Burmese Days – George Orwell

As the first of Orwell’s novels, Burmese Days, is the first of many politically inclined novels. It was written during Britain’s rule over Burma, and reflects on the attitudes of British colonialists during the 1920s and 1930s. Through out the novel Orwell comments on British attitudes to the cultures they have occupied. Some of the novel is based on Orwell’s own experiences in Burma, he served as a police officer in the country for at least 5 years, however the novel wasn’t finished until he had left the country for good. Burmese Days

Set in Imperial Burma, Burmese Days follows the life of a small town named Kyauktada, based on a place where Orwell had served. The story starts with a Burmese Magistrate, U Po Kyin, plotting the downfall of a local Indian Doctor, Dr Veraswami, of whom he is jealous due to the doctors friendship with John Flory, a British member of society. Both the doctor and magistrate wish to be welcomed into the local European club, where the European citizens of Kyauktada congregate, seemingly in a perpetual haze of alcohol. The reader learns of the plot and watches how the magistrate orchestrates the doctors downfall by anonymously persuading the Europeans that the doctor holds anti-European views and is disloyal to the British Empire.

Meanwhile a new British woman, Elizabeth, arrives in the town. Flory falls in love with her and so begins another intrigue in the town; Flory is the main character of the novel, and this is the main story arc. John Flory is a wood merchant who only spends a little time in the town, his main friend is the doctor, he doesn’t join in with the other Europeans overtly racist comments about the Burmese, and he seems to value Burmese culture more than the others. However, when Elizabeth arrives, we learn that he actually values white women over Burmese. Flory is infatuated with Elizabeth, but it soon becomes apparent that they hold very different views and they may not be a compatible couple.

The novel is very interesting in its treatment of Burmese people and imperialism, Orwell has included a number of characters that reflect the various aspects of Burmese life in the 1920s; there are mixed-race characters, seriously racist characters, and those who are only in Burma for economic reasons, but value the culture. As this was Orwell’s first novel it is an important work, but it is less polished than others. Burmese Days has some parts that seem journalistic, and some that are allegorical, two aspects that Orwell does to much more affect in later works.

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