Review: Burmese Days By George Orwell

Burmese Days by George Orwell/Source: Wikipedia/Irrawady River
Before penning down his masterpieces, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell also started with one story, the Burmese Days, which embarked the making of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. The story heavily relies on the first-hand experience of Orwell himself, is a blatant commentary on the sunset period of the British Raj.

With his mouthpiece, John Flory, Orwell illustrated the dark side of the British Raj. The Britons who claims to rule only to civilize the third world. Actually, do the opposite of what they claim. They looted, corrupted and destroyed the culture and resources of these countries, only maintain their supremacy. The fictional town of Kyauktuda, which is inspired by real life Katha, Burma, can be seen as the scaled version of the British Empire and the little club house can be imagined as the Britain. Though not clearly drawn, each one of the novel’s character defined a different trait of the Britain and the Empire.

Flory is a timber merchant from the Britain who has been in Burma for past one and half decade. Despite spending his time with other British expats, he finds a greater bond with the local populace. Unlike others, he regards the local culture, not something below the British culture, but same or higher on some points. According to him, there are different parameters of beauty in different culture, and it is very acceptable. Though Flory has a great flaw in his person, his lack of confidence and inability to make his point clearly, mar him. He is unable to stand by his fast friend, Dr. Verswami when he much-needed him. Also, not able to test the water when U Po Kyin was plotting against Dr. Veraswami and him, even when the doctor warned him about the same. Though one can easily feel the suffocating environment of Flory, where no one readies to listen to him. Elizabeth Lackersteen, the girl with whom Flory had a short-lived affair, labeled him a highbrow for his naturalistic and extramundane views.

If you read the text closely, you will find how Orwell repeatedly used symbols in some sort of pattern to show the ugliness of the British Empire and their inability to accept the fact that they are the one who has done the wrong. Flory hiding the ugliness of his birthmark can be seen as one. His confession to his Burmese mistress, Ma Hla May, “It is I who have wronged you”, another symbol. The acts, statements, confessions and dialogues of other British expats also are Orwell symbols that it is Britain who is wrong. Though Orwell also illustrated the ugliness of the Burmese culture with U Po Kyin and Ma Hla May, but Orwell justified their ugliness as a result of British acts.

The only problem with the Burmese Days is its story structure. At times, the reader finds it a bit difficult to go through the text. The difficulty can be accredited to Orwell’s movement from realism to satire and back to realism. One cannot easily decide when he is in satirical mode or realistic. It is a great read and allows you to understand politics and history of that period.

One can easily compare with Orwell’s Burmese Days with E. M. Foster’s A Passage to India. As both attack British imperialism and have similar story structure. Though Foster’s attempt is not pessimistic as Orwell’s attempt.

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