A look at George Orwell’s feelings of Imperialism through the character John Flory.
George Orwell depicted the British rule in Burma during the days of Imperialism in Burmese Days. Orwell’s main character, John Flory, exhibited mixed feelings about the imperialistic project of Britain. His actions conveyed, both, a disdain for imperialism along with an acceptance of it. His views were further communicated by his conversations in the story. Flory’s mixed feelings stemmed from his uncomfortability with the racial barriers created by Imperialism. This paper will examine the pro-imperialism actions and anti-imperialism actions of Flory, why racial boundaries put in place by imperialism existed and why these boundaries cause Flory to have mixed feelings about imperialism.
Flory was described early in the novel, by Orwell, to have been corrupted by the East. Flory dodged joining the army to stay in the east and continue with his business, his whiskey and his Burmese girls. In this description, Orwell is claiming that Flory has already fallen under the spell of imperialism, imperialism is synonymous with the East for Orwell, at an early age. He chose to stay in the East and in a sense chose imperialism. This is not to mention that he chose to come out East to make money in his timber business in the first place. Furthermore, the depiction that Flory was corrupted by imperialism showed that he found the lifestyle of a white male in a land of imperialism suitable. He took to having a Burmese mistress, Ma Hla May, and drinking whiskey at the European Club. These were the norms of the European imperialists’ lives. Because of the dynamic of imperialism, Flory could afford servants. This is something that Flory could not do in England. Flory was in Burma to make money, as he tells Dr. Verswami. He had a better opportunity in Burma to make money than in England because of imperialism. The lifestyle, afforded to him by this fact, he enjoyed. This shows that Flory did feel that imperialism was good in some respects; namely, the lifestyle he could enjoy because of it.
However much Flory liked the life he could have in Burma, he complained about imperialism to anyone who would listen. One of the listeners of Flory’s complaints is Dr. Veraswami. Flory complains about the guilt he has living in Burma, mistreating its people. It is not the mistreatment of the Burmese, directly, it is that the imperialist hide behind the guise that they are there to help. He says, “it drives us to justify ourselves night and day.” Here, Flory stated that the feeling of guilt of lying to the natives made him rationalize the benefit of imperialism. Flory’s mixed feelings start here. Flory believed that the natives deserved to not be lied to. He thought it best for everyone involved if the British simply made their intentions clear, like a business deal. “It’s at the bottom of half our beastliness to the natives,” he states to Veraswami. This quote asserted that without the lie, the natives would not be so victimized by the British, which is something he wants.
Flory’s wish for the imperialists to come clean is an example of his inability to come to terms with the racial boundaries that imperialism causes. If Flory got his way, and the lie did not exist, there would have been less beastly treatment of the natives by half. This lie, what Flory calls it, is an example of a boundary between imperialists and those under the fist of imperialism. This relationship was also separated by race, the imperialist were white and those under imperialism were colored. Unlike other Europeans, Flory friends Veraswami. The club disagrees with this mostly, especially Ellis, who never backed down from an opportunity to use slurs in place of Veraswami’s name. Flory found this behavior disgusting and would regularly leave the club in favor of conversations with Veraswami at the doctor’s house. Flory even went so far as to say that he enjoyed talking with the doctor more than with the Europeans at the club. This showed that Flory found the natives, at least some, to be equals to the white imperialists. Flory respected their culture as well. Flory takes Elizabeth to see some native girls dance. He whispers in her ear during the performance how he sees the art and culture in their dance. Flory’s feelings on their culture, a weird respect, complicated his feelings on imperialism. His respect for their culture compounded his guilt that he is in on the lie with the Europeans.
Not only did he respect their opinion, by conversing with Veraswami, and their culture, exhibited through his admiration of their dancing, Flory also respected their life. During the middle of a riot of the Burmese, Flory instructed the police to shoot over the heads of the natives to scare them rather than shoot straight at them and harm them. He did not want innocent Burmese killed. Ellis was in disbelief that Flory would not want to kill a (insert racial slur here). The act of firing over a riot mob of natives instead of into them was against policy and everyone questioned his decision. This example showed Flory’s respect of the Burmese lives and also, brings up another point, how the other Europeans respond to his inability to deal with the boundaries.
Elizabeth was disturbed by Flory’s comment during the dance show and was even disturbed she was there in the first place, sitting among the people. Flory understood that she would feel that way but could not, himself, feel that way. Ellis and the other club members alienate him somewhat over his decision to be friends with Veraswami. The reactions of people to Flory’s actions showed how his inability to accept the racial barriers placed by imperialism affected his thoughts on imperialism. Flory could not agree fully with imperialism as long as these barriers and boundaries existed.
Though he never speaks of it directly, Flory struggled with imperialism because the boundaries it set in place alienated him from society. This alienation is at the heart of his depression. Their reactions, to how he handled the interracial relationships, made him hate Burma and he associated Burma with imperialism. Thus he assigned blame to imperialism for creating these boundaries and bringing this British Burma into existence. Flory hated Burma because he was alienated and depressed, due to his inability to accept the racial barriers. At the heart of the issues Flory faced, was the fact that he refused to conform to the racial boundaries set in place by imperialism. He loved the lifestyle imperialism afforded him but could never understand the racial boundaries. Because of these feelings he could never fully accept or disown imperialism, he was caught in between.
 George Orwell, Burmese Days (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1974), 67.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ibid, 39.
 Ibid, 37.
 Ibid, 105.