Burmese Days Wiki FINAL!
Flory is a European stationed in Kyouktada, a village in Burma. He is part of the European Club - a club where the Europeans go to relax in Burma, where the only non-Europeans are servants. MacGreggor suggests that the European club members add a native to their ranks, with the surest fit being Dr. Veraswami, Flory’s only friend in Burma. The other European Club members - namely Ellis - resist, and Flory consents to avoid confrontation, refusing to stand up for his friend. Meanwhile, the magistrate U Po Kyin sets a plan in motion to discredit Dr. Veraswami, secretly incite and then crush a Burmese uprising, and set himself up to be invited to the European Club. Flory again fails to stand up for his friend in the face of the magistrate's slander, instead focusing his attention on Elizabeth Lackersteen, the beautiful blond European, niece of Mr. and Mrs. Lackersteen of the club. He falls in love with her, and attempts to show her Burma as he sees it - Elizabeth, however, is too steeped in her own culture to see the Burmese people as anything but inferior. She values wealth and status above all things, and is disgusted by the entire culture of Burma. Flory's relationship with Elizabeth deteriorates until Flory takes her on a hunting expedition in the forest – she loves this “manly” side of Flory, and is a natural at shooting. Flory manages to bag a leopard, which seals Elizabeth's affections for him...for the time being. An earthquake keeps Flory from proposing that evening, and the arrival of Verrall, a handsome police lieutenant from a good family, further throws a wrench into Flory's plans. Mrs. Lackersteen, spotting a chance to set up her niece with a more suitable husband, tells Elizabeth about Flory's mistress, which causes Elizabeth to break things off with Flory immediately. Free to be courted by Verrall, Elizabeth spends several weeks with him before he disappears without so much as a goodbye, let alone a proposal. Heartbroken, Flory seems to be her only option once again. Meanwhile, U Po Kyin plays out his fake rebellion – however, a Burmese man is killed in the scuffle, which makes tensions escalate – for real. The soldier responsible for the man's death is found murdered. Enraged by the death of a white man, Ellis gets in a scrape with some native children, apparently blinding one in the fight. This causes a riot to form around the European Club, with the natives demanding Ellis in exchange for the rest of their lives. In a bold move, Flory jumps from the window and swims upriver to the police headquarters for help. He is able to disperse the riot without bloodshed, and he is the man of the hour. Veraswami also receives some acclaim for his attempt to help Flory calm the crowd. The marriage between Elizabeth and Flory again seems inevitable, but U Po Kyin has one more trick up his sleeve to destroy Flory. He pays Ma Hla May to create a scene in Sunday church for all the Europeans to see, thoroughly and utterly disgracing Flory and making Elizabeth swear she will never marry him. Having lost all hope of finding someone to share his lonely life with, Flory shoots first his dog, and then himself. In typical George Orwell style, the ending is tragic and unexpected. U Po Kyin joins the European Club, but dies before he is able to redeem his karmic evil with the building of pagodas, dooming him to reincarnate as a frog or a rat. Veraswami is demoted and shunted away to a smaller town, where he lives in near-poverty and loneliness. Elizabeth ends up marrying Macgreggor, and she lives happily with a myriad of servants who live in terror of her every whim. Indeed, she ended up being the type of person Flory despised the most.
Our prediction that Ma Hla May would not serve a major role in the story was incorrect – indeed, she was the straw that broke Flory's back and ultimately lead to his suicide. We were right that U Po Kyin would die before seeing the construction of his pagodas, and thus, never redeem himself for his karmic sins. We were also correct to expect a less-than-happy ending, given Orwell's penchant for plot twists and the ultimate failure of the protagonists.
Flory- A member of the European club in Kyauktada, Flory is different from his white peers in that he understands being an outsider - the enormous birthmark on his face caused him to be rejected by his peers in his school days. As a result, Flory understands being discriminated against, and is more open to the idea of Burmese culture. He does not see himself as superior to the natives, but he does not want to return to a place where he is outcast, so is hesitant to stand up for his Burmese friend, Dr. Veraswami. He refuses to vouch for Dr. Veraswami when the club considers adding a native person to their ranks, and remains quiet when U Po Kyin begins to slander him - Flory is too cowardly, too afraid of conflict, to be true to his true self. Flory is deeply lonely because he cannot be himself with anyone in Burma - he wishes he had someone to share his feelings with. He believes he has found that person in Elizabeth, and tries to make her see Burma as he does, bringing her to see the sights of Kyauktada, but she is too narrow-minded, too steeped in “proper” European culture, to see Burma as anything but beastly. He is able to impress Elizabeth with seemingly manly acts, such as chasing away the water buffalo that startles her and shooting a leopard, but never holds her affections for long. When she vows that she will never marry him, he loses all hope of finding a person to share his life with, and commits suicide.
Veraswami - Flory’s only friend in Burma. Dr. Veraswami is very naive - he believes the best in people, and buys into the idea that Europe has occupied Burma for the benefit of the Burmese people. Veraswami secretly wishes to join the European club, but his odds are being rapidly diminished by U Po Kyin’s slander. If Flory had the courage to stand up for Dr. Veraswami as his friend, Veraswami might be eligible to join the club - unfortunately, Flory is too cowardly to do so until it is too late. Veraswami ends up being demoted and transferred to another town.
Elizabeth – Elizabeth lived in wealth until her father died and in squalor with her mother - she moved to Burma to live with her aunt and uncle when mother died. Elizabeth is a representation of Flory's lost European life - Flory wants to reconcile his desire for a European life (a beautiful European wife) with his life in Burma, but she cannot see Burma as he does. Elizabeth is obsessed with wealth and status, and perceives the world in black and white (or “lovely or beastly”): she idealizes the traditional uperclass European lifestyle of wealth and possession, while despising other cultures, art, and anything else that is not “proper.” She has an on-again, off-again relationship with Flory and a brief tryst with Verrall, a handsome police lieutenant, but ultimately marries Macgreggor after Flory's suicide.
U Po Kyin – The Subdivisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, U Po Kyin aspires to join the European club. Already in possession of vast wealth and power, status amongst the Europeans is all that is left for him to achieve, and he is willing to go to any means to get it. U Po Kyin has set out not only to slander Dr. Veraswami, the only other candidate for the European Club, but to secretly begin - and then squash - a Burmese uprising against the Europeans. In squashing the rebellion, U Po Kyin aims to prove his usefulness to the Europeans, securing himself a place in the club and in their favor. He believes that building pagodas will redeem his karma for committing acts of evil – however, even after securing a spot in the European Club after Flory's death and Veraswami's departure, he dies before a single brick is laid.
EUROPEAN CLUB MEMBERS-
The European Club members are all stationed in Kyauktada, and are not interested in integrating with Burmese culture. While Flory has taken strides to learn the language and customs, the Europeans are content living in their own isolated bubble, with their servants and their iced drinks and their tennis. They feel that the Burmese people are highly inferior, and spend much of their time ranting about the natives. Flory hates the European Club members, but goes along with all that they say - Flory will go to great lengths to avoid creating conflict.
Mr. MacGregor – Deputy Commissioner and Secretary of club. He is good-natured, and believes that the European Club should add a native member - however, he is still a racist, and does not view the Burmese as equals. He ends up marrying Elizabeth after Flory's death.
Ellis – the most racist European in the club. He is quick to anger, and incensed by the very notion of adding a native to the club. The most vulgar of the Europeans, Ellis not only feels his white skin makes him superior, but truly despises all non-white people. He inadvertently causes a riot when he gets into a fight with some children of Kyauktada.
Westfield – Bloodthirsty and sarcastic, Westfield is the District Superintendent of the Police. He is gunning for a Burmese rebellion, eager for a target to shoot at.
Mr. and Mrs. Lackersteen – Elizabeth's aunt and uncle – obsessed with wealth and beauty, they were very unhappy about Elizabeth’s arrival until discovering that she is incredibly beautiful. In fact, Mr. Lackersteen makes several attempts to rape or molest Elizabeth as the story goes on. Mrs. Lackersteen cares only about reputation, and is obsessed with marrying her niece off to the man who can help this reputation the most.
Status/Discrimination - One of the most prominent themes of Burmese Days is the idea of status. Whether it is gaining higher status and acceptance with a particular group, or a lack of status leading to isolation, all of the characters seek status - or fear losing it - in one way or another. Flory fears that standing up for his Burmese friend, or admitting that he is fond of Burma, will cause him to lose status with the European club; Elizabeth is obsessed with status and wealth and having her life be prim and proper; the European club members despise the Burmese, and do not want to tarnish their own reputation by adding a native to their ranks; Dr. Veraswami seeks the protection that comes with favor with the Europeans; U Po Kyin, who has already obtained wealth and power, sees status as his last unclaimed prestige.
Cultural Ideals of Beauty - We see this theme largely when Elizabeth, a representation of traditional European ideals, makes her way to Burma. She is disgusted by the marketplace, the plays, the teahouses, even with Flory's apparent affinity for the native people. Flory hastens to rationalize the shocking cultural differences to Elizabeth, citing women who wear rings to elongate their neck and the Chinese girls who crimp their feet as being different ideals of beauty for different peoples. Elizabeth's inability to accept this as anything but beastly represents an inner conflict of Flory's - he wants to pursue Elizabeth, a ghost of his lost European life, and wants to reconcile this lost life with his new life in Burma. However, the two are, thus far, seeming incompatible.
Honesty vs Expectation - The European club members expect Flory to go along with their various whims and fancies - when Ellis pens the scathing anti-native note, Flory signs, fearing rejection, even knowing that his Burmese friend will see that he has put his name to a terribly racist rant. Flory cannot be honest with the European club members, and thus, has great inner conflict and turmoil. This inability to be honest has lead to great loneliness.
Isolation - Flory feels isolated, even when surrounded by a mistress, servants, and "proper" European friends. He feels unable to share his experiences in Burma - the beauty of the green dove, for instance - with anybody, and feels that beauty lacks meaning when it cannot be shared. He tries to alleviate this loneliness by showing Elizabeth his favorite parts of Burma, but she is unable to appreciate it. None of his companions have satiated the loneliness in his heart. Even Veraswami, his only real friend, is naive and disgustingly pro-European, and does not share Flory's disdain for the imperialist presence and pretense.
Illusion – Much of Burmese Days revolves around illusion. The European Club members create an illusion of European life in Burma within the club walls. Flory is in love with the illusion of Elizabeth as a well-educated, kind, respectable European lady, wherein she is utterly racist and has nothing at all in common with Flory – thus, she is incapable of satiating his utter loneliness. Elizabeth only admires Flory when he puts off an illusion of manliness – such as when he chases away the water buffalo that startles her, or shoots the leopard in the forest – and cares nothing for the man within. Conversely, Verrall gives off the illusion of a respectable, decent man, when in reality he travels from place to place leaving a trail of broken hearts and debt in his wake.
Veraswami vs U Po Kyin - Dr. Veraswami is the prime candidate for acceptance into the European club, a high honor amongst the native Burmese. U Po Kyin, a magistrate, wants this seat for himself, and is willing to go to great lengths to obtain it. In a sense, Veraswami and U Po Kyin represent opposing paradigms - Veraswami believes the best in people, and is fairly altruistic, offering money to beggars and aid to those who need it. U Po Kyin, on the other hand, is a wicked man fond of rape and manipulation, willing to secretly incite war against the Europeans, only to slaughter the Burmese, just to join the European club. Veraswami seeks the protection of the European club against U Po Kyin's slander - slander meant to keep him out.
Europe vs Burma - Elizabeth represents European ideals, and her hatred for Burmese culture makes Flory's desires for a European and Burmese life irreconcilable. Similarly, the Europeans, who have lived in Burma for ages and speak none of the language, participate in none of the local culture, and interact only with themselves, show an isolated European bubble that looks down on Burma as a whole - Ellis in particular, with his scathing words about Burma and the Burmese, demonstrates the cultural contrast. Flory, no stranger to discrimination thanks to his birthmark, is a middle-ground - his heart is good, and he is not racist, but he lacks the will required to stand up for what he believes. This conflict is largely parallel to the internal conflict of Flory, who wants to reconcile his life according to both standards (remaining in good standing in the club, as well as maintaining his relationship with Veraswami and the rest of his Burmese life), and could be expanded to Flory vs Flory, European Club vs Natives, and a number of other conflicts that are largely centralized around this idea - European culture, versus Burmese culture.
Background of Book: Loosely based off of Orwell's personal experience in Burma as a police officer. The people are also based off of people he actually met.
Orwell's Writing Style: Typically introduces the characters but doesn't give the background until much later on in the story. Instead of introducing the characters as a preamble to their behavior in Burma, their histories surface later to shed some light on their current actions. For instance, Flory is shown to be incredibly cowardly, unwilling to set himself apart from the other Europeans - his experience in the schoolyard, years of ridicule and cruelty from his peers, shows why he is so reluctant to return to a position where he may be ostracized. Further, Orwell tends to jump between scenes showing Flory in the company of others, and Flory in isolation - he seems equally miserable in either setting, but in different ways. When in the company of the Europeans, he secretly seethes, despising their racist rants - with Elizabeth, he tries desperately to impress her with the local color of Burma, to which she is entirely unreceptive, leaving Flory miserable. When he is alone, he may find peace in a cool grove one moment, but turns his hatred inward in others. He despises his own cowardice, his association with the Europeans, and his inability to make Elizabeth sees the world as he sees it. No carnal pleasure can ease his deeply troubled heart.
Orwell uses strong imagery without attaching emotional adjectives to it. Everything from the beautiful flowers with hideous glare to U Po Kyin's rolls is painstakingly detailed, but no sense of feeling is attached. The reader is left to objectively consider the descriptions, aided only by the reaction of the characters. The crying baby in the Chinese teashop is not regarded as tragic, or ugly, or wrong, just as existing - the different reactions of Elizabeth, the Chinese man and his family, and Flory demonstrate different cultural ideas of how the situation could be regarded. The disgust resides within Elizabeth, not the situation itself. In remaining impartial, the reader is forced to consider the different reactions as differing cultural ideas, bringing us back to the notion of cultural standards of beauty and rightness.
Misc/interesting facts: BD is Orwell's first book. 1984 also loosely takes themes and ideas from BD and expands upon them. There are also similarities between Flory and Winston of 1984. Both men suffer from extreme isolation, even when surrounded by people - their inability to be honest with anyone around them sets them apart and leaves them utterly lonely. While Winston's isolation in 1984 is from his fear of being exposed to the government, and requires a deeper secrecy for his own personal safety, Flory's is more psychological. Vouching for Veraswami to the club members is unlikely to lead to his death or destruction - just to fights and arguments and being shunned by the European club members.