Burmese Days Critical Context
by George Orwell

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Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

This work was based upon Orwell’s experiences and observations during his service with the Burma Imperial Police from 1922 to 1927. Most of the writing took place in 1932 and 1933, when he was a schoolmaster in rural England. On the one hand, the standpoint set forth here clearly parts company with the outlook of Rudyard Kipling or other imperial bards; nevertheless, Orwell does not press home any specific political prescription. He does not call for the abandonment of the imperial ideal, explicitly or indirectly; rather, he suggests its shortcomings in areas where he was familiar with them. Indeed, the novel was composed during a period when nationalist movements in Burma and, particularly, in India had just begun to affect public opinion in Great Britain; actual dissolution of Great Britain’s colonial empire was not yet a matter of intense public concern.

As Orwell’s second full-length novel, this work shows some command of characterization, though it may be argued that major figures are not fully developed: Some of them stand somewhere between stereotypical conceptions and fully formed individuals. Orwell’s grasp of physical detail is in many places exemplary, suggesting as it does the prosaic features of the Burmese setting and landscape. Moreover, as his longest venture in colonial areas, this novel calls to mind the forthright, unvarnished tone of Orwell’s later political essays; he drew upon similar subject matter for the often anthologized pieces “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant.” Burmese Days should suggest that, even in the light of his later concerns with social justice and totalitarianism, Orwell was capable of informed and discerning critical commentary on the political realities of British imperialism.