Sunday, May 15, 2016

Burmese Days

Burmese Days is a novel which is critical of British imperialism. George Orwell spent five years (1922-1927) in Burma, now Myanmar, as a police officer. The novel describes corruption and imperial attitudes in colonial Burma.

The main character is John Flory, a teak merchant. He is single and has no European friends in his expatriate community. Though he's unhappy with his lifestyle, he has become so accustomed to life in Burma that it's difficult for him to leave and return to England. Unlike his fellow Europeans, he gets along with the natives and is disillusioned with the Empire.

John Flory has a Burmese mistress, but he is emotionally dissatisfied. Part of him loves Burma and longs for a partner who will share his passion, but at the same time, he feels he can only marry a European. He knows that the English in Burma view the natives as inferior.

It seems his problems are over when Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives. She's the niece of Mr. Lackersteen, the manager of the local timber firm. They spend time getting close and John Flory becomes lost in romantic fantasy. He thinks she'll understand him and give him the companionship he needs, but she's shocked by his acceptance of the natives. John Flory is entirely unaware of her reservations and decides to evict his Burmese mistress from his home.

John Flory is ready to ask her to marry him, but a series of events prevent this from happening. After he manages to bring an anti-British riot under control, Elizabeth finds herself more interested in him, but a Burmese official manages to harm John Flory's reputation. Elizabeth then refuses to have anything more to do with him, and seeing no future for himself, John Flory takes his own life.

Unlike the other English, John Flory is appreciative of Burmese culture. Though he is disillusioned with British imperialism, he accepts that he has high status in Burma and is there for financial reasons. He's a man of indecision- at the beginning of the novel he has a Burmese mistress but he wants to marry a European woman. He has negative views of imperialism and is fond of Burmese culture, but doesn't articulate his views very much when he's with his fellow Europeans. Though he seeks approval from everyone he interacts with, he has a weak identity. His inner conflicts lead to the novel's tragic conclusion.

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