“But the whole expedition -the very notion of wanting to rub shoulders with all those smelly natives -had impressed her badly. She was perfectly certain that that was not how white men ought to behave.”
Burmese Days was George Orwell’s first novel, published in 1934. Set in 1920s Burma it follows a timber merchant and the people that ripple in and out of his life. The motivations, while important are far less pertinent to this story than the interactions within it. This story does an excellent job showing what life was like for natives and Europeans living in imperialistic Burma.
The setting that Orwell builds here is fantastic. He goes to great pains to have the reader see what the interactions between the natives and the colonists are. It becomes clear that the colonists do not see the natives as equals, but rather tools and resources to be used to their own end. It also becomes clear as the novel progresses that Orwell loved Burma. His descriptions of the environment and the geography are so vibrant that it becomes clear that he truly loved it there.
The thing that I found most interesting in this novel was it’s ability to highlight the degrading British Empire. In this work it is obvious that years of rule by England have worn down the Burmese people. Corruption exists at a casual level as everyone is vying to gain a little bit more wealth or power. Though subtle and laced throughout, this theme shows early signs of what would become indicative of Orwell’s writing. He does a commendable job showing what a long period of rule from a far away state does to a group of people.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was simple to follow and while a bit dull in parts, the ability it had to keep the reader engaged. The infusion of Burmese culture never let you lose sight of the setting of the story and was tastefully sprinkled throughout. I read this book in about two days and found it to be worth the time spent. For those Orwell enthusiasts like myself, give Burmese Days a try.
“It is one of the tragedies of the half-educated that they develop late, when they are already committed to some wrong way of life.”
Cody Jemes is the co-host of the Bored Shenanigans podcast available via iTunes and Stitcher. See more of his articles here. Also enjoy his poetry blog here or download his e-book here. Be sure to follow Bored Shenanigans on Twitter or Facebook.