SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT BY GEORGE ORWELL
Introduction: The British Empire is evidently the dominant historical setting for “Shooting an Elephant.” During the nineteenth century, the empire expanded quickly, spreading its territories to far off places like New Zealand and India. Burma (now Myanmar ) was the place where Orwell was located and the place was gained by the British in 1886. Burma obtained its freedom from Britain in 1948, a moderately short time after “Shooting an Elephant,” an affirmation of Orwell’s observation in the story that “the British Empire is dying.” Here George Orwell narrates an incident he had with an elephant when he was serving as a young police officer in Burma. The elephant had gone mad and killed an Indian coolie.
Orwell’s task was to shoot the elephant and thus prevent more damage. This story gives us the point of View of a white man, a colonial. It sensitively probes the subtle relationship between the colonizer (whites) and the colonized (natives).
About the Author: George Orwell (1903 – 1950) whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair was a noted British author, Journalist, novelist, a cultural commentator, and a noted essayist. His short life did not prevent him from producing many works Which are now considered masterpieces. His works Animal Farm and 1984 further glorified his fame.
Meanings and Explanations
I had halted …………. home
In this paragraph ‘we see Orwell coming face to face with the elephant, whom he will have to shoot, for the first time. Here he describes the thoughts that came into his mind as he watched the elephant. He says that he had ﬁrst decided to watch the elephant for a little while and not shoot him if he did not turn savage.
“must”: an attack of frenzy
mahout: the man who looks after elephant
But ………. laughed at
In this paragraph, Orwell describes his feelings as he sees the Burmans watching him. He was the only white man in the whole crowd. These were the days when the British used to rule to rule over many parts of the world; Orwell expresses his view that the Westerner who ruled over the East Was actually controlled by those whom he ruled over. He had to act in order to save his Sahib image or the impression the natives had about him as a sahib would be lost. He was thus a mere dummy playing his role.
momentarily. : for a moment
irresistibly: without any resistance
dominion: here, power
unarmed: Without weapons
native: people originally belonging to the place
absurd: not reasonable
puppet: a doll, (here) one who acts according to another’s instructions
tyrant: an oppressor
trail feebly: follow behind slowly
But ……….. better aim
Here we understand that Orwell was against shooting the elephant. But in his mind, he knew that he had to shoot the elephant. Otherwise, the Burmans would attack him or laugh at him. He gives many reasons why he had to kill an elephant. He makes plans on how to shoot the elephant.
preoccupied: lost in thought
squeamish: ” easily made nauseous”. (nausea => vomiting sensation)
poor shot: not able to shoot properly
toad: big frog.
pursued: to go after; followed
trampled: to be smashed underfoot
alternative: option, choice
cartridges: Charges for gun
magazine: gun from which shots can be fired without reloading
The crowd ……………… I lay
Orwell does not have much experience in shooting elephants. Therefore he aims incorrectly. The reaction of the crowd is also explained here. In these two paragraphs, Orwell also tells us what happens to the elephant when it is hit.
still: silent, without moving
glee: great joy
mysterious: not very clear, secret
shrunken: to reduce in size
paralyzed: unable to move
knocking: striking, making him fall
sagged: to sink, to lose strength
senility: the weaknesses of old age
agony: great pain
remnant: remains, what is left behind
tower: to rise in air
Skyward: towards the sky
trumpeted: the cry of the elephant
I got up …………. afternoon
Here Orwell gives you a vivid description of the last few moments of the elephant’s life. He also tells you about what the Burmans did to the elephant.
obvious: very clear
rattling: short, hard sounds
torture: extreme pain
remote: far away
dreadful: very painful
stripped: to remove covering; here remove flash and skin
Afterward ………….. fool
These were many opinions among the people about the shooting of the elephant. Orwell ends his essay by telling you the truth as to why he shot the elephant.
furious. very angry
legally: according to law
Comprehension Short Answer Questions
1 What was the author’s first thought as he looked at the elephant?
Ans: As soon as the author saw the elephant he thought that he should not shoot it.
2. Why did Orwell think that he ought not to shoot the elephant?
Ans: Orwell thought that he should not shoot the elephant because it was a working elephant and therefore very precious. Also, the elephant looked very peaceful as he stood eating.
3. Why is it a serious matter to shoot a working elephant?
Ans: A working elephant is equal to a huge and costly piece of machinery. Hence it is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant.
4. How did the elephant look from a distance?
Ans: The elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow from a distance.
5. What did Orwell think about the ”must” of the elephant?
Ans: He thought that the “must” was already passing off. If that was the case then he would merely wander harmlessly until the mahout came back and caught him.
6. What did Orwell plan at first?
Ans: Orwell decided that he would watch the elephant for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage and then go home.
7. Describe the crowd that gathered around Orwell?
Ans: It was a huge crowd of at least two thousand people. It looked like a sea of yellow faces above colourful clothes. They were happy and excited about shooting the elephant.
8. What did the natives think of Orwell?
Ans: The natives did not like Orwell but with the rifle in his hand he was worth watching.
9. How did Orwell realize that he would have to shoot the elephant after all?
Ans. The people around him expected him to shoot the elephant. In order to fulfill their expectation, he realised that he would have to shoot the elephant after all.
10. Why does Orwell call the White man’s dominion over the East, futile?
Ans. The White man thinks that he is the real master over the natives. But according to Orwell, he is only a puppet who has to work according to the will of the native.
11. What is the actual condition of the White man?
Ans. The White man has to spend his life in trying to impress the natives. Therefore he has to do everything as the native expects him to do.
12. How does Orwell describe every White man’s life in the East?
Ans. According to Orwell, every White man’s life in the East was one long struggle not to be laughed at.
13. State two reasons why Orwell did not want to shoot the elephant?
Ans. Orwell had never wanted to shoot a large animal like an elephant. Besides he had to consider the owner also.
14. What did the Burmans say about the elephant?
Ans. The Burmans said that the elephant took no notice of anyone if he was left alone. But he might attack if anyone went close to him.
15. What were Orwell’s plans about shooting the elephant?
Ans. Orwell planned to walk up to twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he attacked, Orwell would shoot. If he did not then he would, leave him alone till his mahout came back to take him.
16. Why does Orwell dismiss the idea of walking up to twenty-five yards of the elephant?
Ans. The mud was soft and Orwell was a poor shot with the riﬂe. If the elephant charged then Orwell would find it difficult to escape.
17. What was the sole thought in Orwell’s mind as he watched the natives?
Ans. The sole thought in Orwell’s mind was that if anything went wrong the two thousand Burmans watching him would pursue him and kill him.
18. What was the only alternative according to Orwell?
Ans. The only other alternative was to shoot the elephant.
19. What did the crowd do when Orwell loaded his rifle?
Ans. The crowd grew very still and let out a deep, low and happy sigh. They were like people in the theatre watching the curtain go up after a long wait.
20. What was the right way of shooting an elephant?
Ans. In shooting an elephant one should shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear hole to ear hole. Orwell aimed several inches in front of the elephants ear-hole thinking that the brain was in front. He Was actually Wrong.
21. What did the crowd do when Orwell shot the elephant?
Ans. The crowd let out a devilish roar of glee.
22. What happened to the elephant at the first shot?
Ans. A terrible change came over the elephant. He became stricken and looked very old. He fell to his knees and his mouth slobbered.
23. What happened to the elephant at the second shot?
Ans. At the second shot he did not collapse but stood up slowly with his legs sagging and his head drooping.
24. What happened to the elephant at the third shot?
Ans. At the third shot, the last drop of strength went away from his body. He trumpeted for the first and only time. Then he fell down with a crash
25. What was the condition of the elephant after the three shots?
Ans. The elephant did not die. He was breathing heavily and painfully with his mouth open.
26. Why did the author send for his small riﬂe?
Ans. The author wanted to put an end to the agony of the elephant.
27. What did the Burmans do to the elephant?
Ans. The Burmans brought dahs and baskets and stripped the elephant’s body almost to the bones by the afternoon.
28. What was the owner’s reaction to the incident?
Ans. The owner was furious but as he was only an Indian, he could do nothing.
29. What does Orwell say about the legal aspect of the shooting?
Ans. Legally Orwell had done the right thing as he had killed a mad elephant whose owner had failed to control it.
30. What did the Europeans say about the shooting?
Ans. Among the Europeans, opinion was divided. The older men said that Orwell was right and the younger men said that it was a shame to kill a working elephant which was more valuable than the coolie it had killed.
31. Why does Orwell Say that he was glad that the coolie had been killed?
Ans. Orwell was glad that the coolie had been killed because it put him legally in the right and gave him a reason for shooting the elephant.
32. What does Orwell say about the killing in the end?
Ans. He wonders if others knew that he had done it to avoid looking like a fool.
Paragraph Questions & Answers
1. What were Orwell’s first thoughts as he saw the elephant?
Ans. As soon as Orwell saw the elephant, he knew that he ought not to shoot the elephant. He knew that it was a serious matter to shoot a working elephant. A working elephant was as valuable as a costly piece of machinery. Moreover, at a distance, the elephant looked very peaceful. Orwell thought that the ”must” was already passing off and therefore he would watch the elephant for a while to see if it turned savage and then go home.
2. What does Orwell say of the crowd that had gathered around him?
Ans. The crowd was immense. At least two thousand people were there and the number was growing. Orwell describes it as ”a sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes.” They were happy that the elephant was going to be shot. Though they did not like Orwell, they watched him as he had a riﬂe in his hands. Orwell knew that he would have to shoot the elephant because these people expected him to shoot it.
3. Why does Orwell say that the White man’s dominion in the East is futile?
Ans. As Orwell stood in front of the people with the riﬂe in his hands, he understood the hollowness and futility of the White man’s power in the East. The White man was like a puppet in the hands of these people. To appear to be powerful and to maintain the sahib image, he has to do what the natives expected him to do It was like wearing a mask.
4. Why does Orwell say he does not want to shoot the elephant?
Ans. As Orwell watched the elephant he knew that he did not want to shoot the elephant To kill the elephant would be like murdering it. He was against the killing of large animals. Besides, the elephant’ s owner had to be considered If the elephant was alive it was worth a hundred pounds If it was dead, then the owner would only get five pounds for its tusks.
5. What were the steps Orwell considered before shooting the elephant?
Ans. Orwell knew perfectly well what he ought to do. He decided to walk up to twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behaviour If the elephant attacked, he would shoot. If not, then Orwell would just Watch him till the mahout Came back. But he soon gave up the idea because the mud was very soft. If the elephant attacked he would not be able to run fast in the mud and he was surer to be killed.
6. Describe the first three shots of Orwell and its impact on the Elephant.
Ans. At the first shot, a terrible change came over the elephant. It did not stir or fall, but every line of its body changed. It looked shrunken and very old as if the bullet had paralysed it. It sagged to its knees and its mouth slobbered At the second shot, it did not fall but stood very slowly to its feet, legs sagging and head drooping. The third shot took away all strength from its body. Its hind legs collapsed and it seemed like a huge rock that was falling. It fell down with a crash It trumpeted for the first and only time.
7. Describe the last minutes of the elephant’s life.
Ans. The elephant was not dead even after the three shots He was breathing loudly with a rattling noise. His mouth was wide open. Orwell continued to shoot him but he did not die. He did not even jerk. Blood poured out from him body Orwell took his small rifle and shot him in the heart and throat. But the elephant looked like he was in a world where no other pain could reach him. It took the elephant half an hour to die.
8. What are the varied opinions regarding the shooting of the elephant?
Ans. There were endless discussions regarding the shooting of the elephant. The owner was very angry. But he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, Orwell had done the light thing legally by shooting the mad elephant that had killed a coolie. The European opinion was divided. The older men said that Orwell was right. But the younger men said that Orwell should not have killed the elephant for killing a coolie because the elephant was more precious than the coolie.
Vocabulary and Usage
(i) Pick out words from the text relating to (a) elephants (b) guns
elephants – trunk, tusk, trumpet, mahout, ”must”, savage.
guns – riﬂe, cartridge, magazine aim, trigger, bullet
(ii) Make a list of the similes used in the text
a) as much chance as a toad under a steam roller (meaning no chance at all).
b) to tower like a huge rock toppling (to describe the enormous elephant swaying with pain)
c) a happy sigh as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last. (to describe the feeling at the commencement of a long-awaited event).
(iii) replace the italicised phase with one word.
a) According to law, she is my wife.
A: Legally, she is my wife.
b) He looked towards the sky to see if it would rain.
A: He looked skywards to see if it would rain.
c) When she saw the snake, she was unable to move.
A: When she saw the snake, she was paralyzed
d) They stood without moving until the bear had gone.
A. They stood still until the bear had gone.