Burmese Days
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"Burmese Days" Characters Analysis

By George Orwell

fiction | 354 pages | Published in 2023

A new edition of Orwell's debut novel, introduced and annotated by his biographer, D. J. Taylor First published in 1934, and a bitter souvenir of Orwell's time as a servant of the British Raj, Burmese Days follows the slow decline of John Flory, as he tries to steer a path between the bores of the Kyauktada club, the machinations of the native magistrate U Po Kyin and his love for a visiting English girl, with tragic results. This new edition includes an introduction, extensive endnotes and an appendix containing original responses to the novel as well as letters and documents from the period in which it was written.

ISBN_13:9781472132994
ISBN_10:1472132998

Estimated read time: 8 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
John FloryProtagonist
Dr. VeraswamiSecondary Character
Elizabeth LackersteenSecondary Character
U Po KyinAntagonist
Ma Hla MayLove Interest
EllisSecondary Character
MacGregorSecondary Character

Role Identification

The characters in "Burmese Days" play various roles within the story, each contributing to the development of the plot and themes. John Flory, the protagonist, takes center stage as his struggles and conflicts drive the narrative forward. Dr. Veraswami, Elizabeth Lackersteen, U Po Kyin, Ma Hla May, Ellis, and MacGregor also occupy significant roles in the story, impacting the protagonist's experiences and decisions.

Character Descriptions

John Flory

John Flory is an English timber merchant living in Burma during the British colonial period. He is described as a middle-aged, lonely man who despises the oppressive nature of British imperialism. Flory is portrayed as physically unattractive, with a birthmark on his face that adds to his feelings of isolation and self-consciousness. Despite his flaws, he possesses a yearning for companionship and genuine connections.

Dr. Veraswami

Dr. Veraswami is an Indian doctor who forms a close friendship with John Flory. He is educated, intelligent, and determined to gain acceptance and recognition from the British ruling class. Dr. Veraswami reflects the struggle of the indigenous population against discrimination and the desire for assimilation into the dominant culture.

Elizabeth Lackersteen

Elizabeth Lackersteen is portrayed as a beautiful and flirtatious English woman, married to a minor magistrate in Burma. She represents the weary and complaining colonial wives who are dissatisfied with their lives in Burma. Elizabeth's character epitomizes the shallow and gossip-driven society of the European community in the country.

U Po Kyin

U Po Kyin is the main antagonist in the novel, and an influential Burmese magistrate. He is ambitious, corrupt, and willing to go to great lengths to achieve his personal and political goals. U Po Kyin symbolizes the moral decay and corruption that festers within the colonial system, using manipulative tactics to undermine his adversaries.

Ma Hla May

Ma Hla May is a young Burmese woman who becomes the love interest of John Flory. She is described as beautiful and gentle, representing the allure of Burma and its people. Ma Hla May also sheds light on the complex power dynamics and cultural clashes between the British and the Burmese.

Ellis

Ellis is an English journalist who arrives in Burma and befriends John Flory. He serves as a sounding board for Flory's frustrations and becomes a catalyst for the protagonist's increasing discontentment with the colonial rule.

MacGregor

MacGregor is the British Commissioner of the district and represents the authority of the British Empire. He is portrayed as a fair-minded individual who understands the flaws of the colonial system but is helpless to bring about meaningful change. MacGregor embodies the struggle between personal integrity and adherence to the oppressive colonial rule.

Character Traits

John Flory

  • Loneliness
  • Compassion
  • Self-consciousness
  • Disillusionment
  • Empathy
  • Anti-colonial sentiments

Dr. Veraswami

  • Intelligence
  • Ambition
  • Friendship
  • Indian Identity
  • Desperation for acceptance

Elizabeth Lackersteen

  • Beauty
  • Flirtation
  • Discontentment
  • Superficiality
  • Gossip-mongering

U Po Kyin

  • Manipulation
  • Deception
  • Ambition
  • Corruption
  • Ruthlessness

Ma Hla May

  • Beauty
  • Gentleness
  • Innocence
  • Cultural clash
  • Burmese pride

Ellis

  • Curiosity
  • Friendship
  • Witty
  • Insightful

MacGregor

  • Integrity
  • Helplessness
  • Moral dilemma
  • Empathy

Character Background

John Flory

Born in England, John Flory moved to Burma after a failed engagement. He holds liberal values, dislikes the oppressive colonial rule, and befriends Dr. Veraswami, forming a bond over their shared experiences of discrimination and disillusionment.

Dr. Veraswami

Dr. Veraswami, an Indian doctor, received his medical education in England. He returns to Burma, hoping to bridge the gap between the British colonizers and the indigenous population, but constantly faces discrimination.

Elizabeth Lackersteen

Elizabeth Lackersteen is an English woman who was married to a civil servant and brought to Burma. She quickly becomes disillusioned with her life in this foreign land, indulging in affairs and shallow relationships to escape her boredom.

U Po Kyin

U Po Kyin rises from poverty to become a powerful magistrate in Burma. He is driven by ambition and uses deceit to rise further in the colonial administration, even resorting to framing others for his own gain.

Ma Hla May

Ma Hla May is a young Burmese woman who grows up in poverty. She becomes Flory's love interest and struggles with the clash between her Burmese identity and the allure of Western ways.

Ellis

Ellis, an English journalist, arrives in Burma with an intent to expose the harsh realities of imperialism. Through his friendship with Flory, he gains insights into the oppressive colonial system.

MacGregor

As the district commissioner, MacGregor understands the flaws of the colonial system but is limited by his position. He desires reform but is constrained by the larger political landscape.

Character Arcs

John Flory

Flory's character arc is centered on his internal struggle with loneliness, identity, and his anti-colonial sentiments. Initially, Flory remains detached from his surroundings due to fear of judgment and rejection. Through his relationships with Dr. Veraswami, Ma Hla May, and Ellis, Flory begins to challenge his own biases and finds the courage to voice his opposition to colonial rule, ultimately sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of his ideals.

Dr. Veraswami

Dr. Veraswami's character arc revolves around his desperate pursuit for acceptance from the British ruling class. Despite being deceived and betrayed, he retains his integrity and displays unwavering loyalty to Flory, even at personal cost.

Elizabeth Lackersteen

Elizabeth Lackersteen's character arc highlights her dissatisfaction with her marriage and her attempt to find happiness in shallow relationships. However, she remains trapped in her own discontentment and fails to experience personal growth or change.

U Po Kyin

U Po Kyin's character arc showcases his ruthless pursuit of power and the dramatic consequences that follow. Despite achieving some short-term victories, his web of deceit ultimately unravels, leading to his downfall.

Ma Hla May

Ma Hla May undergoes a transformation from a submissive and innocent character to someone who questions her own identity and the impact of Western influence on her culture. She becomes more aware of the power dynamics between the British and the Burmese.

Ellis

Although Ellis has a relatively minor character arc, his experiences in Burma heighten his awareness of the injustices and cruelty perpetrated by the colonial system. He becomes more informed and motivated to challenge and expose the truth.

MacGregor

MacGregor's character arc is marked by his internal conflict between his personal values and his position within the colonial administration. Despite understanding the problems inherent in the system, he is unable to effect meaningful change due to political constraints.

Relationships

The relationships between the characters in "Burmese Days" contribute significantly to the story's overall narrative and thematic development.

  • The friendship between John Flory and Dr. Veraswami serves as a means of mutual support and the sharing of anti-colonial ideologies.
  • The romantic relationship between John Flory and Ma Hla May illuminates the cultural clashes and power dynamics between the British and the indigenous population.
  • The affair between John Flory and Elizabeth Lackersteen highlights the dissatisfaction and emptiness experienced within the colonial community.
  • The manipulative relationship between U Po Kyin and various British individuals showcases the corrupting influence of power and manipulation.
  • The friendship between John Flory and Ellis propels Flory's increasing discontentment and serves as a sounding board for his frustrations.
  • The interactions between MacGregor and various characters represent the struggle between individual integrity and the constraints imposed by the colonial rule.

In conclusion, the characters in "Burmese Days" represent various facets of British colonialism and the complex interactions between the British and Burmese communities. Their struggles, relationships, and character arcs contribute to the exploration of themes such as imperialism, identity, corruption, and the clash between cultures. Orwell's portrayal of these characters brings depth and nuance to the political and social commentary of the novel.