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The Depiction Of Colonialism In A Passage To India

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Albert Memmi was born in 1925 of a Berber mother and an Italian father, who passed on his Jewish identity, Memmi was able to observe the turbulent process of de-colonization when Algeria and Tunisia gained independence from the French in 1956. Memmi’s contribution to the Post-Colonial conversation was that he lived within colonialism, unsure of his place: as a native of Tunisia he was colonized, as a Jew he identified with his fellow Europeans, the French.

Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized (1974) is specifically in response to the decolonization of North Africa in 1956, when his home nation Tunisia, as well as its neighbor Algeria, gained independence from the French. Memmi describes this work as ‘portraits of the two protagonists of the colonial drama and the relationship that binds them.’ (145). The British and the native peoples are both encouraged to view the imperialistic relationship as good for everyone. Yet, at the same time, a system of cultural assumptions is put forth based on emphasizing and exaggerating the differences between the colonized and colonizer and citing these differences as evidence that the colonizer is ‘naturally suited to govern as the colonized is to be governed’ (71). The Colonizer and the Colonized proves to be highly influential, as well as highly controversial work, “citing colonization as a variant of fascism’ (63). Memmi states that the dynamics of colonization are similar in any colonial system. In his view, under colonial governments, ‘once the colonizers gain political and economic power, they become the exploiters’ (37). Memmi’s primary argument is that the collapse of colonialism is inevitable and that the only mean for this eventual collapse will come through revolt. Memmi defines the colonizer as ‘a person who imposes his culture a way of life that includes government, education and socioeconomic system on another in total disregard of the latter’s culture’ (25). Memmi considers colonizers to be ‘ exploiters’ and imposing his culture , way of living upon the colonized which is apt in the scenario of the novel as colonizers tend to use the subjugated for their own gains inconsiderate about the feelings of them. A Passage to India presents ‘India’ more like a Britain i-e through Chandrapore club and Bridge Party which clearly reflects how colonizers culture is practiced.

In the process of colonization, the colonizer becomes an illegitimately privileged usurper. Memmi believes that there are three factors that specify the colonizer (any European in a colony): profit, privilege, and usurpation. Europeans living in colonies often consider themselves to be in exile. They are not inclined to leave the colony for their mother country because they are able to live a more comfortable life in the colony. For the colonizer, ‘a colony is a place where one earns more and spends less’ (5). Throughout A Passage to India, the barriers to inter-racial friendship in a colonial context are explored, and personally experienced by Fielding and Aziz. Forster reveals this point in the novel; when Aziz and other characters were discussing Indian education. Aziz asks if it is fair that an Englishman holds a teaching position when qualified Indians are available. Fielding cannot present the proper answer for this conversation which is that England holds India for her own good. Fielding, instead, says that he is delighted to be in India. So, for him, and other Britaish, India is a comfortable place to enjoy. The main motive in colonization for England is wealth that is gained through the exploitation of the natives; the British justify their actions to the world and to themselves and question one’s cultural and personal identity.

Memmi believes that the colonial system is fundamentally unstable and will lead to its own destruction due to the mere rigidity of the system: ‘the colonized have ultimately two answers to the colonial system’ (126). The first is assimilation, which is to change his condition by changing his skin, and this is impossible since it is never desired by the colonizer, and all those colonized who have attempted it are deluded. The other option is revolt, which, according to Memmi, is as inevitable as the failure of assimilation. Being unable to change his condition in harmony and communion with the colonizer, the colonized tries to become free (127). Subsequently, the only tool left to the colonized is to reclaim their liberty by force, so revolt is the only effective solution that Memmi puts emphasis on. Having established that the relationship between the colonizer and colonized is unstable by virtue of its consequences, Memmi then seeks to show why colonialism can only end through revolt. This issue is shown clearly in the novel which begins and ends with a question: can the English and the Indian races be friends? At the end of the novel, the answer appears to be no; ‘No, not yet’ (289). This is clear evidence showing that the only redeem for colonization is through revolting and getting the colonizers out. In the last scene of the novel, the people of Chandrapore make riots after Aziz’s arrest asking the colonizers to leave India. That gives Mrs. Moore a good reason to return to Britain.

Homi K. Bhabha has been a profoundly original voice in the study of colonial, postcolonial, and globalized cultures. He is often regarded as part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ in the field of postcolonial studies with the two other figures being Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak. He is the author of numerous works exploring postcolonial theory, cultural change and power, including; Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture. He has developed a number of postcolonial studies’ key concepts such as; ’hybridity, mimicry, ambivalence and binarism’, that describe ways in which the colonized peoples have resisted the power of the colonizer.

Homi Bhabha builds up the term of ‘otherness’, in which, according to Jacques Lacan and Frantz Fanon ,this term refers to the binary opposition between white and black, colonizer and colonized. Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin(2007) noted that: ‘The colonized subject is characterized as ‘other’ through discourses such as primitivism and cannibalism, as a means of establishing the binary separation of the colonizer and colonized and asserting the naturalness and primacy of the colonizing culture and world view’(p.154-5) In the novel ‘otherness’ is demonstrated in many ways .From the first chapter of the novel, Forster revealed that India and Indians are inferior to Europeans. He makes himself clear that he belongs to the colonialists, with his inappropriate select of words in describing the city of Chandrapore. He says: .’.by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely […] The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine exists they are hidden away in gardens whose filth deters all […] Chandrapore was never large or beautiful’…(A.P.T.I,p.9) He added that the city is devoid of any work of art. India is considered as an ‘evil’ and ‘barbarous’ land. Forster ,also ,had described the Indian people in bad manner: ‘people are drowned and left rotting’’. Everything Indian is ‘abased’ and ‘monotonous’ .Then ,he compared the Anglo-Indian city station which is so different than the Native one ‘’Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground…Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place […] it is no city but forest…’’ ,so, his comparison between the Eastern and Western landscape, it shows the The Westerners showed no respect towards the Orientals. The Major Callendar called Aziz to his house. Aziz says: ‘’Old Callendar wants to see me at his bungalow .He might have the politeness to say why […]He has found out our dinner hour, and chooses to interrupt us every time, in order to show his power’’(A.P.T.I,p.17) ,but Aziz found neither the Major nor a message. It is a kind of power and authority of the Colonizer over the Colonized. Superiority of the British colonizer, and the inferiority of the Indian colonized. Ronny was upset when he knew his mother’s talk with a Native, as he called him ‘Mohammedan’. While he thought that she is speaking and describing an English doctor, he found that the English doctor is one of the Indian Natives. He said: ‘Oh, good gracious! Not a Mohammedan? Why ever did not you tell me you had been talking to a native?’ (A.P.T.I,p.31)

The Bridge Party that was suggested by Mr.Turton, it is ‘’…was not the game, but a party to bridge the gulf between the East and the West’’(A.P.T.I,p.28) It shows the high-rank of the English people. Forster had described the Indians as uncivilized and anxious people, when he says: ‘’…most of the Indian guests had arrived even earlier, and stood massed at the farther side of the tennis lawns, doing nothing’’(A.P.T.I,p.39) Ronny and Mrs. Turton spoke about the attendance of the Natives at the club in stereotype manner: ‘’It is the first time we have ever given a party like this at the club. Mr. Heaslop, when I am dead and gone, will you give parties like this?…The great point to remember is that no one who is here matters; those who matter do not come…’’(A.P.T.I,p.39) It is a mockery from Indians. Because ,the British people treated them not as humans, and considered them as objects and lesser than them. Likewise, Ronny judged the Indian guests who attended the party as ‘seditious at heart’.

Another Bhabha’s concept is ‘ambivalence’; it describes the complex mix of attraction and repulsion that characterizes the relationship between colonizer and colonized. The relationship is ‘ambivalent’ because the colonized subject is never simply and completely opposed to the colonizer. The colonizer sees the colonized as inferior, and the colonized sees the colonizer as corrupt. ‘Ambivalence’ also characterizes the way in which colonial discourse relates to the colonized subject, for it may be both exploitative and nurturing, or represent itself as nurturing, at the same time(Ashcroft, Griffiths &Tiffin,2007)

In the novel, the colonized is ‘ambivalent’ towards the colonizer in his treatment. Aziz, for example, liked some Britishers and disliked others. From one side, he likes Mrs. Moore. He says: ‘…your mother was my best friend in all the world’(A.P.T.I,p.307)From another side, he criticized other ‘Westerners’. Aziz argues: ‘I wish no Englishman or Englishwoman to be my friend’(A.P.T.I,p.298) He also disliked Callendars, and he discussed this issue with Mrs. Moore. He comments: She[Mrs.Callendar] has just taken my Tonga without my permissiondo you call that charming? and Major Callendar interrupts me night after night from where I am dining with my friends and I go at once, breaking up a most pleasant entertainment, and he is not there and not even a message. Is this charming, pray?(A.P.T.I,p.24) On the other hand, the colonizer too was ambivalent. Miss Adela came to India to see the ‘real India’, ‘I want to see the real India’(A.P.T.I,p.25) which was impossible without meeting the Indians who she denied. Miss Quested states: ‘I’ve avoided, excepting my own servant, I’ve scarcely spoken to an Indian since landing’(A.P.T.I,p.27)

Discovering the spirit of colonialism in the novel:

  • Various incidents refer to the spirit of colonialism in the novel as in the very beginning of the novel ,during the conversation between Ms. Moore and Dr. Aziz, it is revealed that Indians are not allowed to go into the Chandrapore Club inferring the distant relations between the English and Indians.
  • “Indians are not allowed into the Chandrapore Club even as guests,’ he said simply”
  • The Bridge party was organized to bridge the gulf between the English and Indians and to reduce the gap between the two but ironically it only served to intensify the gap i-e the proud behavior of English ladies towards the Indians. Through out the novel we see the immense protocol given to Britishers as if they were Gods as the quote of Ms. Moore suggests

‘And the Englishman like posing as Gods’.

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The essence of colonialism and being a colonizer is shown by the character of Ronny Heaslop when Ms. Moore remarks about the purpose of our existence.

God has put us on earth , in order to be pleasant to each other’. (Ms. Moore) ‘we are not here for the purpose of behaving pleasantly’ (Ronny)

Ronny remark shows that he is a typical imperialist for whom India is nothing beyond a career. He has no sympathy with the Indians and is rather rude to them. Mr. Turton also has the same point of view towards Indians and he thinks that English and Indians should remain distant from each other, i-e

”I have had twenty five years experience of this country- and twenty five years seemed to fill the waiting room with their staleness and ungenerosity and during those twenty five years, I have never been known anything but disaster results when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially’.

However the characters of Ms. Moore and Miss Quested were different, they were not the typical racists but friendly beings. Ms. Moore believes the reason of putting into the world is to be’ pleasant to each other’. Miss Quested wanted to ‘ see the real India ‘ and Indians and these too never behaved as colonizers.

If colonialism is considered from the perspective of the Indians (colonized), we see that they were not happy serving the Britishers. Mahmoud Ali , a close friend of Dr. Aziz believes that English and Indians cannot be friends. He also states at point that that ‘how is England justified in holding India?’.

A quote of Hamid Ullah expresses his discontentment from Britishers as ‘They all become exactly the same, not worse, not better. I give any Englishman two years, be he Turton or Burton. It is only the difference of a letter. And I give any English woman six months. All are exactly alike. …’

Mr. Amrit Rao, a notoriously anti British character was assigned to defend Dr. Aziz in the case of sexual assault of Miss. Quested and he expressed his hatred for the Britishers openly in the court room to which Indians were happy and cheering him up.

This novel, being a colonial text is full of impacts of how colonialism is and what it means . From the civil station,’ the town appears to be totally different place. The civil station shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky’ and the sky said ‘ no not there’ , this quote shows the sky is the only common thing between the Britishers and the Indians’. White supremacy in the subcontinent is also prominent as ‘ we are superior to everyone in India’.

Englishmen seemed to be feelingless towards Indians as ‘ ‘For it is not that the Englishman can’t feel—it is that he is afraid to feel. He has been taught at his public school that feeling is bad form. He must not express great joy or sorrow, or even open his mouth too wide when he talks—his pipe might fall out if he did. He must bottle up his emotions, or let them out only on a very special occasion. ‘

Aziz informs Fielding that their friendship is only possible once the British leave India. This scene clearly exposes the land’s rejection of such a friendship under the colonizer/colonized status-quo. Fielding asks: ‘Why can’t we be friends now?’ …. ‘It’s what I want. It’s what you want.’ But the horses didn’t want it – they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single-file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, ‘No, not yet,’ and the sky said, ‘No, not there’

Forster highlights the relationship between the colonizer/colonized. The novel begins emphatically with Dr Aziz, Mahmoud Ali and Hamidullah discussing “whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman” (p.33). The three characters agree that it is impossible for this to happen in India. The novel ends with Fielding and Aziz leaving each other because such a friendship is not possible under British rule. It unwinds itself and reaches point zero once more. The English and the Indians can become more intimate, but the problems of cultural differences, stereotyping, and colonization prevent the possibility of having a real

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The Depiction Of Colonialism In A Passage To India. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“The Depiction Of Colonialism In A Passage To India.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
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