Burmese Days

Burmese Days Summary and Analysis of Chapters VI-X


In the morning Flory sits glumly in his bath, Mr. Macgregor does his exercise, and Westfield takes care of work issues. Flory leaves his place, avoiding a nasty fight between Ko S'la's two wives and saying hello to Mr. Macgregor. Flory feels bad for him because the article embarrasses him, but also feels disgust at the man's ridiculous get-up, with his tight khaki shorts and scoutmaster appearance.

Flory's clerk finds him and hands him an anonymous letter. It is an attack on the doctor and a subtle threat; Flory is disconcerted and realizes it is probably U Po Kyin. He is still committed not to getting involved in the native quarrels; it is possible to love the natives, but one should never get involved like this.

Flory suddenly hears a terrified scream –it sounds like an Englishwoman's. He runs toward the sound and finds an English girl menaced by one of the large buffalo. He shoos it away and she clings to him, very relieved. He realizes this must be the Lackersteens' niece who was said to be imminent in her arrival to stay with her aunt and uncle. He thinks to himself how pretty she is with her short hair and tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses.

He asks if she wants to come in to his place for a moment to get out of the heat, and she readily accepts. Ko S'la brings them drinks and they talk happily about flowers and his beautiful view. She mentions she lived in Paris for a while, which he finds exciting and charming. She says she loves books and he agrees excitedly, talking about his favorites. She is full of admiration of how he rescued her, and lets him talk on.

The reverie is broken once she grows uncomfortable seeing a group of natives. Both realize they barely know each other but are sitting in Flory's home. She gets up to leave and encounters Ma Hla May. The two women look at each other –"which found the spectacle more grotesque, more incredible, there is no saying" (87). Flory hurriedly says she is a laundress. The girl tells Flory her name is Elizabeth, and they part in a friendly fashion. She is still grateful he rescued her. He watches her walk away and feels something like a breath of rare cool air.

As her uncle and aunt sleep, Elizabeth reclines, thinking of her own background. She is twenty-two. Her mother was weak-willed and superficial, and thought she was an artist. Elizabeth's most formative years were when, given a short bout of wealth, her father sent her to an elite boarding school. She saw the lovely, easy lives of the wealthy and coveted them. She identified intellectual, artsy, and labor-intensive things with the wretched underclass. Unfortunately, the money vanished and she had to leave the school. Her father died and her mother took her to Paris in 1919. They had little money and Elizabeth had to work as a teacher of English. She hated their "mean, beastly" (92) existence in Paris. She also hated her mother's "artistic" sensibilities, which meant she was slovenly and scatterbrained; their flat and the studio was a filthy disaster. Elizabeth had no friends and tried to amuse herself looking at magazines. Finally, her mother died and her aunt and uncle cabled to her from Burma and asked if she wanted to come to them. She agreed immediately and was thrilled. On the ship she enjoyed the faux-rich life with the other passengers bound for the East and formed a romantic picture of where she was going. She knew she would love it in the "Orient." Once she arrived, she exulted in the sights and smells.

She met her aunt and uncle (for the first time, in fact), and they both remarked how pretty she was. Mrs. Lackersteen tried to make subtle insinuations about her needing to marry. Once back from Flory's she told them about her adventure and expressed her surprise at the doll-like laundress she encountered there. Mr. Lackersteen looked confused and said there was no laundress there, but stopped abruptly, as if someone had stepped on his foot.

That evening Flory gets ready to go out. He finds Elizabeth and they begin to walk together down the road. He hears drums and thinks he ought to take her to the pwe, a Burmese dance and play. He is certain she will enjoy it.

They head toward the pwe. Once they arrive, they see the stage, the orchestra, and the sea of natives. There are bright lights and Elizabeth is startled how it is literally in the middle of the road. Once they get closer, the natives notice them. One scurries up and tells them U Po Kyin would like them to sit with him.

Elizabeth feels strange but trusts Flory. She is disgusted by the massiveness and gregariousness of U Po Kyin, however. Flory leans in and tells her they are bringing out their best dancer in their honor. The young girl comes out and begins to dance. It is grotesque, erotic, and fantastic; Elizabeth "watched the dance with a mixture of amazement, boredom and something approaching horror" (104).

Flory begins talking to her, telling her he knew she would enjoy this because she is smart. He talks about the aesthetic value of the dance and how it seems to sum up all of Burma. Elizabeth is discomfited because she not only heard that hated word of Art, but because Flory seems to admire the natives and the dance. She begins to feel uncomfortable surrounded by them, and thinks the dancing girl monstrous.

She stands up abruptly and says it is time to go. Flory agrees but feels awkward, knowing the Burmese will be offended. The crowd parts sulkily for them. Flory apologizes but Elizabeth says it is nothing; things are strained. He is miserable and has no idea what he did. For her part, she feels like white men should not behave like that. She thinks about the morning when he rescued her and softens a bit.

By the time they reach the Club he knows he is forgiven, although for what he does not know. They enter separately. All of the men are admiring of Elizabeth and Ellis privately teases Flory for attaching himself to her. He sneers, "When a girl's failed everywhere else she tries India" (110).

Elizabeth likes the Club and its civilized atmosphere, especially after the pwe. Mr. Macgregor walks her home and regales her with his stories. Flory stays at the Club. The conflict about Dr. Veraswami is on hold and the notice taken down.

The feud between the doctor and the magistrate is now in full swing, and in the rest of Kyauktada there are rumors of a native uprising. Mr. Macgregor calls for more military police but is skeptical, for these projected uprisings always peter out. Indeed, the district is found to be completely peaceful.

The weather grows more oppressively hot. Flory has gotten rid of Ma Hla May, and all his servants know it is because of Elizabeth. Ko S'la in particular is disturbed by how much Flory's grooming habits have changed because he is trying to impress Elizabeth. The servants all complain about Englishwomen and their fears of being displaced if he marries her and she lives there.

They should not worry, however, for Elizabeth and Flory are no closer than ever. He tries to recapture the excitement of their first meeting but it eludes him. They see each and other and talk every day but they are like strangers –cold, formal. He wishes he could just talk to her but she does not seem to want to engage in the sort of talk he wants. Her taste in books is awful, but he consoles himself that she is young. He feels like he begins to irritate her and that they are always on the verge of quarreling.

Indeed, she is disturbed by the way he talks about the natives, and his eagerness to interest her in their culture. In one encounter with two Eurasians (people born to white fathers and native women), his sympathy for them, even though they are a loathed class, bothers her.

On the surface, though, things are not terrible and they make plans to go shooting one day. This is the sort of thing she finds compelling about him.


In this section readers are introduced to the generally loathsome Elizabeth and gain more insight into Flory's character. Elizabeth, a typical English woman in the age of imperialism, has internalized the prejudices and beliefs of Anglo superiority. This is clearly seen in her discomfort in her encounters with the natives, and her dislike for Flory's appreciation of their culture. She makes no effort to think about the reasons for England's role in Burma, although none of the other English do so except for Flory. Her time spent with Flory does not result in her mind opening or becoming more tolerant; her opinions and beliefs are ossified and cannot be altered. Orwell seems to suggest that the imperial situation does not allow for the English to be the best versions of themselves; rather, they are encouraged to be complacent, lazy, and apathetic.

Elizabeth's disdainful behavior is also a result of her upbringing, which Orwell delves into at length. The vicissitudes of her family's fortunes and her mother's dissolute and slovenly behavior have rendered her antipathetic to anything that smacks of highbrow culture, intellectualism, and the lower social classes. Elizabeth yearns to be a member of the English bourgeoisie, living an idle life of luxury and not having to think deeply about anything. She correctly believes that Burma would be the apposite place for her to live in this fashion –this would be the life of the burra memsahib, which Orwell notes that she does, in fact, become the perfect manifestation of by the end of the novel.

Elizabeth's behavior can also be attributed to the gender norms and strictures of the day, which are beyond her control. Women were raised as veritable second-class citizens, denied the full benefits of education and participation in society. Even if they were educated, their curriculum and subsequent professional opportunities were limited. They were groomed to marry and bear children, which is why Elizabeth and her aunt are so obsessed with procuring her a husband; Mrs. Lackersteen sighs at one point, "'I'm sure if I were a young girl I'd marry anybody, literally anybody!" (98). Even the callous Ellis notes that this is the purpose for Elizabeth's visit, commenting, "She's come out to lay her claws into a husband, of course. As if it wasn't well known! When a girl's failed everywhere else she tries India" (110). It may be easy to censure Elizabeth's behavior in this regard, as she toys with Flory and sets her sights on the rich Verrall later on, but her society has not given her very many options. She is supposed to find a husband or risk being, as the derogatory terms go, an unmarried woman or an old maid.

One of the most tragic elements of the story is how madly in love Flory becomes with Elizabeth. Their first encounter may have indicated a mutually affirming and beneficial relationship, but every subsequent encounter belies that initial understanding. They are grossly mismatched; every sentiment the one possesses is opposed by the sentiment of the other. The only things that keep them together throughout the novel are Flory's overwhelming loneliness that causes him to be unable to see how he and Elizabeth are vastly different from each other, Elizabeth's desire to get married and avoid her lecherous uncle and the shame of remaining single, and her vacillation from disgust of Flory and her lust for him when he typifies traditionally masculine characteristics.

Flory's inability to see that Elizabeth is patently wrong for him is a perfect example of how this character lacks a great deal of self-awareness. He certainly can identify that he is lonely and wants a woman by his side, but he cannot comprehend that Elizabeth would be a disastrous choice for a wife. Their relationship is already a series of quarrels, miscommunications, and hurt feelings. Flory has no idea how what he is saying or doing annoys Elizabeth; his only interactions with women in his life thus far have been with prostitutes and kept women. He lacks the insight and intuition to read Elizabeth, even though she is not particularly complex and wears her emotions on her sleeve. It is the loneliness rendered by Burma's hot and languid climate and the failing British Raj that completely obscures Flory's ability to be self-aware. In this case, he is not much different from the entire British experiment in the Orient, which also blunders and stumbles without true consideration of reality.