British Literature

Critical Analysis a Passage to India by e m Forster



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To foreigners, India was viewed as a mysterious, enchanting place, as it was portrayed as a land of riches and a land of mystery. Such a view is especially harbored by Ms Adela Quested, who came "to see the real India"[1] and looks forward to going on an adventure throughout India. Quested's "real India," which involved interacting with the appreciating the natives, was the antithesis to the India of the British expatriate, as symbolized in the Chandrapore Club, which was off-limits to Indians, as members or even guests.[2] This club was the symbol of British aloofness among the populace of British India, as in practice they lived apart from them and were truly distant from ordinary Indians. However, there were a few exceptions to the common image of the British as aloof from the Indians and heavily tied to the United Kingdom, notably Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore, who were looking forward to "seeing the other side of the world"[3] and became disappointed that their new life is much like the life they led back in the United Kingdom.

However, such people like Ms. Quested and Mrs. Moore were among the minority of Britons who actually appreciated "the real India."[4], and thus refuse to conform to their assigned roles in society, while most of them thought of themselves as Britons in exile, and that they do not consider India home, only a place they have occupied. Of course, many of these people came to India only for its material riches, that is, to get rich and benefit the British economy, not to appreciate India's cultures.

The image of the Briton-in-exile is best characterized by Ronny Heaslop, who thinks that the local Indians are never up to any good, and that there is a devious meaning "behind any remark [the Indian] makes,"[5] portraying the educated Indians as devious and untrustworthy in their attempts to please the British. Mrs. Moore's noting of Heaslop's present behavior as unheard of at home and, thus, completely unexpected, means that his assignment in India has made him distrustful of other people and easily bad-tempered. Forster uses the comparison between his present behavior and his behavior back in England as an illustration of the effects of colonial India on the corrupted elite and the excluded Indian populace, who were cast as outsiders in their own land, as they were effectively barred from the highest-paying jobs and positions.

Another problem between the British rulers and the Indians is not of exclusivity, but of mistrust between both peoples. This is best represented through Turton's invitation of the "numerous Indian gentlemen in the neighbourhood"[6] for a party, known as the Bridge Party, which is not warmly received among the Indians, who are skeptical. One of them, Mahmoud Ali, viewed this invitation as one from afar, as many of the officials live far from them. Forster establishes the skepticism regarding the party, which was set up by a British official as a cross-cultural exchange between the Indians and the British, as being a condescending approach by the British, resulting in a complete failure.

As for the British colonial administrators, they were in India for economic reasons, that is, to pursue lucrative investment opportunities and to pursue lucrative careers, as bureaucrats and administrators, especially in the fields of "the revenue, justice, police, education, medical, public works, engineering, postal and railway services as well as the provincial civil services"[7], and that drew many Britons from the middle and upper classes to India. In addition, instead of integrating themselves into Indian society, they came a caste unto itself, a ruling caste, of British people in exile. As members of a self-created caste, they didn't associate themselves with the natives of India, as they considered themselves above them, although they kept their ties to Britain by sending their children back home for schooling.[8]

Besides colonial administrators, others who stood to gain from ruling India were the British investors, due to the "subsidy supplied by the British taxpayers,"[9] which included Britons from all classes, working, middle, and upper. Such subsidies came in the form of guaranteed loans, official salaries, public works, and disaster relief, but were only for the relative few, who tended to be from the higher strata of British society, in effect the upper classes. One form of aid used to encourage investment in Britain's colonies was subsidized loans, where the government pays part of the interest. However, only the investors were able to benefit from such a scheme, although the subsidies were done at the expense of all taxpayers in the Empire. Of course, the so-called subsidy tax burden fell hardest upon the middle and lower classes to the extent that the subsidy tax was "in part merely a transfer"[10] of wealth up the socioeconomic scale, as the upper classes held a disproportionate portion of the bonds.

Thus, Britain's empire in India exploited two groups of people, the native Indians and much of the populace in the United Kingdom, to the benefit of the upper class elites, who were generally from the London area, as they were the most prolific investors in business enterprises throughout the Empire, having owned 60% of such shares in such enterprises.[11] In addition, members of the elite, who were effectively members of the upper class, "were very much more likely as a group to invest in Empire"[12], being 50% more likely than normal to invest in Empire enterprises, versus the Businessmen, who tended to be middle-class and were 60% less likely to invest in the Empire.[13]

As Forster implies in his book, Passage to India, he gives many examples of the behavior of the British stationed there. They were typically out of touch with the native Indians, and, failing to westernize India, created a ruling caste of their own, exclusively for them, in which they did not want anything to do with the Indians. This was best exemplified in the exclusivity of the Chandrapore Club, which was closed to Indians, whether as members or even guests. Simply put, they did not consider India home, as best said by Ronny Heaslop, a British administrator, who came to view the locals with blatant contempt, with his post in India leading to him "having developed sides of his character that [Ms. Quested] had never admired"[14], an obvious consequence of the colonial system in force. Thus, they were not fond of India proper, but only as rulers in exile, who maintained significant ties back home. In the economic sense, a relative few benefited from empire, and they tended to be from the elite upper classes, as explained by Davis and Huttenback. In addition, their investments were often subsidized by taxes, which fell hardest on the middle and working classes in the United Kingdom. Thus, empire was a tool to transfer income from the working and middle classes to the upper classes, resulting in effectively an upward redistribution of wealth.

[1] Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. (New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.), 1924, 22. Italic text is exactly as it appears in the original.
[2]Ibid., 21-22.
[3]Ibid., 23.
[4]Ibid., 25.
[5]Ibid., 33.
[6]Ibid., 35.
[7] Maddison, Angus. "The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule." Class Structure and Economic Growth: India and Pakistan since the Moghuls. (London, UK: Allen and Unwin), 1972, 39.
[8]Ibid., 43.
[9] Davis, Lance E. and Robert A. Huttenback. Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire: The Economics of British Imperialism, 1860-1920, Abridged Edition. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 1988, 112.
[10]Ibid., 148.
[11]Ibid., 171, Chart 7.1.
[12]Ibid., 174.
[13]Ibid., 174, Chart 7.2
[14] Forster, 85.

More resources
Davis, Lance E. and Robert A. Huttenback. Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire: The Economics of British Imperialism, 1860-1920, Abridged Edition. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 1988.

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