A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Assess A Passage to India as a postcolonial novel.

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Forster's 1924 A Passage to India provides an interesting study in postcolonial discourse. On the one hand, it is written by an Englishman and often represents the point-of-view of the British ruling class in India. For example, it can be denigrating toward the Indian people. In one passage, for instance, the narrative refers to the people of Chandrapore as made of:

mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil.

Furthermore, the novel exoticizes India as place more primal—closer to nature than "civilized" Britain—full of jungles and creatures, like wild monkeys, who are impervious to the imperatives of civilization.

At the same time, the novel also critiques the brutality and racism of the British rule. Forster suggests that perhaps an answer would be for the British overclass to see and interact with the Indian people as fully human. However, when the good-hearted English—such as Adela, Fielding, and Mrs. Moore—try to establish relationships with Indians, the barriers are too high and the attempts lead to disaster.

In a postcolonial critique (even though the book was written in the colonial era) of the British rule in India, the novel offers little to no hope that the Indians and the British can learn to "get along" while the oppressive system that separates the two groups is in place.

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I think that one could make the argument that there is much within Forster's work which can operate as a Postcolonial work.  One reason is because the work deals with race in India between Indians and the British. Postcolonial literature is rooted in discussing race and different valences about racism.  A Passage to India illuminates a condition of racism that is a part of the Colonial predicament in India.  Forster brings out the issue of race in a discussion of what Colonialism has constructed in India.  The result of the Colonial reality in India has altered the condition of race and racial identity of both Indians and the British.  This is an aspect of Postcolonial literature.

Another arena where one can see Postcolonialism inA Passage to India would be in the notion of identity.  The hybridity intrinsic to Postcolonial literature can be seen in many of the characters.  Aziz dislikes the British, but he recognizes the need to acclimate his identity in accordance to British ideals. His rejection of the British at the end of the novel reveals an aspect of Postcolonial identity.  Mrs. Moore demonstrates a level of hybridity in how her identity is altered as a result of her passage to and through India. Her characterization embodies the hybrid nature of identity because of a "cross- fertilization of cultures."  Postcolonial literature delights in exploring how cultural identity and thus individual identity is altered in different and divergent manners.  Forster's work does this in bringing out characters whose identities are fundamentally changed as a result of the collision between English and Indian cultures.  The characters' identities become permanently altered as a result of race and culture, reflecting a critical aspect of Postcolonialism.

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