Colonial Attitudes in Post-Colonial Criticism
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. 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). 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.by 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