A coward is one who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition or pain. In the piece, Shooting an Elephant, the author, George Orwell outlines the contrast involved with imperialism. The narrator and protagonist is a British police officer situated in India that helps maintain British imperialism over the Burmese people. Although he is completely against imperialism he continues to participate in it. Faced with the task of taming an elephant, the officer is forced to deal with the reality of imperialism that results in him killing this animal to please the crowd. The narrator can be classified a coward, not by the actions committed but the motives behind those actions.
A motive is an impulse or a physiological need that acts as incitement for action. Every conscience action has a motive. The protagonist participates in the rule of imperialism over the Burmese even though he claims to be against it. For 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. (Orwell, 1) The fact that he does not want to be in his job, but does not have the courage to stand up for what he believes can be accounted as a cowardly act. His motive behind this is the fact that he sees it as an only resort. The narrator says he has no intention of killing the elephant throughout the story, yet when under the pressure of the Burmese audience he resorts to murdering innocent wildlife. They [Burmese] did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And I suddenly realized that I should have to shoot
The elephant after all. (Orwell, 3) The motive behind murdering this innocent creature was merely to maintain the worth he felt in the publics eye. Protagonist also clearly states that he was glad the elephant had killed someone to put him in the legal right for killing the creature, although he did not kill the elephant for this fact. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool. (Orwell, 5) The protagonist states that he was happy an innocent life was ended because he saved him for embarrassment.
The protagonist displays many honourable acts, however due to the motives behind these acts the reader can perceive him as a coward. He goes along with an imperialistic government although he does not believe in the policies. He strives for the public adoration and commits appalling acts to avoid embarrassment. With motives such as the narrator has, one may not deem the acts in which took place as cowardly but the reason for these acts certainly are .