Is the narrator of "Shooting an Elephant" a wimp?
The narrator might not have been a wimp but it wasn't courageous of him at all to shoot a harmless elephant “solely to avoid looking a fool.”
When the narrator confronts the elephant, it is no more under “the attack of must.” It is “beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have.” But now, an audience of over two thousand Burmese stands surrounding him. They have gathered to witness a white man gun down an elephant. The narrator says,
“The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly.”
However, the narrator has sensible reasons not to shoot the giant creature. First, it no more poses any danger to life or property. Second, killing it would cause a massive loss to its owner.
“Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly.”
Moreover, his conscience constantly thwarts him against shooting the elephant. His instinctive sensitivities have made him scrupulous and reluctant to fire at the animal.
Despite all these reasons, he shoots down the elephant. It’s because he fails to muster up enough courage to face the natives in case he would retreat without shooting the animal. He says,
“I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things.”
In failing to do so, he would not only have made himself an object of ridicule, but also tarnished the image of the mighty British Empire. So, he decides to shoot the elephant dead.
At least in this situation, it may not be wrong to say that the narrator acts wimpishly. But there’s another important consideration. By writing this autobiographical sketch, Orwell acknowledges the act of his cowardice. This admission is, in no way, an act expected of a wimp.