Burmese Days

Themes

Imperialism

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 descend into anarchy is well received by the other members of their club, even Flory.

Racism

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 their entire race as “black, stinking swine”, there is a sense of opposition to the racism by other Club members, like Flory and Mr. Macgregor to a certain extent. 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 creates a strong reaction from Ellis, who claims he would rather "die in the ditch" before belonging to the same club as a native. Ultimately though, Mr. Macgregor still maintains a general 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 their race as a point of disgust. Flory on the other hand, is the most welcoming of the Burmese though, he is less willing to openly share his sentiments in the midst of such overwhelming racism. Flory is close friends with an Indian man, Dr. Veraswami, and even goes as far as to hold judgment against his fellow Englishmen's racism rather than see the Burmese as inferior. The racist attitude plays an intricate role in what the English view as successful and proper colonisation. They believe that to maintain their power and to keep their own best interests at the forefront, 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. So not only is the racism something that affects the characters’ social interactions, it also acts as an important tool for English governing in Burma. Although there is a vast spectrum of racism held by the English in Burma, it is ever-present and "a thing native to the very air of India".

Identity

Throughout the novel, the concept of identity is reflected through all the main characters, Flory as a result is recognised as the best example of a character that can be described as a person with an identity crisis. The idea of identity relates to the question on who is anyone; how do people present themselves to the world, as well as what is their interpretation of themselves. Flory is a character who is intertwined between his love of Burmese culture as well as his commitment to British imperial rule. He is stuck in a position where he aims to please all. 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. Dr. Veraswami and Flory often meet and engage in dialogue in regards to the influence of the British. His openness to speak to a Burman about this further develops his identify in the novel. Later in the novel, once Elizabeth is introduced almost immediately Flory does his best to expose her to the Burmese culture. Although she resists he tries his best to in a sense create another character similar to himself, as a means of spreading his beliefs. On the other hand, being a white British man Flory is forced to adhere to the imperialist views Englishmen are expected to possess. As an active member in the British club he is acting as part of the 'ruling class' where he is set at a higher social status in relation to other English men as well as the Burman. In addition his proven dedication to his job as an Timber merchant for the British Empire, creates as character that can be seen as a loyal Imperialist. A person who is willing to exploit both human and capital resources of the Burmese. In conclusion, Flory's identity can be described as one who seeks approval from everyone his is associated with. He tries his best to integrate his lifestyle with the Englishmen as well as wants 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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