Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 576
Scott’s most fascinating creation is the character of Ronald Merrick. Perhaps the truest test of any other character’s personality is his or her reaction to Merrick’s odd blend of heroism and hostility, decency and depravity. From the beginning of The Jewel in the Crown, the narrator gives the reader mixed signals; Merrick is demonstrably hard-working and thought to be handsome, if not quite pukka. Initially, the reader analyzes Merrick’s dislike of Hari Kumar as jealousy over the affections of Daphne Manners. Merrick’s sensitivity to class nuances allows the reader to sympathize with his feelings of unworthiness as a suitor for the impeccably connected Daphne, but Merrick’s growing hatred for the public school-educated “gentleman in a brown skin” illustrates a darker side of his personality.
In The Day of the Scorpion, Merrick’s character receives further development as the fate of Hari is revealed. Lady Manners opens a private hearing in which Hari tells his version of his wrongful arrest and imprisonment. Hari’s testimony plumbs the depths of Merrick’s hostility, latent homosexuality, and duplicity. Hari explains Merrick’s idea of Anglo-Indian relations as “the calm purity of contempt” on his side which should be answered by fear on the Indian side. As Merrick’s inner self moves into uglier patterns of thought and behavior, the handsome outer shell changes as well to a burnt, twisted mask that is an appropriate guise for him.
Few manage to like Merrick. Although Daphne refuses his proposal kindly, the quartet’s primary female character, Sarah Layton, pronounces herself appalled by him. Yet Susan is able to love and utterly rely on the man who tried to save her husband Teddie’s life. Merrick has his moments of triumph, often gained by questionable means, but he ultimately falls victim to those he has previously victimized.
Despite Merrick’s centrality to the plot of The Raj Quartet, the novels are dominated by strong and complex female characters. Indubitably, Scott intended the roles of Englishwomen uprooted and transplanted in Indian culture to be of major interest in his work. Parallels and contrasts give his women characters a symbolic significance. The pairing of Edwina Crane and Barbie Batchelor links The Jewel in the Crown to The Towers of Silence. While little more than casually acquainted, the two mission school supervisors share various patterns of Indian life. The death of Miss Crane has a profound effect on the span of life left to Barbie. Similarly, the story of Daphne’s love for Hari affects the life of Sarah and her decisions regarding her own relationships. Scott accentuates the similarities and differences in the two young women, especially their shared sensitivity to the integrity of Indian life as lived apart from the Raj. Susan has her twin in the form of “poor Poppy Browning’s daughter”; neither woman can make a go of it in an alien culture. Yet they are put in contrast to those superb stiff-upper-lip types such as Mildred Layton and a less major character, Isobel Rankin.
Scott’s aim is to illustrate character through a range of reactions to the climate, landscape, and native population of India; he also demonstrates the strength or weakness of a character by his or her dependence on the support of other members of the Raj. The narrator’s approval rests on those who can accept India without rallying to the slogans of superiority voiced by the British ruling class.
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