Who is free?

As I was reading Burmese Days, I could not help comparing Orwell’s portrayal of the lack of freedom in Burma to the totalitarian society that he painted in his later novels, Animal Farm and 1984. Orwell’s preoccupation with the concept of individual freedom and the restrictions imposed on the individual by the colonial enterprise parallels the dictatorial leadership and the totalitarian society that he paints in his later novels. The character, U Po Kyin reproduces colonial oppression onto the Burmese. The portrayal of tyranny and oppression as embodied by U Po Kyin in Burmese Days takes on a kind of prophetic quality: oppression continues to be enacted in present-day Burma. The dictatorship results in the curtailing of individual freedom and the state surveillance of movement in Burma today. This totalitarian vision of the present eerily reflects the society in Orwell’s later books. I wonder then if colonial oppression is another version of what we now understand as totalitarianism.

The strict state policing of society is further echoed in the week’s readings, ‘Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia’. The article highlights strict state patrol on national identity, specifically with regards to the hybridized identities of children of mixed parentage. The strict definitions of nationality highlights the threat that these hybridized figures poses to the body politic of the European nations, and the European nations’ desire for racial purity. This again brings to mind actual historical events such as the rise of Hitler and the Jewish holocaust that was birthed out of the desire for German racial purity. Yet this fear of racial impurity through interracial unions only highlights the insecurity of the European nations regarding the racial hierarchy and Manichean distinctions between the ruler and the ruled.