by Alayne Gatzke, James Madison University

One of the most influential essayists of all time, George Orwell's work is, to this day, important in our literary world. This lesson is aimed at getting students to focus on the historical and cultural contexts of his essay, "Shooting an Elephant," as well as some of the literary devices he uses in his writing. The students will create a presentation with their group that emphasizes the important sociocultural, historical, and analytical aspects of Orwell's essay.


George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant":

Exploring Literature in Context


In his introduction to George Orwell's essays in his collection entitled The Art of the Personal Essay, editor Phillip Lopate writes:

 George Orwell's essays, in their seeming transparency and plainspokenness, are among the most influential models of nonfiction prose in the modern era. Because his essay style sounds so persuasively natural in its clarity, simplicity, frankness, and directness, we sometimes forget the degree to which it is an artistic construction. 

As one of the most influential essayists (and for that matter, writers) of all time, Orwell's work is an important tool to understand historical concepts. One of Orwell's most powerful essays, "Shooting an Elephant," is based on Orwell's experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.

This WebQuest is designed to help you: 

1. Read Orwell's essay both as a written work of literature and as a window into the historical context about which it was written. 

2. Situate "Shooting an Elephant" within its cultural and historical context. 

3. Understand the main points of the essay

4. Understand Orwell's use of literary tools to tell his story.