Burmese Days Summary

George Orwell

Burmese Days

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Burmese Days Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Burmese Days by George Orwell.

Burmese Days, first published in 1934, is a novel by British writer George Orwell. Set in the 1920s, the story is based on British corruption and bigotry toward the Indian/Burmese natives. The story takes place in the fictional town of Kyauktada.

As the story opens, U Po Kyin, a corrupt Burmese magistrate, is planning to destroy the reputation of the Indian Dr. Veraswami. The doctor’s main protection is his friendship with John Flory who, as a European white man, has more prestige. Dr. Veraswami wants the privilege of becoming a member of the British club because he thinks that if his standing with the Europeans is good, U Po Kyin’s plans against him will not prevail. However, U Po Kyin begins a campaign to persuade the Europeans that the doctor is disloyal and anti-British. He even sends a threatening letter to Flory.

Flory is a jaded 35-year-old teak merchant who is not married and has a Burmese mistress. He is disillusioned with his lifestyle and lives in a tiresome expatriate community, yet he has become so embedded in Burma that it is impossible for him to leave and return to England. Flory often visits the doctor for cultured conversation. In these conversations, Flory discusses his disillusionment with the empire. The doctor becomes upset whenever Flory criticizes the Raj and defends the British as great administrators who have built an efficient and unrivalled empire. On the one hand, Flory loves Burma and craves a partner who will share his passion, which the other local Europeans find incomprehensible; however, because he looks down upon the natives, Flory feels that only a European woman is acceptable as a partner.

Flory’s dilemma seems to be answered when Elizabeth Lackersteen, the orphaned niece of Mr. Lackersteen, arrives. Flory saves her when she thinks she is about to be attacked by a small water buffalo. He is immediately taken with her and they spend some time getting close. Lost in romantic fantasy, Flory imagines Elizabeth to be the sensitive non-racist he so much desires, and due to his pursuit of Elizabeth, he dismisses his Burmese concubine from his house.

Elizabeth is appalled by Flory’s kind attitude towards the natives. She sees them as “beastly” while he appreciates the virtues of their rich culture. She is frightened and repelled by the Burmese. Despite their different views, she is willing to marry him to escape poverty, spinsterhood, and the unwelcome advances of her perpetually drunk uncle.

Flory is about to ask her to marry him, but they are interrupted first by her aunt and then by an earthquake. Mrs. Lackersteen’s interruption is deliberate because she has discovered that a military police lieutenant named Verrall is arriving in Kyauktada. Verrall comes from an extremely good family, and she sees him as a better potential husband for Elizabeth. Therefore, Mrs. Lackersteen tells Elizabeth that Flory has a Burmese mistress as a way to split them apart even though Flory had dismissed the mistress almost the moment Elizabeth had arrived.  The aunt’s trick works. Elizabeth is appalled and falls for Verrall, who is arrogant and horrible to everyone but her. Flory is devastated and after a period of exile, attempts to make amends by delivering to Elizabeth a leopard skin. She accepts it even though it stinks. He talks of their relationship, and tells her he still loves her. She responds by telling him that unfortunately the feelings aren’t mutual and leaves the house to go horseback riding with Verrall. When Flory and Elizabeth part ways, Mrs. Lackersteen orders the servants to burn the reeking leopard skin, representing the end of Flory and Elizabeth’s relationship.

At this point, the club has been put under pressure to elect a native member and Dr. Veraswami is the most likely candidate. However, U Po Kyin arranges the escape of a prisoner and plans a rebellion for which he intends to publicly blame Dr. Veraswami. Flory speaks up for Dr. Veraswami and proposes him as a member of the club. Then, due to tension between the Europeans and Burmese, a riot begins and Flory becomes the hero for bringing it under control with some support by Dr. Veraswami. U Po Kyin tries to claim credit but is not believed, and Dr. Veraswami’s prestige is restored.

Verrall leaves Kyauktada without saying goodbye to Elizabeth and she falls for Flory again. Flory is happy and plans to marry Elizabeth. However, U Po Kyin hires Flory’s former Burmese mistress to create a scene in front of Elizabeth during the sermon at church. Flory is disgraced and Elizabeth refuses to have anything more to do with him. Overcome by the loss and seeing no future for himself, Flory first kills his dog, and then himself.  Dr. Veraswami is demoted and sent to a different district and U Po Kyin is elected to the club. U Po Kyin’s plans have succeeded and he plans to redeem his life and cleanse his sins by financing the construction of pagodas. However, he dies of apoplexy before he can start building the first pagoda. Elizabeth eventually marries Macgregor, the deputy commissioner, and lives happily in contempt of the natives, who in turn live in fear of her.