Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Victorian conception of progress is the major theme of The Siege of Krishnapur. The first part of the book portrays the unquestioning assurance with which India’s English rulers have imposed their cultural standards upon a very different civilization. Firm in their conviction that the advance of scientific thinking and technological invention is the key to a wonderful future, men such as the Collector have, in effect, chosen to ignore the nature of the Indian society that they propose to force into modernity.

Thus, the outbreak of rebellion is, at first, viewed as a minor problem, one which will easily be solved by adopting the correct administrative measures as a means of quieting the native troops’ fear of a new kind of grease on their cartridges. As the revolt snowballs and the Krishnapur district is cut off from the outside world, however, it becomes evident that the Sepoy Mutiny represents a wholesale rejection of the colonial regime. The only part of English culture which the rebels value is, ironically enough, the cannon and rifles of its soldiery; it is this military prowess, initially seen as a necessary but unpleasant evil by the apostles of progress, that ultimately saves the lives of the defenders.

In the course of the siege, this reversal of the balance between supposedly progressive inventions (electroplating, photography, railways) and the lightly regarded military arts is symbolized by the uses to which the...

(The entire section is 415 words.)