To What Extent Does A Passage To India Succeed In Critiquing Empire?

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Colonialism has often been regarded as the struggle, policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it and exploiting it economically. E.M Forster’s novel A Passage to India reveals the true picture of colonialism in the subcontinent. The discussion of the representation of the colonial rule has been carried out since ages. This novel is one of his masterpieces and a subject of literary criticism from many perspectives. As it is a highly controversial subject matter, the question that is upraised is that whether it is a genuine image of India under the colonization written from an un-biased perspective or something that is written just to let out the grudges of the author, and moreover, is it a failed or a successful representation of the Indians. This book has several major themes but the one that outstands amongst all is the vast difference between the British colonial elite and the native people of India. Forster challenges the belief of the British that they had a right to rule and colonize the Indians. For them it was “White Man’s Burden” to educate the low and the inferior. By analyzing the novel, one can apprehend that the colonialists had full command over the locals. The novel is a critique on the British imperialism and its rule over India.

The image of the British as the ruling heads and masters is shown very favorable. They are portrayed as sophisticated, superior and high status beings whereas Indians are represented as meek, uncivilized and superstitious nation. They are stereotyped as the inferior race and therefore, they need a power from above to rule them and civilize them in a proper manner. Forster describes India as an incomprehensible, foreign and an exotic land just as Edward Said has explained it to be in his book Orientalism. Said too focuses on the supremacy of the Occident over the Orient. Englishmen are not presented as tyrants or dictators rather Forster describes them as superior and believing in the need to civilize the natives who cannot progress on their own.

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In the 5th chapter, Ronny says, “[British] are out here to do justice and keep the peace […]. India isn’t a drawing room.” By reading this, we can have the idea of the British mindset that the idea of colonialism and justice and having control over the natives is a means maintaining peaceful environment.

As in most of the colonization, the practice of “bleeding the country out” by taking all its raw materials is witnessed, similar case can be deduced in this novel. The mentioning of mangoes found in England as well is a direct reference of it. “Even mangoes can be got in England now. They ship them in ice-cold rooms. You can make India in England now apparently …” (Forster 31).

A Passage to India also portrays colonialism and imperialism as an obstacle between the friendship of the English and the Indians by referring to the status and position of the colonizers and the colonized. Right in the beginning of the novel, Aziz overhears the conversation of his uncle and his friend that if it is possible that an Indian and an Englishman become friends. Aziz’s friend, Mahmout Ali is of the view that it is impossible whereas his uncle, Hamidullah believes it to be possible, but only in England. By reading this, we can clearly highlight the irony of the time in that area.

Forster, without any shame and guilt, condemns British colonialism and believes that it victimizes not only the natives (Indians) but the British as well especially women. For instance, Adela causes much distress to Aziz but she is the victim of patriarchy and the colonial officials treat her as a tool for battle between men.

He also narrates more ironic examples in the novel. The instance of the collar stud of Aziz can be enumerated. Prior to the Bridge Party, which itself was a critique on the system of bridging up the gap between the nations. Fielding lost his collar stud and Aziz offered him his own stud as a token of friendship. But when Ronny sees Aziz without one and collar hanging up his neck, he points him (Aziz) to be dressed poorly in an Indian fashion and criticizes his race. It can be noted that the prejudgment of Ronny about Aziz’s collar stud and the entire Indian community seems to just flow out of his narrow-minded suppositions without doing any investigations or revealing the facts. Forster satirizes the racial arrogance of the British colonizers.

From the beginning of the novel, Forster claims that the Englishmen go through a corrupt change in their attitudes towards the Indians as soon as they gain official positions and supremacy in the colonial system. This can be notified through the noble character of Fielding in the novel as he is first portrayed as a good-hearted person who cares about others and has friendly relations but is soon corrupted when he becomes an inspector in the British educational administration.

Moreover, when Adela Quested rejects the proposal of Ronny, it can be seen as the rejection of his racial values. Adela states that his character flaws became more prominent and outwards in India than they were when they met in England. This indicates that India and the authorial position has contributed to Ronny’s colonialist arrogance and build his superiority complex.

Furthermore, this change of attitude is also notable in the Indians. In the beginning, they seem to be interested in becoming friends with the Englishmen but they soon realize that this friendship cannot be achieved as it is a relation of Mastery and Slavery and the two races have totally different social, political and official boundaries.

The novel has played significant role in giving a critique on the colonial empire. The colonial regime declare the natives as the inferior “Others” but remain at loss as they intend to replicate England as the Indian land not knowing that all the customs would not be transferred.

However, Forster’s argument has two main drawbacks to it. He draws least attention to the economic exploitation of India as the wealth was allowed to escape overseas. He also fails to justify the fact that why the British went to India in the first place whereas Edward Said has remarkably clarified this viewpoint. Said told that British found Indians as mysterious creatures, objectified them and made them an object of study to rule and govern them. Furthermore, Forster’s second drawback counts as his arguments are skeptical in nature. The novel illustrates many other notions as obstacles between the two nations other than imperialism, i.e., the differences among their culture and the selfishness in human nature.

To sum up, the novel is a critique of British colonial and imperialistic rule but it does not reject that system completely as West has gained numerable advantages just because of the East. Moreover, the relationship between the Indians and British cannot be strengthened because both are way divergent in all cases. It can only be made possible when the colonizers leave the homeland of the Indians and they gain independence as friendship is only possible when the individuals are equal in theory and practice.

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To What Extent Does A Passage To India Succeed In Critiquing Empire? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
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