Racial Boundaries in Burmese Days by George Orwell Analysis

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The central theme of George Orwell’s novel, Burmese Days, revolves around the white European supremacy that emerged as a result of British colonization in Burma. Throughout the book, racial discrimination against the Burmese by white Europeans is portrayed. This racial divide is evident through the prevalent motif of white Europeans considering themselves superior to non-white Burmese. The characters representing the white Europeans display extreme racism, sexism, and self-centeredness. Additionally, the novel depicts a social class system with two tiers: the top tier occupied by privileged white Europeans and the bottom tier consisting of non-white Burmese individuals.

The Europeans perceive these non-whites as inferior and assign them positions such as peasants and servants. Elizabeth, an Englishwoman and a relative of the colonizers, journeys to Burma to visit her aunt and uncle. The theme of racial division in Burmese Days also encompasses social and sexual divisions. Illustrating the broader social hierarchy depicted in the book, the European Club exemplifies exclusivity similar to that of a contemporary country club, with membership limited exclusively to white Europeans.

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The members of this group gather in the club and engage in drinking and demeaning women and the Burmese people. The novel portrays sexual boundaries between characters throughout, particularly in the interactions between Flory, Elizabeth, and a Burmese woman named Ma Hla May. In Burma, women are considered inferior to men, with Burmese women being viewed as peasants and prostitutes. These boundaries, both social and sexual, serve as sub-themes that connect to the overarching theme of European dominance over non-white Burmese individuals.

The novel is set in Kyauktada, Burma and revolves around the exclusivity of the European Club, which admits only white members. Being a member of this club is highly prestigious as it serves as the social and political hub of the town. Unfortunately, membership is restricted to whites, with non-white Burmese people being denied entry. However, everything changes when a directive is issued ordering the club to allow at least one non-white member. This decision infuriates the club members who vehemently oppose having a non-white member in their midst.

The physical and verbal abuse, along with widespread protests, result from these demands. The club’s male members exhibit extreme racism, sexism, and self-centeredness. Despite the public outcry, compliance with the orders is necessary. Veraswami, an Indian doctor who holds the highest non-white position in town, appears to be the most suitable candidate for membership. Alongside him, U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese colonial official, also aspires to join due to the status associated with club membership.

He does everything in his power to obtain membership, plotting to destroy the reputation of Veraswami. Flory, in most of U Po Kyin’s attacks, protects Veraswami as he is a close friend of his. Elizabeth, a white, young, and beautiful English woman, has come to Burma to be with her aunt and uncle. She is searching for a man to marry and Flory appears to be a suitable match. However, things take a turn when the honorable lieutenant Verrall arrives in town on business and starts courting Elizabeth.

Elizabeth initially chose to be with Verrall, based on her aunt’s advice. However, Verrall suddenly departs without notifying anyone, leading Elizabeth to return to Flory. U Po Kyin then shifts his focus onto Flory and devises a plan to destroy his reputation. This involves sending Ma Hla May, a Burmese woman associated with Flory, to create a distressing scene in church. This incident greatly humiliates Flory and disgusts Elizabeth, prompting her to reject him. Deeply affected by the rejection, Flory tragically takes his own life along with his dog. Without Flory’s protection, U Po Kyin successfully ruins Veraswami and manages to secure his position in the club.

Elizabeth’s marriage to an older English man appears to restore social order. The core theme of this novel revolves around the social divide between white Europeans and non-white Burmese, with the former asserting their superiority. This notion is consistently demonstrated in the book, particularly through the European Club’s discriminatory policy of admitting only white members, which serves as a symbol of European racial dominance. The European Club holds immense prestige in Kyauktada, and for a non-white individual, membership represents access to the highest echelons of society.

During a period of political development in Burma, an order is issued for the European Club to include at least one member who is not of white ethnicity. This situation highlights the prevalence of racism and envy during that time. The white members of the European Club display strong racist attitudes and react with anger towards the requirement of admitting a non-white individual into their exclusive community. Meanwhile, the non-white Burmese population feels envious towards the European Club, perceiving it as a symbol of prestige, wealth, and high social status. However, the available position in the club offers limited opportunities for membership, raising questions about eligibility criteria.

Flory’s friend Veraswami, who is an intelligent and highly educated Indian doctor, holds the esteemed position of being the highest non-white official in Burma. The antagonist, U Po Kyin, harbors intense envy towards Veraswami and is willing to destroy another man with the same skin color simply to gain membership. U Po Kyin deems it necessary to tarnish Veraswami’s reputation by attacking him on multiple fronts. These include accusing the doctor of extortion, rape, torture, illegal operations, performing operations while intoxicated, as well as attempting to murder a Military Police drummer boy (pg 136).

The novel illustrates the strong desire of some Burmese individuals to be accepted into white society. It explores the various themes of crossing boundaries that enabled certain Burmese to temporarily gain acceptance in white society. During Flory and Elizabeth’s shooting trip, Elizabeth remains unperturbed by the non-white man touching her or the presence of others in close proximity. Another instance occurs when Flory is about to propose to Elizabeth, only to be unexpectedly interrupted by an earthquake.

After the earthquake, the old butler, who is non-white, is briefly allowed into white society. Similarly, Flory becomes a hero and savior among Europeans after his brave actions against the Burmese mob. As a result of his newfound admiration within the club, his endorsement of Veraswami seems to gain approval from the European Club. The novel consistently portrays racial and social divisions between Elizabeth and Flory, specifically Elizabeth’s disapproval of Flory’s admiration for Burmese culture and his respect for the Burmese.

Whenever Flory attempts to teach Elizabeth about Burmese literature, culture, or rituals, she reacts with immediate disdain and repulsion. On page 104, it is described that while watching a dance, Elizabeth’s emotions ranged from astonishment to boredom and even horror. If it weren’t for Flory’s love for shooting and his strategic maneuvers, Elizabeth would have left him a long time ago. She views the Burmese as an inferior people with black faces and considers them solely as subjects. These racially charged interactions between Elizabeth and Flory highlight the deep-rooted racism and ignorance that permeate European culture.

Elizabeth, who has recently arrived in Burma, harbors a strong aversion towards the Burmese people, whom she finds disagreeable. On the other hand, Flory, having lived in Burma for some time now, has developed an appreciation for specific aspects of Burmese culture and its individuals. The members of the white European Club were enraged when they were forced to accept a native Burmese individual as a member despite their non-white status. Despite their anger, it was ultimately a man from Burma who tarnished the reputation of another person belonging to the same ethnicity.

Being part of the European Club was a great honor and a mark of prestige. This exclusive club represented wealth and social status in Kyauktada. However, gaining membership meant sacrificing a young man’s life in the name of humility and protecting the reputation of powerful officials. Such sacrifices were made to secure prestige and acceptance in society, something that the Burmese people looked up to with envy. The white supremacy held their position at the top of Burma’s social ladder, leaving others longing for the same level of social acceptance.

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Racial Boundaries in Burmese Days by George Orwell Analysis. (2018, Jan 25). Retrieved from


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