Memsahibs and Bo-kadaws: Representations of Feminine Imperial Authority in Burmese Days

Natalie Stigall


Orwell’s Burmese Days is widely accepted as a comment on British imperialism in issues of race, class, and even gender. Scholars such as Daphne Patai emphasize the submissive role the few female characters of the novel play. Patai suggests that Orwell’s female characters are muted – unable to speak for themselves, their voices and language controlled by a dominant force when they do open their mouths (44). Historically and in Orwell’s novel, however, the women who occupied this world of imperialism discovered in their positions a powerful new authority over men. The women of Burmese Days – both British and native – exercise an authority over their men that is often overlooked or misinterpreted. Due in part to the unique circumstances of the empire and its effect on the men who work within it, women gained power and authority over men, a social and sexual reversal that is exhibited most effectively in the novel by Elizabeth Lackersteen and Ma Hla May.

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