Burmese Days Study Guide

Burmese Days

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Burmese Days tells the story of the Englishman Flory, a merchant posted in Burma whose only friend is Dr. Veraswami, an Indian. Flory thinks of himself as liberal and hates the British traditions of imperialismand racism, but at the same time is too weak to stand up for his beliefs or his friend. Throughout his failed romance with Elizabeth Lackersteen and the racial riots that later occur, Flory discovers how to truly reject the old institutions and attempt to forge a real relationship between East and West.


Imperialistic views among the main characters differ, as does the public opinion as to the purpose of the British conquest in Burma. Imperialism is defined as the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship. This usually occurs between states in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.

A lot of discussion based on imperialism takes place within the novel, primarily between Flory and Dr Veraswami. Flory describes imperialism as "the lie that we're here to uplift our poor black brothers rather than to rob them." However his view is ridiculed by his friend, Dr Veraswami, who believes that British rule has helped civilise the people, improve education, and build infrastructure. From Dr Veraswami's perspective, British imperialism has helped him achieve his status as a doctor in colonial Burma. Flory counters this by noting that little manual skill is taught and that the only buildings built are prisons. Furthermore, he suggests that the English brought with them diseases, but Veraswami blames this on the Indians and sees the English as the curers.

Flory views imperialism as a way to make money, commenting that he is only in Burma to finance himself, that this is the only reason why he doesn't want British rule to come to an end. Westfield states that British rule has begun to collapse in Burma, to the point where the natives no longer respect their rulers. Westfield's suggestion that the British should simply leave the country to hasten its descent into anarchy is well received by the other members of their club, even Flory.


Throughout the novel, there is a stark contrast between the sentiments on race even among the English. While most of the English club members, specifically Ellis and Mr. Lackersteen, have a strong distaste for the Burmese natives, viewing them as "black, stinking swine", there is a sense of opposition to the racism by other club members, like Flory and Mr. Macgregor. Mr Macgregor, the secretary of the club, is the one to raise the issue of admitting a native to their all-white club. Even the mention of this elicits a strong reaction from Ellis, who claims he would rather "die in the ditch" before belonging to the same club as a native. In the end, Mr Macgregor retains his distaste for the Burmese, similar to the other Englishmen. It is rather clear that most of the English see nothing admirable in the Burmese people and instead view them with distaste. Flory is the most accepting of the Burmese, though he shirks from openly sharing his sentiments in the midst of such overwhelming racism. Racism plays an intricate role in what the English view as successful colonisation. They believe that to maintain their power they need to oppress the natives. They do this through their racist attitudes, actions, and beliefs which put the natives lower in the power hierarchy by treating them as lesser humans who need the English aid. Although there is a spectrum of racist sentiment held by the English in Burma, it is ever-present and "a thing native to the very air of India".


Flory is best described as a person with an identity crisis. He is trapped between his appreciation of Burmese culture and his part in sustaining British imperial rule. He is stuck in a position where he aims to please all, ultimately pleasing no one.

Flory's love of Burmese culture is expressed in various ways. First his relationship with Dr Veraswami is an example of his respect for the culture. Veraswami and Flory often meet socially and argue about the influence of the British. Flory is invariably dismissive of imperial rule's achievements. His very willingness to befriend what his countrymen regard as a "nigger" sets him apart from his British compatriots.

Later in the novel, once Elizabeth is introduced, almost immediately Flory does his best to expose her to Burmese culture. She proves to be uninterested, even resistant. On the other hand, being a white British man, Flory is forced to adhere to the imperialist views Englishmen are expected to hold. As a member of the exclusively British club he is acting as part of the ruling class.

In addition his proven dedication to his job as an timber merchant for the British empire, creates a character who can be seen as a loyal imperialist. A person who is willing to exploit both human and capital resources of the Burmese. Flory's identity can be described as "approval-seeking." He tries his best to integrate his lifestyle with the Englishmen as well as also wanting to be a part of Burmese society. This confusion of identity and the need for approval later leads to his demise as both worlds come crashing down simultaneously.

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