No Exit in ‘Burmese Days’

While Stoler’s article was an interesting read, I’ll like to put it aside for this post and comment on something I found rather striking in Orwell’s Burmese Days. In my opinion, Flory’s suicide at the end echoes Konstantin’s one in Chekhov’s play The Seagull. I don’t know if Orwell had Chekhov in mind when writing this novel but the similarities are there: unrequited love/ ‘love’, the banality of existence etc. More importantly, however, I found that like the characters in Chekhov’s plays, the characters in Burmese Days were incapable of  change. Except for Flory (and maybe Ma Kin), nobody else seems to be conscious or critical of the colonial condition. There are no Joyceian epiphanies either. This becomes especially apparent in the last chapter, which works something like those ‘what-happens-to-every-character-after-this’ thing before the credits rolls. We know that everyone continues with the same moral and behavioral pattern. The protagonist’s death becomes just a statistic, a non-event. Somethings, and nothing, happened.

For me, that was perhaps the most shocking aspect of the book- not the violent hunts, not the evil machinations of U Po Kyin, nor the rampant corruption within the system. I wonder if that is why Orwell plants the notion of Buddhist reincarnation within the novel. According to Buddhism, the worst of the hell realms is the one of endless suffering and if I’m not wrong, reincarnation is endless as well (unless one reaches nirvana). For Orwell, the colony is a a kind of breeding ground that only accentuates this sort of utter helplessness and ennui of the modern condition. I think that Orwell was actually already writing about a kind of (colonial) dystopia in Burmese Days because in 1984, Winston and Julia gets converted by Big Brother in the end and nothing has changed for Oceania.

One thought on “No Exit in ‘Burmese Days’

  1. Very thoughtful Yuxin. At first I thought you were going to talk about Sartre’s play, No Exit(s?). Which makes me think, how can you conduct an existential reading of this text? The reading you’re offering is going in that direction. Something to explore for a final paper, maybe?