Critique of Imperialism in a Passage to India

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Critique of Imperialism in a Passage to India

By | September 2012
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| |The chief argument against imperialism in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India is that it prevents personal relationships. The central question of the novel is posed at the very beginning when Mahmoud Ali and Hamidullah ask each other “whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman”.[1] The answer, given by Forster himself on the last page, is “No, no yet … No, not there” (p. 322). Such friendship is made impossible, on a political level, by the existence of the British Raj. Forster’s most obvious target is the unfriendly bigotry of the English in India, or the Anglo-Indians as they were called. At times he scores them for their pure malice, as when Mrs. Callendar says, “The kindest thing one can do to a native is to let him die” (p. 27). The Anglo-Indians, as Forster presents them, act on emotional preconceptions rather than rational and open-minded examination of facts. They therefore fall into logical inconsistencies which the author exposes with his favourite weapon: irony. For example, at the hysterical Club meeting following Dr. Aziz’s arrest for allegedly molesting Adela Quested, the subaltern defends an anonymous native with whom he had played polo the previous month: “Any native who plays polo is all right. What you’ve got to stamp on is these educated classes” (pp. 184-85). The reader knows, as the subaltern doesn’t, that the native was Aziz himself. A more extended example concerns Aziz’s collar-stud. When fielding loses a stud just before his tea party, Aziz, in an impulsive gesture of friendship, hands over his own, pretending it is a spare. Ronny Heaslop, when he arrives to retrieve Adela and Mrs. Moore, notices Aziz’s collar riding up his neck. He later comments to the women, “Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, bur he had forgotten his back collar-stud, and there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals race” (p. 82). Some pages further on, Ronny again uses...