"Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell

George Orwell reflects on imperialism as he recounts an incident that occurred when he was a police officer in Burma.

Here are links to our lists for other works by George Orwell: 1984, Animal Farm, Politics and the English Language
Read more...

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. petty
    preoccupied with unimportant matters in a spiteful way
    I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter.
  2. bazaar
    a street of small shops, especially in the Middle East
    No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress.
  3. nimble
    moving quickly and lightly
    When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter.
  4. jeer
    laugh at with contempt and derision
    There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.
  5. imperialism
    a policy of extending your rule over foreign countries
    For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better.
  6. oppress
    cause to suffer
    The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos — all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.
  7. impose
    inflict something unpleasant
    I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East.
  8. supplant
    take the place or move into the position of
    I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it.
  9. prostrate
    stretched out and lying at full length along the ground
    With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.
  10. bayonet
    a knife fixed to the end of a rifle and used as a weapon
    With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts.
  11. despotic
    characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule
    It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism — the real motives for which despotic governments act.
  12. municipal
    relating to a self-governing district
    It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.
  13. squalid
    foul and run-down and repulsive
    It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside.
  14. thatch
    cover with roofing material made of plant stalks
    It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside.
  15. invariably
    without change, in every case
    That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes.
  16. profess
    state freely
    Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant.
  17. sprawl
    sit or lie with one's limbs spread out
    I rounded the hut and saw a man’s dead body sprawling in the mud.
  18. unendurable
    incapable of being put up with
    His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony.
  19. paddy
    an irrigated or flooded field where rice is grown
    The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away.
  20. mire
    a soft wet area of low-lying land that sinks underfoot
    At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass.
  21. garish
    tastelessly showy
    I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes—faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot.
  22. conjurer
    someone who performs magic tricks to amuse an audience
    They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick.
  23. futility
    uselessness as a consequence of having no practical result
    And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.
  24. dominion
    dominance or power through legal authority
    And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.
  25. resolute
    firm in purpose or belief
    A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things.
  26. squeamish
    excessively fastidious and easily disgusted
    At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to.
  27. senility
    the state of being infirm with age
    An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him.
  28. remnant
    a small part remaining after the main part no longer exists
    You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs.
  29. rhythmically
    in a manner recurring with measured regularity
    He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling.
  30. pretext
    a fictitious reason that conceals the real reason
    And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant.
Created on June 15, 2018 (updated August 6, 2018)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.