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The Elephant and Crowd Effect

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The Elephant and Crowd Effect

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  • March 30, 2011
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The Elephant and Crowd Effect

Shooting an Elephant is a short story written by George Orwell in 1936. Regardless of my persuasive point that George Orwell was just writing a story about an elephant, “Shooting an Elephant” is actually a central text in modern British literature and has generated perhaps more criticism than any other comparable short story. The story is concerning an English colonial officer residing in Burma and his obligation to shoot a rogue elephant. In “Shooting an Elephant,” Orwell shows how crowds and peer pressure affect the human conscience.

To begin with, the narrator (who is assumed to be George Orwell, who was an actual officer in Burma) does not enjoy the situation he is in. In Burma in the middle of the twentieth century, “I was hated by large numbers of people,” he says, and “anti-European feeling was very bitter.” He then goes to talk about how a woman from Europe crossing the marketplace would get spit on and a police officer would make an even more likely target. Also, once at a soccer game, a Burmese player fouled the narrator while the Burmese ref “conveniently” looked the other direction, the largely Burmese crowd “yelled with hideous laughter.” This shows that the narrator has an early on encounter of mass proportions with a crowd.

Subsequently, the author receives a telephone report of an elephant “ravaging the bazaar.” He proceeded to take his a low powered rifle and rides on horseback to where he expects to find this beast. He rides up to a corpse that was crushed by the elephant just moments ago. A crowd sees this, and the narrator calls for an elephant rifle and cartridges. The narrator then finds the elephant in a nearby field, with the crowd following him. He suddenly understands that, even if the elephant isn’t a threat anymore, he must meet the crowd’s expectation of killing the elephant. Orwell recognizes that he must kill the elephant because the crowd will otherwise laugh at him and the laughter is...