Red and Yellow, Black and White, all Cogs in the System of Colonialism.

One of the fascinating things I found in reading Burmese Days was the universality of depravity expressed through every character in the novel, regardless of race or background. Orwell has a curious way of breaking down the constructed barriers between native and colonial, as seen in both “Shooting an Elephant” and Burmese Days, and I found this particularly refreshing. It seems as if the underlying message he is trying to convey is always that at the end of the day, and at the conclusion of all discourse, men are fundamentally the same. Nowhere is this clearer than at two key points in the novel – the riot outside the club, and the events following Flory’s suicide.

During the riot, the tables are curiously turned on the Europeans, who in their panic realise firstly that they are, for all their big talk, in real danger from the locals. Secondly, they realise that even amongst themselves, they are equalised in the face of mortal threat. No degree of perceived superiority is sufficient when faced with life’s great equaliser: death.

Which brings us to the events following Flory’s suicide, which essentially indicate a kind of equalising death for all parties involved. U Po Kyin achieves his goal of club membership and a promotion, but promptly dies three days later, without ever having the chance to redeem himself for all his crimes. He is in this way doubly dead, for not only is it a physical death he dies, he dies without any hope of a better life. Dr. Veraswami’s reputation is utterly destroyed, and even Elizabeth dies a kind of death by marrying Mr. Macgregor, who would not in any event have been her first choice of husband.

Perhaps then the truest message of colonialism is, ironically, that all men, at some point in life (or death), are really equal. And it would take the realisation of their own mortality to really bring that about.