Burmese Days brings together stories from colonial life in a narrative sequence that concludes with several violent deaths. U Po Kyin, the rotund and ruthless native judicial officer for the district, is plotting to turn nationalist agitation in a local newspaper against his rivals in a way that, he hopes, will ingratiate him with the imperial authorities. British functionaries gather at their exclusive club to discuss, among other matters, rumors of unrest among the local population. Passing conversation reveals the fears and prejudices they hold: Mr. Macgregor grimly murmurs, “In my young days, when one’s butler was disrespectful, one sent him along to the jail with a chit saying, ‘Please give the bearer fifteen lashes.’ . . . Those days are gone for ever, I am afraid.” When they hear a proposal, which had originated with the Commissioner, that their club consider accepting native members, Mr. Ellis snarls brusquely, “I don’t like niggers, to put it in one word.” Mr. Westfield solemnly maintains that excessive legalism and bureaucratic routine impede the real work of the imperial government in maintaining order and respect for authority. “British Raj is finished if you ask me,” he says.
John Flory, who works for a timber company, has spent most of his adult life in the Raj; he has grown weary of colonial ways but cannot extricate himself from his situation in Burma. More than the other British residents, he mixes freely with the natives. He is on friendly terms with Dr. Veraswami, an Indian physician; he becomes distinctly uncomfortable when some...
(The entire section is 650 words.)