A critique of a system often functions as a magnifying lens, bringing into focus the smaller components of a macroscopic system. 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 Forsters 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. Forsters 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) 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. d 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). Clearly, the physical India is inferior to the physical Italy, the latter being more exquisite than the former. Other comparisons are equally unflattering. [Englands] little lakes and mountains were beloved by them all. Romantic yet manageable, it sprang from a kindlier planet. Here an untidy plain stretched to the knees of the Marabar (152).
Since the initial audience of the novel was the English public, such direct comparison with the homeland inevitably causes such readers to form boundaries between here and there. By setting up the very boundaries that the Anglo-Indians can barely overcome in a fictional work, Forster limits the depth of his message. Forster, however, does not deliberately alienate his audience from India. Otherwise, A Passage to India would not criticize colonialism as it does. It is clear that Forster is opposed to colonialism and the effects of English occupation upon India, yet he seems unable to perceive India as other than other.
For instance, while he portrays Chandrapore as filthy and repulsive, the English residences are neat and ordered. Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railways station. It is a city of gardens (4). The English encampment, situated upon hills overlooking the city proper, is associated with the sky while the wretched city is the earth. Forsters association of these object pairs lends an unpleasant connotation to a later passage. The sky settles everything. herself [the earth] can do little only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily; size from the prostate earth. (5) 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 can run into the Chandrapore economy or a benediction such as a Bridge Party is manufactured.
The English can do this because they are so strong and enormous. The sun never sets on the British Empire and the English draw strength from this fact. The size is formed by the bent over forms of its subjected lands and peoples. While such an interpretation is directly opposed to Forsters message, he lays the foundation for such an interpretation with his physical descriptions and analogies. The placement of physical England above and away from physical India mirrors the placement of English above and away from Indians. For instance, take the innocent description of an Indian lady with the unpronounceable name (49).
Her name is not unpronounceable to Indians, and only difficult to pronounce by the English. The pronouncement of unpronouncability assumes the properness of the English tongue. She is unidentifiable because her name is not easily assimilated by English sounds. This assumed superiority of English on the part of Forster is nearly identical to the assumed superiority of the English regime in the novel. Of course, this is a small phrase and such elaboration may seem ludicrous. However, this phrase is repeated in sentiment throughout the novel.
If the English are perceived as proper and the norm, the Indians, who are not English, must be improper and odd. This is a further reproduction of the other and is, unfortunately, supported in many places. Regarding Aziz, Forster writes, He too generalized from his disappointments it is difficult for members of a subject race to do otherwise (9). There is nothing wrong in the admission that Aziz is a member of a subject race, for that is truth. However, Forsters phrasing suggests that this makes Aziz inferior (subject races must generalize, oppressor races have no such restriction) and it precluded reader identification with Aziz.
The English are portrayed throughout the novel as the dominators. Emphasizing Azizs membership with the subject group sets him as other to the dominating group of the readership. If Aziz is other than his concerns are not our concerns. Forster constantly compromises identification with Aziz through unfavourable comparisons and descriptions. Aziz is the comparatively simple mind (80) to Adelas well-equipped mind (150). Aziz deserves his woes – Trouble after trouble encountered him, because he had challenged the spirit of the Indian earth, which tries to keep men in compartments (140).
Aziz is emotion to the British logic. Aziz is other to the English in the novel and becomes other to an Anglicized reader. Individually, the comparisons may be innocent, but taken as a whole, Aziz is made other. The character that, for Forster, represents the voice of India is alienated from the reader. Azizs alienation and degradation is symptomatic of the alienation and degradation all Indians face in the novel, on both levels of plot and the level of reader/author discourse. Indians are physically weak in the novel. Round they ran, weedy and knock-kneed the local physique was wretched (59).
Even the most educated of the Indians have inferior and rough intellects (114). They are incompetent and ridiculous at work, like gardeners who were screaming at the birds (74). With repeated descriptions of Indians, the reader wonders if colonialism should exist, if only to protect the average Indian from his own ignorance. After all, There is no stay in your native. He blazes up over a minor point, and has nothing left for the crisis (252). Incompetence by itself is enough to widen the gulf between reader and subject. Forster widens it further by direct comparison of Indian flaw to English virtue.
In reference to the trial of Aziz, Victory, which would have made the English sanctimonious, made [the Indians] aggressive (289). Disturbingly reminiscent of colonialisms description as all natives as savage, Forsters statement makes the English look good while contradicting the scenario that Forster has himself developed. The English were temporary victorious when they arrested Aziz and convicted all non-Anglos of the assault. They were by no means sanctimonious at this point; they increased their personal power, capitalized on fear, and, according to the Major, took the opportunity to torture Indians at the hospital.
Indians were demonized, hated, and feared, this coming only with the victory of arrest, not conviction. Forster does not appear to be sarcastic, however, with his use of sanctimonious. In the fictional world of his own creation, Forster has created an English regime he thinks is narrow-minded, dangerous, and wrong yet to which he remains loyal. Forsters creation of the other and his own identification with the English and his colonial past has created what can only be described as a muddle. Forster also resorts to colonialisms dehumanization of subjected races. The Indians are often compared with animals.
A]nd a crowd of dependents were swarming over the seats of the carriage like monkeys (141). However, sometimes the comparison to monkeys is too good for the subjects. Most of the inhabitants of India do not mind how India is governed. Nor are the lower animals of England concerned about England(123). Most of the inhabitants are no better then the lower animals of England is the implication. The sheer amount of such references, the sheer volume of such dehumanization of the subject, the amount of colonial influence that pervades this critique of colonialism makes the Anglo-Indians unwanted rulership of India appear natural and necessary.
Forster, despite his liberal humanism, has created an other so pitiable and incapable that he provides a justification for colonialism in an attack on colonialism. Forster is able, however, to find a common ground with the other by forming a secondary other the Hindu. While Forster accedes to Aziz and other Muslims redeeming qualities such as appreciation for poetry, approval of Fielding, and appreciation of their religion, the Hindus in the novel are constantly degraded with little reprieve. Aziz is the main perpetrator of this degradation.
He, like the English in relation to all Indians, scorns the others values and religion. Elsewhere some Hindus were drumming he knew they were Hindus, because the rhythm was uncongenial to him(17). That is, because it was unpleasant, Aziz classified it as undesirable, as an other, as Hindu. While protective of his mosque, he is uncaring of Hindu symbols, describing a Brahminy Bull as clumsy and idolatrous (60) before poking the sacred animal with his polo stick. The significance of Aziz using the tools of the English, i. e. e polo stick, the depreciate the symbol of a subordinate culture to his own makes Aziz slightly less other. Similarly, his racial epithets are eerily akin to the English. `Slack Hindus they had no idea of society (72). The Hindus, to Aziz, are filthy. Before long they began to condemn him as a source of infection. `All infection proceeds from Hindus, Mr. Haq said (112). Again, the subordinate race is equated with animals. But while Indians in general were at least afforded the status of monkeys or lower animals, the Hindus are no better than insects.
They hang together like flies. (112). Historically, Muslim and Hindu relations in India have been strained. There is racial tension. But Forsters attack on Hinduism through a Muslim character is almost absurd, yet understandable. Azizs attack on Hindus introduces another element of realism, but the true function of such deliberate choice is much more complex. First, Forster uses this prejudice to close the gap between reader and subject (Aziz), although this comes at the cost of widening the gap between reader and the new subject (Hindu).
Because Forsters unintentional alienation of the subject has led to reader to identify with the English, when Aziz manifests the same behaviour as the English, the reader now can identify with the character. As long as Aziz functions in a system of prejudice as oppressor, he ceases to be as other as the new subject. Additionally, Forster, to prevent complete alienation of subject, does validate elements of Aziz and the other Muslims through praise and character progression.
His own colonial roots, however, demand that there must be an other deserving of subordination. The Hindus are the obvious choice, since Hindu is other to Aziz and also more removed from the English then the Muslims. Islam had similar roots and value systems to Christianity, but Hinduism is foreign to Christianity, making it a more attractive and more alienable other. By not defending the Hindus as he does the Muslims, Forster is able to circumvent the dissonance created by his internalization of colonialism.
Although the book closes with a contrived reconciliation between Muslim and Hindu through Azizs rejection of the British, even then they remain these quaint Hindus (299). The lens of Forsters criticism reflects Forsters own inability to overcome the gulf created by colonialism between other and self. The alienation of India as land and as people from England (and thus the West) as land and people within the novel undermines the criticism, for it increases the attitudes towards the other which colonialism is founded upon.
The realization of Forsters limitations is necessary and, paradoxically provides hope. Forster concludes in A Passage to India that East and West are irreconcilable, far too alien to understand and accept the other. Yet this gulf is a projection of Forsters own irreconcilable differences with India and is not an impartial conclusion derived in the absence of a system of self and other. The rift between East and West, English and Indian, Muslim and Hindu, self and other, exists only so long as we, like Forster, support and require it.