Burmese Days: The contradiction of colonization

Burmese Days seems to highlight how the system of colonization traps even the colonizer.

One line that really stood out for me while reading the novel was what Ellis said to his servant:

 “Don’t talk like that, damn you – ‘I find it very difficult!’ Have you swallowed a dictionary? ‘Please, master, can’t keeping ice cool’ – that’s how you ought to talk. We shall have to sack this fellow if he gets to talk English too well. I can’t stick servants who talk English” (Orwell 26).

“We are the masters, and you beggars – ” (Orwell 32)

This reminded me of our class discussion last week. One of the aims of colonization is the education of natives. However, education creates a breed of men who are ‘almost white, but not quite there yet’. Even though it is implied that ultimately natives are unable to attain the same level of civilization as the whites, they are still a kind of mimic men (to borrow Homi K Bha Bha’s terms), an eerie shadow of the colonizer. Thus, this explains Ellis’ violent reaction towards his servant’s use of (proper) English. I cannot help but be reminded of Fanon’s assertion that “the ruling species is first and foremost the outsider from elsewhere, different from the indigenous population, ‘the others’” (5); the colonizer is therefore distinguished from the natives. If the native can attain a grasp of English that is almost on the same level as the white colonizers, it undermines imperial authority, and questions the colonizer’s basis for the “rule of colonial difference” (in Chatterjee’s terms).  

Ellis’ speech thus brings up one of the contradictions of colonization, that in attempting to civilize and educate the natives, they create a haunting image of themselves which in turn destabilizes their authority and justification for rule. We could perhaps say, that this reflects the colonizer/white man’s greatest fear too, that perhaps they aren’t very different from the natives after all.

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