Burmese Days

Burmese Days Summary and Analysis of Chapters XVI-XX


Flory plans to go down to the Club and ask Elizabeth to marry him. On his way he meets a European newly arrived. The man is about twenty-five, handsome, brutal and careless. He is clearly a cavalry officer. Flory says hello and the man disinterestedly says his name is Verrall and he is the head of the military police. Flory feels shabby next to him. The feelings of inferiority increase when he sees Verrall play polo. He asks if he can try a shot at the peg and Verrall reluctantly agrees.

Flory gets ready and sees Elizabeth coming; he knows he will impress her with his horsemanship. Unfortunately, he fails completely and falls off because of a loose part. Embarrassed, he looks to Elizabeth but she ignores him completely and walks away. He is stunned and does not know why she did that.

Ko S’la helps Flory and administers aid. Flory is frustrated because he knows the fall will be attributed to bad horsemanship, not the looseness of the girth, and feels like “fate is evenhanded, after a fashion,” as he did not truly rescue Elizabeth from a rampaging buffalo.

Flory goes to the Club that evening, hoping to see Elizabeth. He quarrels with Westfield and Ellis about the doctor, but the fight ends when the butler comes in and the Lackersteens arrive. He wonders why they are all so well dressed tonight.

Flory is able to pull Elizabeth aside and ask her why she is mad, but she is cold and says he did not offend her. She is even more annoyed when he says not to end things this way –“’End between us’? There was nothing to end” (194). Finally, she tells him that she hears he is keeping a Burmese woman, and walks away.

Flory cannot believe this. It turns out that the way Elizabeth found out was that her aunt had been perusing the Civil List of Europeans and their salaries and saw that that Verrall had the word “Honourable” in front of his name, so she decided to prejudice her niece against Flory by telling her about Ma Hla May.

Later Flory feels like he deserved what happened; after all, he was guilty of this with a number of Burmese women. As he walks about in the moonlight, he hears the voice of Ma Hla May harshly whispering “Pike-san pay-like” (197) repeatedly. She asks for more money aggressively, shrieking and claiming she will call for help. Finally, he gives her as much money as he has as well as a gold cigarette case, and she is slightly mollified. After she leaves he wonders why she is acting so unusual –it almost seems, he thinks, “as though someone else were egging her on” (199).

Ellis and the other remembers of the Club talk about how leftist and friendly to the natives Flory is, and Elizabeth realizes the main reason she detests him is that he is too “highbrow” (200), not that he kept a Burmese mistress.

Flory is too busy to concern himself with things right now, as he has to go back to the timber camp. At night he is depressed, but he has a lot to do during the days.

Days pass and Elizabeth never actually meets Verrall. He does not care to come to the Club and ignores everyone; all but the two women despise him. He only needs to be there for a month anyway, and does not care to mix with petty Europeans. Verrall despises almost everyone, but somehow always escapes disgrace. He makes other men quail before him. He hates the “soft living” (203) that the Europeans in Burma embrace. Women sometimes get to him, but he cares little for them -- other than for pleasure.

Elizabeth and her aunt see Verrall every morning and despair that he will not talk to them. He assiduously ignores them as he plays polo. Mrs. Lackersteen is a bit upset because her husband must go to camp and they must go with him. That morning she decides that she and her niece will take a shortcut through the maidan instead of around so they will encounter Verrall.

The two women determinedly cross the maidan and go up to Verrall. Annoyed, he realizes he has to talk to them. Suddenly, though, he sees Elizabeth’s beautiful face and is completely surprised. He had no idea there were young European women here. He stares at her, and after some conversation, says he will go to the Club that evening.

Verrall does go, and finds himself in a quarrel with Ellis. Even Ellis, though, submits to the cold sternness of the younger man. Mr. Macgregor also arrives, excited to talk to Elizabeth, but sees Elizabeth and Verrall dancing and grows glum.

The young people dance for a bit and then Verrall leaves without a word to anyone else. The men are abashed at his rudeness. That evening Mrs. Lackersteen helps Elizabeth prepare to go riding the next day with Verrall. She decides it is better if she and Elizabeth stay in Kyauktada and her husband goes on alone.

The heat in the village worsens, and only Verrall and Elizabeth are indifferent. As the days pass, Verrall makes the men angrier and bitterer. Verrall is able to talk quite pleasantly to Elizabeth when he wants to, and she is happy he introduces her to horses. Verrall never bores her and he hates art and intellectual things as much as she does. One evening they embrace.

Around this time Flory decides he should come back to the village. He is acutely aware of how meaningless things seem without Elizabeth. He happily realizes, though, that he can bring her the leopard skin that is being cured for her, and she will remember her feelings for him.

Once home he visits the doctor. They talk for a moment and the doctor brings out the skin. It is disgusting, smelly, and ruined, and Flory is dismayed. The normal dacoit who cured skins was the one let out of prison. Regardless, Flory takes it to the Lackersteens’ house and asks for Elizabeth.

Her aunt is unhappy to see him, but Elizabeth comes down. He is surprised at how much more beautiful she is than when he left. She talks vibrantly, liltingly. Nervously he gives her the skin but is embarrassed at its awful condition. She pretends she loves it and they discuss the weather for a few minutes. Finally, she tells him she must get ready for her evening of going riding with Mr. Verrall. Flory is stunned to hear this; it is likely she said it to wound him.

After he leaves Flory feels terrible about this news. Later that evening he sees the two ponies Verrall and Elizabeth were riding returning without their riders; he concludes that the only rational explanation for this is that they dismounted to make love. This thought tortures him and he becomes nauseous. He begins to drink excessively and spends the evening completely drunk. Ko S’la brings in a Burmese woman to take care of him, and she asks Flory if he wants to have sex with her. He begins to agree, but then starts to weep on her shoulder.

Flory returns to the camp and hears a few days later of the fake rebellion that broke out, taking everyone unawares. The doctor writes Flory of U Po Kyin’s damnable role in instigating it and becoming a hero, and his anger over the rumors about the doctor’s character.

Flory decides to remain at camp until either the rains come or the general meeting is held, at which he will propose Dr. Veraswami for the Club. The heat is terrible and Flory is sick and drunk all the time. He sees Elizabeth for what she is now, but feels an intense desire for her. It is an intense feeling of envy, not even jealousy, and it makes him feel disgusting.

As for Elizabeth, she is a bit concerned because Verrall has not proposed yet. There are many scandalous rumors about her but nothing seems to be changing. Mrs. Lackersteen starts to get nervous for her niece, and even mentions Mr. Flory’s return more favorably. Both women are silently depressed about this. Elizabeth is also nervous because her uncle keeps trying to rape her.

During all this time, no one knows (not even U Po Kyin) about the actual rebellion simmering.


It is beginning to get tense in Kyauktada because of all the simmering animosities, conflicts, and hurt feelings that populate the hearts and minds of the village's inhabitants. Elizabeth vacillates between men as she tries to avoid her lecherous uncle. The doctor steams over U Po Kyin's dastardly behavior. Flory encounters a hysterical Ma Hla May and tries to salvage his relationship with Elizabeth, only to see that she has moved on to a younger, more attractive, and richer man. The introduction of Verrall complicates Flory and Elizabeth's relationship quite obviously, but is also important for its depiction of yet another type of Englishman –a wealthy soldier who cares little for the imperial experiment and only desires "clothes and horses" (202). Verrall is the epitome of a rich man who is ignorant of the ways of the East and views it as a personal playground.

One critic notes the possibility that Orwell might actually admire his creation of Verrall, if just subtly. Alok Rai writes, "aspects of Verrall have been conceived in admiration: 'That eye could make you feel as if you were under Niagara!' The voice, it should be noted, is not that of the gushing Elizabeth but rather that of the author. Even Verrall's name appears to be a buried pun on the word 'virile' –to be contrasted with the weedy and ineffectual Flory. Verrall is, of course, clearly in the tradition of the ultra-masculine colonial hero." This perspective seems valid, as Verrall does what he wants with impunity and is not privy to the weaknesses and shame of Flory. However, Flory is is the main character of the text, not Verrall, and Orwell's admiration might be subliminal rather than completely purposeful.

As for Flory, in this section he reaches new lows of embarrassment as he falls of his horse in front of Verrall and Elizabeth, and loses her to the superior man. He also encounters a crazed Ma Hla May but still cannot see that her feelings are being manipulated by U Po Kyin: he thinks her behavior is “as though someone else were egging her on” (199). He manages to achieve some perspicacity in his conception of Elizabeth, realizing, "He did not even idealise [sic] her any longer. He saw her now almost as she was –silly, snobbish, heartless –and it made no difference to his longing for her. Does it ever make a difference?" (226). Unfortunately, this clarity does not make him feel better; rather, it increases his sexual desire for her. She is unattainable, and the life he wanted unattainable, and thus now even more appealing.

One thing to mention quickly is the focus on the heat of Burma and how it exacerbates tension and emotion. Western writers who undertake novels set in the East (Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter) comes to mind often focus on this heat and how oppressive it is. Feelings of anger, lust, envy, loneliness, and boredom are heightened by the lethargy that the heat brings. At the beginning of the novel Orwell writes, "The evil time of day was beginning, the time, as the Burmese say, 'when feet are silent'" (35).

The narrator ends this section with a wink to the reader about the upcoming native uprising, which not even U Po Kyin knows about. This is based on the historical native unrest in Burma in the 1920s associated with nationalism. In 1919, after a strike led by students and Buddhist monks, the Amritsar Massacre took place, in which British troops fired on a crowd of protestors and killed 379 civilians and wounded 1500. The British eventually granted some reforms, but it was too little and too late, and did nothing to mollify the angry Burmese. The coming rebellion in the novel is a fictionalized account of such outpourings of frustration and resentment.