Shooting an Elephant Summary
The author was serving as the sub-divisional officer of the town Moulmein in southern Burma. At that time an anti-European feeling ran high among the local people. As a police officer, the author was a favourite target with them, and they tried to harass him whenever they could. The Buddhists, living in the town, had a particular zest for jeering at the Europeans. This atmosphere of hostility naturally preyed on the author’s mind. He felt sorry for the local people who were the victims of British Imperialist rule. The plight of the prisoners, treated like so many animals, oppressed his heart. But he was powerless to do anything about it. He felt a strong desire to resign his post, but he was not in a position to do so. And, though he was sympathetic to the oppressed Burmese people, he often experienced a kind of blind rage against them because they made his life a hell and missed a single opportunity for insulting him.
One morning a sub-inspector of police informed the author that an elephant had somehow been let loose and was ravaging the bazaar area. So the author started out, taking an old rifle with him. It was a weapon with which nobody would even dream of killing an elephant. On his way, he learnt a few details about the elephant and the damages it had already done. It was really a tame elephant which had gone ‘must’. It had broken its chain the previous night and was now prowling about the town. It had destroyed a bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit stalls.
The author reached his destination and found the sub-inspector waiting for him. It was one of the poorer parts of the town. He received conflicting information as to the present whereabouts of the elephant. The author began to think that the whole story about the elephant was a fictitious one. Just then a great uproar was heard at a little distance. The author went forward to see what the uproar was about. Then he saw an appalling sight. The dead body of a man was lying in the mud. The people who had gathered there told the author that the man had been killed by the elephant. At once the author sent his orderly to fetch him an elephant gun. He learnt from some people that the elephant was in a paddy field a little distance away.
Now, as soon as the author started forward the entire crowd followed at his heels. They had become terribly excited at the prospect of the elephant being killed by the author. The author really had no intention of killing the elephant. And now, with this huge crowd following at his heels, he felt extremely nervous. He found the elephant standing in a paddy field, eating bunches of grass. He did not take the slightest notice of the crowd that was watching him from a distance of a few yards.
He felt that he should not kill the elephant. The creature seemed harmless enough. It seemed that his attack of ‘must’ was already passing off. Besides, an elephant was comparable to a huge piece of costly machinery, and, it must not be killed unless absolutely necessary. So the author decided to watch the elephant for a while and then return home.
But as he looked around, he found himself virtually surrounded with a sea of yellow faces, eager and excited at the prospect of an elephant being killed. They had taken it for granted that the sahib was going to kill the elephant and so they were going to have their bit of fun. Besides, they wanted its meat, too. Suddenly and with a feeling of horror, the author realized that he would have to kill the elephant even against his own will and better judgment. For, the huge crowd of natives was expecting him to shoot the elephant and he, as the representative of the omnipotent British Imperial Rule, was bound to live up to that expectation. That was the irony of imperialist domination, the author felt. The white men deprives the natives of their freedom and, in the process, loses his own. At that moment, the author felt that he had no will of his own, but was being driven on by the will of the multitude that surrounded him.
The author did not want to kill the elephant: and yet, at the bottom of his mind, he knew that he would have to kill it, after all. He consulted some of the more experienced Burmans about the present ways of the elephant’s behaviour. They all assured him that he took no notice of people so long as it was left alone. But it might charge if one went too close to him. So the author thought he would go within some twenty-five yards of the animal and see how it behaves.
If he charged, he would be justified to shoot him. Otherwise, he would just keep a watch over him till his mahout came and took him away. At the same time the author felt terrified at thought of what would happen if the animal charge and he missed him. He would instantly kill; but that was the least terrifying aspect of the matter. What worried and horrified the author was the thought that the natives would be laughing at his trampled and disfigured corpse. And, it is this horrible thought that finally decided the course of action he was going to take.
The author was now fully convinced that there was nothing for him to do but to kill the elephant. So he shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lying down on the road, took careful aim at the elephant. The author did not have a clear knowledge of the location of an elephant’s brain. So he aimed at his ear hole. He pulled the trigger and knew only from a demoniac cheer from the crowd that the shot had gone home. But three consecutive shots from his rifle failed to kill that huge animal. He lay there in the mud, gasping in a terrible agony of death. The author aimed the remaining two bullets at his heart, and still the animal did not die. So the author sent a man to fetch his small rifle and sent a number of shots into him. But these only served to aggravate the dying animal’s agony. Unable to stand the sight, the author left the place. Later he came to know that it had taken the animal some half an hour to die. As soon as he died the natives were immediately upon him with their ‘dahs’ and baskets. They took away the last bit of flesh from his body.
There was much controversy over the shooting of this elephant. Its owner could do nothing about it since he was an Indian. Opinion was divided even among the Europeans. However, the author was legally justified in killing the elephant because it had killed a man. The author wondered if anybody could guess the real reason behind his shooting the elephant–the desperate fear of being laughed and jeered at by the native Burmans.
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