A Bit of a Smash in Madras Themes
by Julian Maclaren-Ross

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The social criticism leveled at the British influence in India, both in terms of white people’s attitudes toward the Indian and in terms of British corruption of the educated Indians, is clear in this story. The Indian who is seriously injured by the drunken accident and who is reported close to death remains anonymous and in the background. There is no real concern for him as a human being; rather, he is merely a nuisance, the cause of the Englishman Adams’s being in trouble. The only real issue at hand seems to be who is going to get paid off to get Adams off the hook.

The story paints a thoroughly distasteful picture of prejudice and indifference so deeply seated that those guilty of it are completely unaware. It is not that the central character, Adams, is a particularly bad man, although there is little to like about him, but rather that he at no time sees his responsibility; his only concern is to get things fixed. If he is the central figure of obliviousness to his own prejudice and thus the central ironic voice of the story, then his Indian counterpart is the lawyer Shankran who, even as he bribes and threatens others to win his cases, accuses his countrymen of being corrupt, ironically, for accepting the very bribes that he offers. The other corrupt figure who spouts talk of brotherhood and democracy, even as he tries to extort money from Adams under the guise of giving it to the injured man’s family, is Krishnaswami, who carries a card identifying himself as the holder of an Oxford bachelor of arts. The company lawyer, Menon, also parades his Oxford degree and what Adams calls his BBC accent as a badge of superiority to his fellow...

(The entire section is 440 words.)