Colonial attitudes in "A Passage to India" by E. M. Forster.

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Colonial Attitudes in “A Passage to India” by E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster critiques the colonial mentality in such a way in A Passage to India – the individual characters that constitute the system of colonialism in India are magnified and set as an example of this system.  However, a magnifying lens often catches the light and reflects a ghostlike image of the observer over what is observed.  So too does Forster’s own prejudices and beliefs, rooted in the system of colonialism, appear omnipresent throughout the novel.  While making a strong argument against colonialism, Forster is constantly reproducing a notion of the “other,” the non-English, non-Western, the non-Forster that compromises the integrity of his novel.

        Forster’s creation of the other begins with his perspectives of the physical India.  “There is something hostile in the soil.  It either yields, and the foot sinks into a depression, or else it is unexpectedly rigid and sharp, pressing stones or crystals against the tread” (Forster, A Passage to India, 16).  By describing the land as hostile, Forster creates an antagonistic India, unfriendly to both native and foreigner. The image of a hostile land prevents comparison to the Western homeland of the reader and creates a boundary between viewer and viewed.  Forster not only separates the land through describing it as actively hostile, but by portraying it as ugly and repulsive.  The novel is set in the city of Chandrapore, and Forster constantly provides images of filth and squalor.  “Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely undistinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely” (3).  The criticism of the land extends to the city: “The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and although a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest” (3)  

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        By portraying India as hostile and unappealing, India repels and disgusts the reader.  It is difficult to find praiseworthy descriptions of India, and the novel thus fosters a desire to distance oneself from the physical India.  This distancing is compounded by unfavourable comparisons of India to Europe. “…and Fielding often attempted analogies between this peninsula and that other, smaller and more exquisitely shaped, that stretches into the classic waters of the Mediterranean” (65). Reversing the metaphor Forster used previously, English rule settles everything.  The Indian city can do little, only feeble outbursts of beauty.  But when the English choose, glory ...

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