The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel’s effect is derived in part from characters who, with few exceptions, are unsympathetic. They are also notable for their political and national standpoints, which obtrude at each turn. Although they are not archetypal and indeed seem to have few original ideas of their own, their attitudes and bearing are broadly evocative of colonial government in its most direct manifestations. Ellis, the most insular and overtly prejudiced of the British men, is tolerated and accepted by his compatriots. In varying or lesser degrees, the others also hold themselves above and apart from the natives; Macgregor is perhaps more resigned and philosophical than the rest in his outlook. Verrall, on the other hand, has little respect for any man who is not a skilled polo player or a ranking cavalry officer; his undisguised contempt for Asian troops once had brought him an official reprimand from his British superiors. The imperial officials seem to have little to do. While Verrall, during his appearances, occupies himself with horsemanship and romance, and Macgregor for some time follows an exercise regimen, during quiet periods the others move from club to home at a languid pace; attended by servants, they drink whiskey and bemoan the Empire’s fate.

The direct means of political control used by the British officials contrast with the cunning, oblique methods preferred by the natives. Dr. Veraswami, whose medical credentials at one point are called into question,...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Flory

John Flory, a timber merchant stationed in the village of Kyauktada in Upper Burma. About thirty-five years old and with a face stained by a prominent birthmark, Flory seems destined to a lonely bachelorhood in the insular company of the few other British subjects of the area. Like them, he spends much of his time living the life of the “pukka sahib,” the loyal representative of British values and European styles of living. Also like them, he spends much of his spare time drinking and gossiping at the British Club. Flory is sensitive and observant, however, and, unlike most of his bigoted countrymen in Upper Burma, he has a genuine respect for eastern culture. He counts Dr. Veraswami, an Indian, as one of his closest friends and even proposes him for membership in the British Club. When Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives at the village seeking a husband, Flory hopes that he has found a soul mate. Her rejection of him precipitates his suicide.

Elizabeth Lackersteen

Elizabeth Lackersteen, the orphan of a bankrupt drunkard. She has come to Burma to find a suitable husband. At twenty-two years of age, she is pretty and stylish but superficial and self-absorbed. At first, her eagerness to find a mate makes her receptive to Flory’s attentions, but she distrusts his interest in native culture. Lieutenant Verrall’s interest in her, coupled with rumors of Flory’s Burmese mistress, makes her drop him. Heeding her aunt’s warnings about the fates of obstinate women who refuse acceptable offers of marriage while in the East, Elizabeth marries Mr. Macgregor when Verrall decamps.

U Po Kyin...

(The entire section is 677 words.)