To introduce this edition of Burmese Days, Malcolm Muggeridge describes George Orwell as a self-contained dichotomy. In most of his published works, Orwell criticizes apparent social injustices but also abhors certain behaviors and choices of those under the powerful thumb. In other works, he rails against the imbalance of capitalism but warns against its solution – the terror of totalitarian regimes and their infant roots in socialism. While many readers may tire of Orwell’s lack of conviction, I find honesty and clarity. So many writers struggle, almost unnaturally, to find the answer which would catapult them into history as a visionary hero. Orwell naturally cringes at injustices, even when one injustice seeks to trounce another. Like a King Arthur of old, Orwell discovers, rather than invents, the idea that justice exists in personally discovered truths which each person must embody and live without the control of outside forces; like a benign anarchy.
In British-occupied Burma, during the days of English imperialism in India, Orwell pits characters from both sides of the racial divide against each other and around Flory, a man obviously symbolic of Orwell himself – voicing the distress and injustices of the social outcast but with flaws of his own. Flory’s ailment rises from a raging sense of loneliness while posted in Burma with the local English government. Yet despite his feelings toward the injustices in Burma, he pursues solace in someone only because of her skin color and country of origin. Under the surface, I think they both despise what the other has to offer.
But while Flory pursues his remedy, other men, proud of their English “club”, rage violently and bitterly against the native people who represent the cause of their loneliness; spitting hateful slurs and harboring disgustingly little value for their lives. Yet even as Orwell paints a discouraging image of white men, Burmese officials and citizens exercise poor habits and deplorable means of rising to the top of the status quo.
Both sides are flawed but exist within one system.
The interminable argument over the white man’s burden and the supposed “inferiority” of under-developed countries proves inconsequential when it comes to the good and happiness of the people involved. Whatever motivation inspires men, either the occupied or occupying, benign or ill-conceived, will not be more effective than a personal exercise of acceptance and integrity in unjust and imbalanced circumstances.
The book resolves beautifully, as only Orwell can do. His characters respond to circumstances invented by Orwell in the only fashion they can. As discouraging as the resolution may seem, it signifies the backward arrangement of power versus the simple, uncontrollable flow of justice. When men arrange the power system, right and wrong dissolve and those in power flourish while those out of power diminish. No sense of moral right can survive in such a system with rules which only work in favor of keeping the powerful in place. Because our world revolves around these types of systems, we can choose to participate or do what is right while in positions dictated by a twisted system.