The British colonization of Burma created a racial boundary that had the Burmese dealing with white European supremacy since day one. It is evident throughout George Orwell’s novel, Burmese Days, that the main theme is the superiority of the white Europeans over the non-white Burmese. The white Europeans are extremely racist, sexist, and self centered. The social class system in this novel seems to be a two-tier system. The top tier being the white European elite, while the bottom tier seems to be the rest. The non-white Burmese people constituted the rest.
These non-whites are considered second nature to the Europeans and hold such titles and jobs as peasants and servants. Elizabeth often refers them to as “beastly”. She is an Englishwomen, a niece of the colonialist, comes to Burma to stay with her aunt and uncle. The theme of racial boundary in Burmese Days extends also to social and sexual boundaries as well. The exclusivity of the European Club signifies the social structure throughout the book. The European Club consists of all white Europeans resembling a current day country club. This club is exclusive to only white Europeans.
The members of this group sit around in the club and drink and belittle women and the Burmese. Sexual boundaries displayed in this novel are reproduced throughout the novel between character interactions. This mostly deals with the interactions between Flory with Elizabeth and a Burmese woman Ma Hla May. Women are perceived to be inferior to males in Burma. Burmese women especially are looked upon as peasants and prostitutes. Boundaries such as social and sexual, as themes in this novel, are just merely sub-themes that tie in together with the main theme of this novel dealing with the white European supremacy over the non-white Burmese.
The story of this novel takes place in a town Kyauktada, Burma. The plot and theme of the novel is surrounded by exclusivity of the European Club to white members only. Membership of this club brings enormous prestige, as it is the social and political center of town. The membership is for whites only; non-white Burmese people are not allowed to join. This all changes when the club is ordered to allow at least one non-white member. The members of the club are outraged when they are forced to have a non-white member in their club.
This results to physical and verbal abuse and all out protest of these demands. The men of this club are extremely racist, sexist, and self centered. Although their outrages are noticed, the orders must be obeyed with. Veraswami is the highest-ranking non-white official in town; he seems to be the most likely candidate for membership. He is an Indian doctor who is intelligent and a very educated man. Due to the prestige that comes with the membership of this club, a corrupt Burmese colonial official, U Po Kyin, desires membership for himself.
He does everything in his power to obtain membership. Plotting to destroy the reputation of the Veraswami. Flory in most of U Po Kyin’s attacks protects Veraswami. Flory is a close friend of Veraswami. Elizabeth is a white, young, and beautiful English woman who has come to Burma to be with her aunt and uncle. She is looking for a man to marry and Flory seems like a good match. Things seem to be going well, until the honorable lieutenant Verrall comes to town on business, and courts Elizabeth.
Elizabeth leaves Flory to be with Verrall, upon the advice from her aunt. Verrall ends up leaving town unannounced and Elizabeth goes back to Flory. U Po Kyin turns his attention to Flory. He plots to ruin the reputation of Flory by sending Ma Hla May, a Burmese woman tied to Flory, to make a horrible scene in church. This event caused great embarrassment to Flory and disgusted Elizabeth. Elizabeth rejects Flory. Flory in the aftermath of rejection kills himself and his dog. U Po Kyin ruins Veraswami without Flory’s protection, and Po Kyin is elected into the club.
Elizabeth marries an older English man and seems that that socially everything goes back to normal. The entire theme of this novel is surrounded by the social racial boundary dealing with the supremacy of white Europeans over the non-white Burmese. This is evident throughout the novel by using the exclusivity of the European Club to white members only, as a symbol for racial dominance for the Europeans. The prestige of the European Club is so enormous in Kyauktada that being a member, especially for a non-white, means a ticket to the top of the social class.
When Burma is under political development and the European Club is ordered to admit at least one non-white member, really showcases the racism and envy that is going on at this time. The white members of the European are virulently racist and are outraged at the fact that have to allow a non-white member into their exclusive society. The envy comes on the part of the non-white Burmese. The Burmese view the European Club with prestige, wealth, and top class status. This open position in the club leaves little option to who is capable of belonging.
Flory’s friend Veraswami seems like a valuable choice, because of his credentials. He is an intelligent and very educated Indian doctor who is the highest non-white official in Burma. U Po Kyin is so envious of Veraswami that he is willing to ruin a man, with same skin color, in order to obtain membership. It was necessary to attack his reputation from every possible angle. The doctor was charged with extortion, rape, torture, performing illegal operations, performing operations while blind drunk, murder homosexual attempts on the Military Police drummer boy (pg 136).
An example of just how badly some Burmese wanted to be accepted into the white society. There are some underlying themes of crossing boundaries in the novel that allowed some Burmese to be allowed temporarily into white society. When Flory and Elizabeth are on their shooting trip, and they go to pursue the leopard, Elizabeth is unfazed by the fact that the non-white man is touching her or that others are in close approximate. Another example, is when Flory is about to propose to Elizabeth, but is suddenly interrupted by an earthquake.
After the earthquake, the old butler, who is non-white, is allowed into the white society only for a brief moment. Also after Flory’s heroic efforts against the Burmese mob, he is viewed as a hero and a savior amongst the Europeans. After his newfound admiration within the club his endorsement of Veraswami looks to be approved by the European Club. These racial and social boundaries that separate the two races are reproduced throughout the novel between Elizabeth and Flory. Elizabeth is turned off about Flory’s admiration for Burmese culture and how he respects the Burmese.
Anytime Flory tries to educate Elizabeth on Burmese literature, culture, or rituals she is immediately turned off and disgusted. “Elizabeth watched the dance with a mixture of amazement, boredom and something approaching horror (pg 104). ”If it weren’t for Flory’s gamesmanship and his love for shooting, Elizabeth would’ve left him a long time ago. She considers the Burmese “only a ‘subject’ people, an inferior people with black faces” (p. 118). The significance between the racial interactions between Elizabeth and Flory is the racism and ignorance that is prevalent and cemented into the European culture.
Elizabeth has just arrived in Burma, and wants absolutely nothing to do with the Burmese race, as she seems them as “beastly”. Flory on the other hand has been in Burma for quite some time and has come to accept some of the Burmese people and culture. When the members of the white European Club were forced to allow membership to a non-white native of Burma they were outraged. No matter how outraged these men where, it was the actions by a Burmese man that led to the destroying of a reputation of a fellow man of the same color.
That’s how prestige and an honor it was to be part of this social club. It wasn’t just any club, it was an identity. Members of the European Club were identified with wealth and prestige as they sat atop of the social class in Kyauktada. The cost of belonging to such standing was a young man’s life due to humility and a high-ranking official’s reputation. The price they pay for prestige and social acceptance. The same social acceptance that the Burmese people envy as they look up to the white supremacy standing alone on top of the social ladder in Burma.