Burmese Days

Burmese Days Summary and Analysis of Chapters XI-XV


Flory and Elizabeth walk down to the bazaar because he thinks she will like it. It is bustling and crowded, hot and full of distinct smells. She does not care for it, of course, and asks to get out of the heat. Flory feels badly and suggests they go into the old Chinese grocer Li Yeik's shop and get some tea. Elizabeth feels reassured by the European look of the front of the shop. As they go in a clerk comes up and pulls Flory aside, giving him a letter. It is from Ma Hla May, who is blackmailing him for money. He is surprised she is doing it so early.

Inside Li Yeik comes to greet Flory and Elizabeth. There are two Chinese women rolling cigarettes and a naked child crawling along the floor. Elizabeth is shocked by the women's bound feet and annoyed when Flory defends them as being beautiful and civilized. She is also not impressed with the odd, murky tea. The Chinese girls chatter and ask Flory to ask Elizabeth to see her stays, which they heard about and are fascinated by. Silence descends and the Chinese begin to think Elizabeth disdainful; they grow in awe of her. Suddenly the child begins to wet itself on the floor and Elizabeth cries out in horror. While this is a normal incident, the Chinese pretend to be offended and blame the child.

Outside Elizabeth is furious. Flory despairs, for he truly loves her. He grasps at something to say and says it is hot. She is happy with the change of subject and responds. They are able to talk pleasantly, and Flory wonders how "when they kept to trash like this, how easily, how amicably they could talk!" (134.)

In his living room, U Po Kyin boasts to his wife how pleased he is with the attack against Dr. Veraswami. He has to convince the Europeans that the doctor is the kind of man to hold seditious opinions, and has been going after him from all angles. There is a situation with an escaped prisoner, letters sent to the Europeans, and, as U Po Kyin exults, the rebellion that the villagers of Thongwa are planning. Ma Kin is horrified but U Po Kyin laughs and says he is not actually carrying it out but only instigating it. It will be blamed on the doctor, but U Po Kyin has something even more important planned. He says there is something more important than money –fame and greatness. Ma Kin is nervous about his soul and what he will come back, but U Po Kyin tells her the last part of the plan. He knows the Europeans plan to elect one native to their Club. As the man who put down the evil rebellion, he knows that he will be the elect. Ma Kin is dumbstruck. She finally sees how tremendous this will be for her as well.

Flory goes to visit the doctor. Veraswami is pleased to see him and they go sit on his veranda. Flory feels poorly since he knows he has been ignoring the doctor for almost a fortnight. He starts to tell Veraswami that he is sorry for signing his name to the petition to keep natives out. The doctor interrupts him and profusely proclaims this is not necessary but Flory persists.

Afterward Flory asks about U Po Kyin and the doctor morosely tells him it is getting worse. He complains of the rumors and the inability to defend himself. Flory is surprised and makes some suggestions, but the doctor says all he can do is wait and hope he has enough prestige to wait it out.

Flory utters something that, once he begins, he cannot go back on; he asks if the doctor were elected to the Club it would help. The doctor exults that it would certainly help and Flory tells him he will propose his name. He cannot promise it will work but he will try. Veraswami is grateful, and warns Flory again about U Po Kyin.

As he walks up the hill on his way out, Flory is amused how this proposition of his only makes him laugh, and a month ago it would have frightened him. He knows it is because of Elizabeth in his life. He feels renewed, excited, and aware of the possibilities of life. She is a breath of fresh air for him.

When he gets home Ko S'la runs toward him and tells him Ma Hla May is inside. Flory and his former lover go into the bedroom, and he is struck how rundown she looks now. She bursts out that he has disgraced and ruined her –he has stolen her youth and made it impossible for her to go back to her village after being a white man's wife. Not even money can help.

He realizes she is right, but all he can offer her is money. When he offers this, though, she wails and throws herself on her knees. He begs her to get up but she begs and cries, and throws herself full-length on the floor. Horrified, he says he will try to help but cannot take her back. He is shocked at her "utter gracelessness" and the fact that "no sorrows are as bitter as those that are without a trace of nobility" (156); she does not love him, only longs for her status back.

He helps her up and says he will give her money now and try to find her a job in the bazaar. She stands, now sullen but done crying. She asks one last time if he will take her back and he says no. He wonders, "Where is the life that late I led?" (157.)

Flory and Elizabeth make their way up the Irrawaddy with their guides. They are to shoot in the cool of the evening and be back for dinner. Elizabeth is excited to be holding the gun. They arrive at a small village of clustered huts where the stream narrows, and meet the headman. Elizabeth does not want to go inside after the experience at the Chinese shop, so they sit outside. He brings them tea but she refuses that too, and he feels abashed.

She asks Flory many questions about the hunt and feels in love with him when he talks about it. She even thinks he is handsome. He talks more but does not realize that these are the things she likes to hear rather than his talk of art or the natives.

They set out from the village, accompanied by Ko S'la, the old hunter, the beaters, and Flory's dog Flo. In the jungle the beaters spread out and start making noise to get the birds to fly out. The first space yields none and they move on. In the next place, pigeons fly out and Elizabeth shoots but falls back with the force of the gun. Flory shoots one and she is envious but adores him for his prowess. The next time, though, she successfully shoots a beautiful jungle cock.

She and Flory are so elated with this that they do not even notice they are holding hands. They almost kiss but he is conscious of his birthmark and does not want it to be in the jungle like this. Some of the natives tell them when the beaters made noise a leopard was spotted, and they decide to go after it.

After awhile the leopard comes out and Flory and Elizabeth shoot. The beast is felled and they are extremely pleased with themselves, although Flory notes how pathetic it looks once dead. Exhausted and happy, they head back to the village. It is understood they will meet up later at the Club, and it is understood that if Flory asks her to marry him she will accept.

That evening Flory arrives at the Club and Elizabeth comes soon after. She is not in a pleasant mood because her uncle had tried to seduce her, and she refused. She acutely feels the unstable nature of her situation and realizes that she should definitely marry Flory. She had been inclined to do so anyway and this seals the deal.

Flory notices how gentle her mood is toward him. They walk out to a private space and look out at the moon. They lean close to kiss, and Flory first asks if it is okay because of his birthmark. She says she does not care and they embrace.

With Elizabeth in his arms Flory feels that acute sense of the loneliness of his past and feels compelled to talk incessantly about it. He wants to convey all of this before he asks her to marry him. She listens rather halfheartedly, not quite understanding what he means. He says he feels "a demon inside us driving us to talk" (178), and continues to do so, rather "egotistically" (179).

Mrs. Lackersteen's voice is heard calling for Elizabeth. Flory starts to utter the words "Will you –" (181) but suddenly a violent earthquake occurs and throws them to the ground. Mrs. Lackersteen's hysterical voice calls out. Flory and Elizabeth are unhurt and go inside the Club.

Everyone is exhilarated and cannot stop talking about the quake. They even listen to the native butler tell stories of quakes past. There is "nothing like an earthquake for drawing people together" (183). Flory realizes he did not propose yet, but that "one cannot propose marriage immediately after an earthquake" (183). He goes home and falls asleep after the long day.


Flory begins to undergo a transformation due to his new lease on life brought about by Elizabeth's presence. Unfortunately, his lack of self-awareness persists. Although the doctor warns him multiple times about the cleverness and cruelty of U Po Kyin and how he, Flory, is a likely target, Flory blithely ignores him and is thus unable to see that Ma Hla May's uncharacteristic behavior is a result of the machinations of the magistrate. His misplaced love is as potent as his loneliness once was, and Orwell foreshadows how dangerous this will be for him.

Ironically, his love for Elizabeth actually pushes him to be more courageous and admirable in another situation. Because he can envision a happier future, and because he has sloughed off the inertia and apathy of his former life, he is willing to take a stand for Dr. Veraswami and risk incurring the hostility of the other Club members when he nominates the doctor for membership. Orwell writes of this moment, "A thought came into his head, an uncomfortable, chilling thought which would never have occurred to him three weeks earlier. It was one of those moments when one sees quite clearly what is one's duty" (149). The phrase Flory repeats to himself is, "Where is the life late that I led?" (151.) The dulling, demoralizing effects of the colonial experiment have been lifted by Elizabeth's presence, although, as Flory will find out, he might have overestimated how much really changed. His new lease on life allows him to stick up for the doctor and save the Europeans during the uprising, but it does not save him in the end.

Another notable event in this section is the hunt. Except for their first meeting, Flory and Elizabeth are arguably never more in sync than they are in the hunt. This is not surprising, as Elizabeth favors Flory only when he is both silent on the natives and engaging in some hyper-masculine activity unconnected to anything intellectual. Furthermore, as critic Edward Quinn writes, "Much of the hunt is presented through Elizabeth's consciousness, and there is no doubt of the mixture in her blood of shooting and killing and sexual passion. Later, Verrall will stir the same or even greater passion in connection with horse riding." Quinn likens this coupling of sex and violence to the work of D.H. Lawrence, whom Orwell deeply admired.

The success of the hunt seems to cement Flory and Elizabeth's relationship. Nothing is spoken aloud, but "it was understood between them that they would meet. Also, it was understood that Flory would ask Elizabeth to marry him, though nothing was said about this either" (174). By the time they arrive at the Club, Elizabeth has even more of a reason to marry Flory –her lascivious uncle, caring nothing for the boundaries of propriety and blood, tried to seduce her. She realizes that, as a young woman, she is in a precarious and even dangerous position, and must marry a man soon before something terrible happens. It seems like everything will proceed perfectly until the earthquake occurs. For the Europeans and the natives it is an exciting, almost fun event that draws them together in their shared experience. As for what the earthquake might symbolize, it is not entirely clear, but it could be a number of things: Orwell's narrative attempt to subvert the disastrous marriage proposal, a foreshadowing of the native uprising to come, or perhaps even Nature's rumblings that the European presence in Burma is unwelcome.

Finally, another familiar "character" is back in this section –Flory's birthmark. He obsesses over it a great deal; when he and Elizabeth almost kiss during the hunt, "He had remembered his birthmark. He dared not to do it. Not here, not in daylight!" (168), and later when they do kiss, he says, "'I mean, you don't kind my –this thing of mine?'" (177). The birthmark symbolizes Flory's weaknesses, flaws, and lack of self-awareness. It is complicated, though, for perhaps if he had not had the birthmark he would have been more confident in certain aspects of his life. It does not impede him, though, in the areas that really matter, such as attaining enlightenment about the colonial situation and shoring up courage to nominate Veraswami to the Club. It only truly gets in his way and ultimately dooms him when it comes to Elizabeth (see the final section of analysis).