Burmese Days

– Criticism Essay, Research Paper

Imagine crossing E.M. Forster with Jane Austen. Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor of George Orwell’s intensely readable and deftly plotted Burmese Days. Orwell uses his own Anglo-Indian background to show the smothering pettiness and suffocating heat that are the basis for colonial life: “Mr. MacGregor told his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any context. And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-palling subject–the insolence of the natives, the supineness of the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj was the Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes. The topic was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis’s obsession. Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their bitterness. Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint.” In fact, his combination of a no-frills prose, and astringently populist sensibility make for fiction that stands out of time.

I was intrigued by how the writer George Orwell portrayed each character’s personality. Each character had their own unique characteristic. James Flory is a timber merchant with a facial birthmark that promotes the left-learning behavior of the mind which makes him different from his companions. Flory doesn’t always possess the moral courage to stand up for himself. For example, Mr. Floury’s character was unique in every aspect imaginable, by the way he tries to help Dr. Veraswami’s get elected in the club. He was not always positive, but in some instances he was cruel. There was a demeanor about him that was portrayed very well from start to finish. Against a background of politics and ethics, Orwell presents romance. The arrival of the bobbed blonde, Elizabeth Lackersteen, not only shows Flory as ill-fated suitor but gives Orwell the opportunity to prove that he’s a reporter of nuanced social interactions and political intrigues. Other character’s worth mentioning is Ma Hla May (Flory’s servant); her actions throughout the book were marvelous. Each time she appeared in the scene, her presence was felt strongly. Her actions thoughtout the book were driven by her vanity, which led to her arriving at the church and embarrassing Mr. Flory. The book was not just about one-man entrance in a club, but also of the hatred people bestow on each other. Was it their vanity that had driven everyone in the town? Is the failure to socialize extended to the natives? His Anglophile friend, Dr. Veraswami, the highest-ranking native official, seems to be a sure win for Club membership, until Machiavellian magistrate U Po Kyin creates a campaign to discredit him. To support Veraswami or to cross him becomes a kind of litmus test for Flory’s character. U Po Kyin, villain who tormented everyone, a man without any sympathy, a man who was known to be notorious throughout the town. Most of the turmoil, which occurred during the book can be traced back to U Po Kyin doings. The addition of U Po Kyin made the book mysterious and full of mayhem.

The character of Flory who despises the racist hypocrosy of his fellow expats yet is too weak to do anything about it is very well written. Flory is full of contradictions and ultimately these contribute to his tragic downfall. The English “club members” drink and spout racist nonsense while essentially wasting away in a country they really don’t understand. A young military officer appears briefly and causes quite a stir since he is judged “worthy” based on title and appearance though in reality he is a lout. The plot builds slowly and Orwell weaves his views on colonialism and racism into the story with great skill. This is a great novel with a social conscience that I thoroughly enjoyed.


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