What Is the Irony in “Shooting an Elephant”?

George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” features the ironic theme that, as Orwell writes, “when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys.” This is situational irony, which occurs when an action has unintended consequences that are the opposite of what was expected or desired.

The protagonist of “Shooting an Elephant” is thrust into the role of tyrant while stationed in Burma. He is a British soldier who is asked to shoot an elephant that has been rampaging through the country side. Upon finding the elephant, he discovers it is docile, but he shoots the elephant anyway because that is what the natives expect of him. The narrator realizes, then, that he is controlled by the Burmese as much as he controls them.