl beliefs) Something believed or accepted as true without proof. 3000

betel(n: betel, noncount) 1. An Asian climbing plant. 2. An item traditionally chewed by the peoples of South East Asia, made from the leaves of the betel plant, seeds of the areca palm [often called betel nuts] and lime.

bullet(n: bullet pl bullets) A small piece of metal or another material that is shot out of a gun. 4000

bunch(n: bunch pl bunches) A group of things of the same kind that are held or tied together or that grow together. A bunch of bananas; a bunch of flowers; a bunch of grapes; a bunch of keys. 3000

buttocks(n: buttock pl buttocks) The soft parts of the body that a person sits on. 10000

coolie(n: coolie pl coolies) An old-fashioned, offensive name for an unskilled Asian laborer who is paid low wages. 14000

cruel(adj: cruel, crueler, cruelest) Used to describe: 1. someone who hurts others and does not feel sorry about it; 2. something that causes or helps to cause pain or suffering.
(n: cruelty pl cruelties) 1. Something which causes pain or suffering. 2. The quality or state of being cruel. 3000

devil(n: devil pl devils) The most powerful spirit of evil; The ruler of Hell; Satan. 3000
(adj: devilish) Looking or acting like a devil; wicked, evil.

(n: Empire pl Empires) A group of countries or regions that are controlled by one ruler or one government. 3000.
(n: Emperor pl Emperors) A man who rules a group of countries or regions. 8000
(adj: Imperial) Of or relating to an empire or an emperor. 5000

exhaustion(n: exhaustion, noncount) A state of being very tired or having no mental or physical energy. 8000

(adj: humid) (of weather) Having a lot of moisture in the air. 8000

hut(n: hut pl huts) A small and simple house or building. 3000

(n: imperialism, noncount) The policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world. 5000

mahout(n: mahout pl mahouts) The keeper and driver of an elephant.

mask(n: mask pl masks) A covering worn on the face to change or hide what you look like. 3000

(adj: municipal) To do with a Municipality (a district, town or city able to make its own laws for local government). 7000

(n: musth, noncount) A sexually active period among adult male elephants and some other animals during which they can become very aggressive and difficult to control.

naked(adj: naked) 1. Not wearing any clothes; not covered by clothing; bare. A naked body; naked shoulders. 2. Without the usual covering. A naked light/sword 3. [of emotions, attitudes, etc.] Expressed strongly and not hidden. naked ambition, the naked truth 3000

(n: palm pl palms) 1. The inside part of the hand between the wrist and the fingers. 2. A kind of tree which grows in hot countries and has a straight, tall trunk and many large leaves at the top. 3000

palm of hand palm tree

puppet(n: puppet pl puppets) A doll that can be moved by pulling strings or wires attached to it or by putting the hand inside the body. 6000

referee(n: referee pl referees) A person whose job it is to make sure that players act according to the rules of a game or sport. 3000

(n: sahib pl sahibs) A former term of respect for important white Europeans in colonial India, used after the person's name.

(adj: shabby) In poor condition especially because of age or use; looking worn or dirty. 8000

shame(n: shame, noncount) 1. A feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness because you have failed at something or done something wrong or foolish. 2. Something that causes such a feeling; a pity.
(adj: shameful) Something so bad that someone should feel shame because of it.
(adj: shameless) Having done something shameful without feeling shame. 2000

sigh(v: sigh, sighs, sighed, sighing) To take in and let out a long, loud breath in a way that shows you are bored, disappointed, unhappy, relieved, etc. 4000

spit(v: spit, spits, spat, spitting) To force something [such as food or liquid] from your mouth. (ถ่มน้ำลาย) 3000

steam-roller(n: steam-roller pl steam-rollers) A large machine equipped with a heavy roller for making road surfaces flat. (รถบดถนน)

steep(adj: steep, steeper, steepest) [of a mountain, hill, stairs etc] Almost straight up and down; rising or falling very sharply. (สูงชัน) 3000

(n: tick pl ticks) 1. A small, quick, regular sound that is made by a machine, especially that of a watch, clock etc. (เสียงดังติ๊ก ๆ) 2. A mark (✓) used to show that something is correct, has been noted etc. (เครื่องหมายขีด) 2000

trumpet(n: trumpet pl trumpets) A brass musical wind instrument with a high, clear tone. (แตร)
(v: trumpet, trumpets, trumpeted, trumpeting) To make a sound like the instrument, such as the noise an elephant makes through its trunk. (เสียงเหมือนแตร) 5000

(n: trunk pl trunks) 1. The thick main stem of a tree from which the branches grow. (ลำต้น) 2. A large strong box that can be locked and used for holding clothes or other things, especially when traveling. (หีบใส่ของ) 3. The long nose of an elephant. (งวงช้าง) 4000

tree trunk wardrobe trunk elephant trunk

tusk(n: tusk pl tusks) A very long, large tooth that sticks out of the mouth of an animal [such as an elephant, walrus, or wild pig, etc.]. (งาช้าง) 13000

yard(n: yard pl yards) 1. The area of ground around a house, usually covered with grass or plants. (สนาม) 2. An area of enclosed (fenced) ground used for a special purpose. (ลานบ้าน) 3. An old British unit of length equal to three feet or 0.9144 meters. (หลา) 2000

(v) In many cultures, making a sharp clicking sound with the tongue is a way of showing that you do not approve of something that someone has done or are a little angry about it.

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