Colonialism in different forms

I remember having read before, that Colonialism started from the periphery, that is the center of the European community within the colonialised country. As taught during A level’s history, the core of colonialism was the European men. Yet, after reading Ann Stoler’s article this week, I cannot help but wonder if this periphery refers to the European women instead. As mentioned in my post from last week, I felt that women perpetuated colonialism through their expectations of servitude from the natives and the way they maintained their beliefs about the superiority of the white men.

Stoler mentioned in the article that  the European women in colonies had “ambiguous positions, as both subordinates in colonial hierachies and as agents of empire in their right.” Indeed, in Burmese days, the European women seemed to be dependent on men for survival and this is amplified in the fact that marriage served as a ticket to social power as seen in Elizabeth’s desperate atempts to marry as she sees it as a solution to her poverty. One cannot neglect the fact that she is also the character who persistently reminds Flory abeit subtly of his position and responsibility as a white man.

In class last week, it was mentioned that the influx of European women into colonies was to prevent any further increase in the number of mixed- race children, a result of European men having relationships with native women. The fact that the European women were brought into the colonies is symbolic of their positions as the “police” of white men and therefore, as agents of empire. To me then, this is suggestive of the idea that colonialism can exist in different forms.

The myth of Flory as a reluctant colonist

I have been thinking about what we have been discussing in class – mainly, the concept of the reluctant colonist. What exactly is a reluctant colonist was the question that filled my mind. I had a feeling that the concept – reluctant colonist explores the humanistic attitude of a man that conflicts with the need of white man to keep the natives where they are – marginalised and inferior in order to continue their capitalistic enterprise. In other words, isn’t a reluctant colonist inherently a contradiction? Is it ever possible to be both a colonist and a humanist? I think the character of Flory as a reluctant colonist, as discussed commonly in class, is a good site of discussion.

As discussed in class, I find that it is most certainly that the idea of identity should not be confused with a person’s action. In other words, a person’s action does not always express who a person really is. This is why I feel that in Burmese Days, the added dimension of Flory’s thoughts provide readers with an valuable insight to the situation in a colony. As a result of the added dimension, I find it difficult to accept Flory as a reluctant colonist, a term that many have tied him with in class, even if they do not like him much. At the most, I would see him as a sentimental colonist. He might not like what some of the other white men are doing – especially Ellis who openly expresses his condescension towards the natives. However, Flory only expresses it in secrecy towards Dr V. He could have easily assumed a different hiererachy in his own household, instead, his household is like any other colonist household where the servant looks up to the master. Furthermore, he has done many things that he is guilty of racism – like his reluctant signing of the notice just because he “lacked the courage that was needed to refuse” (63). Also, he was given the chance to return to his homeland of which he decided to return halfway because he saw the opportunity to prosper economically.

What I am pointing at are the opportunities for Flory to put his thinking into action even when it is within his means. He could have left Burma when he had the chance but decidedly came back. His lack of action may not correspond with his feeling/thinking but the total lack of it in many occasions got me reluctant to see him as a reluctant colonist.

Flory’s birthmark

It was put forth that Flory would have been the man Orwell would have become if he had chosen to stay on in Burma. Flory, very much modeled after the figure of Forster’s Fielding but undoubtedly a shadow of Orwell himself; is not afraid to joke with his close doctor confidante that ‘the British Empire was an aged female patient of the doctor’s’, speak surreptitiously about the true nature of imperialism in various analogies, as the ‘official holds the Burman down while the business man goes through his pockets’, and half-detest and admire his fellow Europeans for not possessing the same clairvoyance as he does, yet Flory is much too cowardly and incapable of standing up for his native doctor friend to arrest the self-pitying situation which he is contend to thrive in.

The same Flory is similarly capable of exploiting his own patriarchal position vis-à-vis Empire against native women, keeping mistresses for his own lust and pleasure and dismissing them guiltily when he is done with them (Orwell’s ambiguous attitude towards the exploitation of women arises in part from his own experiences). From Flory’s long ranting monologue, the reader gains an insight to the multiple plagues of his life – the ills of alien empire depriving the colonist from the capacity to think and articulate his thoughts, to the dire performativity of the self as dictated by the ‘pukka sahib’s code’, his tacit admission that his roots had grown too deep into Burmese soil, his love-hate relationship with Burma, Empire, and himself, it is not hard to see why Flory is finally driven to suicide. The blue birthmark on Flory’s side of the face, the part of himself which he constantly seeks to suppress in silence and bitterness, surfacing time and again in the novel as a fragmentary reminder that he really  is no different from the others, simply will not go away.