A Passage to India Questions and Answers
by E. M. Forster

Start Your Free Trial

What are the ways that Forster presents the official British civilizing mission and their attitude to the indigenous people of India in A Passage to India?

Expert Answers info

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

In A Passage to IndiaForster suggests that the official British approach and attitude towards the indigenous people will lead to inevitable conflict and failure.

Ronny Heaslop is one of the best examples of how the official mission of "civilizing the natives" is doomed to failure.  Forster shows that the official attitude of those in the position of power is not a recipe for success.  Officials like Heaslop, Major Callendar, and the Turtons possess a dismissive attitude towards indigenous people.  They refuse to acknowledge the voice of the people in whose country they live. They believe that they know best. Forster asserts that their position of how the indigenous people need to be "civilized" is doomed to failure because it will cause division and conflict.  

Interestingly enough, part of the reason that the official British approach will fail is given by Heaslop when he says that "No one can even begin to think of knowing this country until he has been in it twenty years." The British official attitude believed that they "knew" what the "savages" needed.  This approach failed to take into account that the intricacy of the country and its people. The consciousness of race, and in particular that Whites or Europeans are superior to indigenous people, helped to bolster the official British attitude.  This facilitated the official mission to "civilize" Indians

Forster suggests that a new belief system must emerge.  This is why people like Fielding, Miss Quested, and Mrs. Moore are essential.  Forster sees hope in their approach precisely because it is not the official stance of power- hungry English in India:  "They had no race-consciousness— Mrs. Moore was too old, Miss Quested too new— and they behaved to Aziz as to any young man who had been kind to them in the country."  Forster concludes that when British people move away from "race- consciousness," there can be successful attempts at unity. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial