U Po Kyin

In Burmese Days, George Orwell depicts a fictitious district, Kyauktada, set in imperial Burma during the 1920s to reveal life in the British Empire. Throughout the novel, Orwell details life for both the Englishmen and the Burman natives living in Kyauktada. Moreover, Orwell uses his characters’ contrasting viewpoints to detail the reality of the British Empire, specifically in regards to race. Overall, Orwell touches on the themes of race and racism to reveal how the Englishmen keep a sense of power, or superiority, over the natives in the British Empire.

Throughout the novel, various characters reveal their juxtaposing views of race. For example, two of the main Kyauktada natives, U Po Kyin and Dr. Veraswami, have contrasting views of their place in the British Empire because of their race.U Po Kyin connived his way up the social hierarchy to eventually become a Sub-Divisional Magistrate. Once there, he had hopes of being promoted to Deputy Commissioner, where, per U Po Kyin, Englishmen would be his equals and his subordinates. In this instance, U Po Kyin shows that he has the potential to be equal to his European counterparts, or possibly even outrank them. This suggests that, because he sees himself as superior to his fellow natives, he can be as powerful as the Englishmen, trying to carry the prestige the Englishmen possess. This is further emphasized by his pursuit to become a member of the exclusive European Club, where only the Englishmen or Europeans are allowed. U Po Kyin states that he is annoyed of associating only with Burmans, whom he claims are pitiable, lesser people, and asserts that becoming a member of the Club would be his greatest achievement. By becoming a member of the Club, U Po Kyin would be able to prove his worth and value, signifying his equality with the Englishmen and his superiority to the Burmans. On the other hand, Dr. Veraswami views himself and his race in the way the Empire desires and needs: as inferior, backward people who need the guiding hand of the British to help them.

The British Empire, especially in India, capitalizes on the mentality that the colonized are inferior. According to Dr. Veraswami, he, and all Burmans, belong to a low-grade and debauched race, in which they could not survive without the British civilizing them. Furthermore, Dr. Veraswami is not pessimistic about his claims, but rather he is eager and passionate about his “true” position within the Empire. When Dr. Veraswami speaks of the Empire, Orwell only uses words that he feels the English are worthy: “fanatically loyal”, “zeal”, “admiration”, “noble”, “honor”. Thus, Dr. Veraswami represents the Empire’s ideal of how a colonized subject should perceive their colonizer: saviors to the uncivilized. Additionally, Orwell shows the contrast in the natives’ characteristics to reveal his thoughts on power and those who hold it. U Po Kyin is wealthy compared to other natives but is depicted villainously. For instance, U Po Kyin has committed evil acts throughout his life that he is trying to undo through good works. If he succeeds he can be reincarnated as a male human, according to Buddhist belief – seen as highly favorable. While Dr. Veraswami and other natives, such as Ko S’la, are depicted as kind, devoted people, but are represented undesirably as servants or laborers. Through this, Orwell shows that those who hold power are ultimately corrupted by the British Empire and, those who do not, are victims of imperialism.