Women as a symbol for the Empire

In Burmese days, Flory and Dr Verswami referred directly to the British Empire as “an aged female patient” (37), worn and weary from the physical afflictions which she has to bear. This vision of the empire is comic and apt because the Empire does have many illnesses, albeit not of a physical but moral nature. One of such is the hypocrisy and double standard of morality in the sexual conduct of colonizers in the colonies where a male colonizer is allowed to have sexual relations with the native women whilst any hint of physical contact between a native man and a female colonizer would have resulted in an outcry of rape.

This is due to the colonial anxiety that power relations could be reversed and the figure of the vulnerable white woman who needs to be protected is a projection of this fear. Sexual relations between the white male colonizer and the native female can only exist to reinforce the existing power relations where the concubine is like the colony, to be exploited under the pretext of a degree of privilege enjoyed by the native subjects. 

The female colonizers who maintain their physical distance from the natives and refuse to adapt to the native culture, such as Mrs Lackersteen who refused to learn a word of  the language despite having been in the country for twenty years and Elizabeth who loathes contact with them are the means by which the essence of being a sahib is preserved. Whilst the white males may be forced to interact with the natives for commercial reasons, the women are kept pristine and sullied, just like the motherland that remains aloof and disconnected from the realities of empire. It is no wonder then that the women sicken physically and become yellow faced and thin when physically confronted with a climate which they are ill-suited to. The beauty of the English rose (colonial pretensions) rapidly wilts in the face of harsh reality in the colonies. Whilst the men experience moral decline, the women exhibit it physically thus the aged old woman is an apt metaphor for the afflicted empire.

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