"Shooting an Elephant" Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for Shooting an Elephant

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in "Shooting An Elephant"


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Evils of Imperialism

The story highlights the evils of imperialism, including the dirty work of neglected prisoners and bamboo beatings. The narrator is plagued with guilt over the part he plays in perpetuating the treatment of the Burmans. The story also highlights the cycle of resentment that comes with a people who are being oppressed by a despotic government: the more they rebel and mistreat the occupying forces, the more the occupying forces’ disdain increases and the punishments become more severe. This leads to more resentment by the people, and more resentment by the occupiers. The Burmans are unarmed, totally reliant on the British government, impoverished, and subjugated. The narrator is a part of this imperial machine, but he hates it because he sees its downsides and its victims.

The Crisis of Conscience

The narrator struggles with his conscience over killing the elephant. After he shoots the elephant, he finds that he didn’t do it correctly, and the suffering of the animal causes him to eventually have to walk away. He finds out later that the elephant took a half an hour to die; he is plagued by this guilt for many years afterwards because he knows that he made the wrong decision for all of the wrong reasons.

The Struggle with Pride

The narrator struggles with his conscience because he doesn’t want to look like a fool by walking away from the elephant in front of the Burman crowd. Even worse, he doesn’t want to accidentally be killed by the elephant, which the crowd would observe with laughter. He muses that his predicament is a reflection of the “futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.” He sees himself as a puppet whose strings are being pulled by the crowd, and that even though his position is supposed to put him in control, he very much is not in control of anything at all.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Elephant

The elephant can be seen as a symbol of the people oppressed by British Imperialism. The elephant is chained up but breaks free, and follows its natural behavior. When it has expended its energies and revenge, it is peaceful. However, despite its calm and peaceful demeanor, it is punished not because of its sins, but because of the arbitrary ideals of the man holding the rifle, who is desperately trying to hold on to his semblance of power—much like the despotic government itself.

The Crowd

The Burmans are not merely spectators to the scene; they act as a catalyst for the narrator’s decision to take action against the elephant. The narrator knows that if he stands in front of the elephant and it doesn’t charge him, then the elephant is over his rage; however, to simply walk away from the crowd without doing anything would make him look stupid. The crowd’s expectations challenge the narrator’s ego and authority, and causes him to violate his conscience.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “Shooting An Elephant”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “Shooting An Elephant” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme


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