A Passage to India

Topics: Colonialism, United Kingdom, British Empire Pages: 8 (2786 words) Published: March 20, 2013
E. M. Forster's novel, A Passage to India, is a look into the lives of both the colonizer and the colonized. While the plight of the colonized is tragic, filled with degrading images of subjugated civilizations and noble people reduced to mere laborers, it is the colonizer, the British of India, and their rapid change from newly arrived colonist to rigid and unforgiving ruler that draws my interest. The characters constantly comment on these changes that occur to the British once they adjust to the imperialist lifestyle. In the second chapter of the novel Hamidullah, a Muslim character, remarks to his friends, "Yes, they have no choice here, that is my point. They come out intending to be gentlemen and are told it will not do. . . . I give any Englishman two years. . . . And I give any Englishwoman six months" (Forster 7). Miss Quested constantly worries about becoming this caricature of her former self and also recognizes the changes in her husband-to-be, Ronny, as he fits into the British ruling class lifestyle. Fielding looks at the uncaring people his compatriots have become and marvels as he befriends an Indian Muslim. Is it possible that colonialism has an effect on the colonizer as well as the colonized?

Forster clearly demonstrates that colonialism is not only a tragedy for the colonized, but effects a change on the colonizer as well. But how and why does this change occur? Aimé Césaire proposed that it is simply the savage nature of colonization that changes man into their most primal state (20). This does not work because there is no blatant savagery as in Heart of Darkness.Forster doesn't seem to be parading the cruelty of the colonizer. Thomas Gladwin and Ahmad Saidin suggest that the change is simply the myth of the white man as the British citizens assert their crowns of supposed natural, higher intelligence and worth (47). This does seem to be a good argument because of the superiority that the British colonists take upon themselves in the novel, sequestering themselves in the British club that no mere Indian can be a part of. However, it doesn't account for the more inquisitive and benevolent natures of Adela and Mr. Fielding and their acts and opinions toward the Indian people.
In his essay "Shooting and Elephant," George Orwell states that: When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the 'natives,' and so in every crisis he has got to do what the 'natives' expect of him. He wears a mask and his face grows to fit. (152)

Orwell suggests that the change is merely the taking on of a role and that the colonizer is an actor required to play the part of the British ruler. It is expected by the native people, and also by their fellow colonists. This expectation is shown through the comment of Hamidallah and his insistence of the inevitable change. It is expected. It is the acceptance of this role is the change that affects the characters in A Passage to India, and if this is the accepted norm, then it goes to reason that those who do not accept it will find themselves outcasts of the society they reject. This is what I intend to show by comparing the plights of Forster's characters Ronny, Adela, and Fielding, as I explore their differing approaches to this role and the effects that come of either accepting or rejecting it .
The first groups of colonizers are those who accept the act of leadership whole-heartedly. They separate themselves from the population, declaring their own superiority over the masses as they build their walled compounds content to be out of sight and sound of any Indians, with the exception of their servants (of course) (Kurinan 44). They seek to make Britain...
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