George Orwell: Essays


Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1823–1886), during which three Anglo-Burmese wars took place, and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. It was administered as a province of India until 1937, when it became a separate, self-governing colony, attaining its independence on January 4, 1948. With a strong interest in the lives of the working class, Orwell—born in India to a middle-class family, but brought up in Britain—held the post of Assistant Superintendent in the British Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927.

"Moulmein used to be full of elephants [employed to] haul logs in the timber firms. Ordinary tamed elephants have been part of Burmese life for centuries: [and] the rare and revered white elephant, is believed in Buddhist legend to be a symbol of purity and power."[4] By the time Orwell moved to Moulmein, in 1926, "he was most probably ambivalent about the colonial state of which he was a part. The Kipling-inspired romance of the Raj had been worn thin by the daily realities of his job in which he witnessed 'the dirty work of Empire at close quarters.' Orwell writes how he was trapped between his own resentment towards the Empire and the Burmese people's resentment towards him. As a member of the ruling power, he is cornered into doing what the 'natives' expect of him: He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. "[5]

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