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India, an incredibly geographically complex and exotic sub-continent, never unified into one nation, that is until the British arrived. The British East India Company easily embraced the native culture and exploited the region for profits. However, as Indians became restless with British exploitation, peaceful protest arose, but was struck down through the bloody Amritsar Massacre, in which, “… the romantic India of the eighteenth-century western imagination was dead and gone…,” and British Empire rule clamped down (Parry 1). *E.M. Forster, a liberal humanist, decided to write a novel based upon the strife and alien nation of the British in A Passage to India.* An evaluation of the British characters in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India accurately defines the literary concept of ‘strangers in a strange land.’
The writing and presentation in A Passage to India allows the novel to possess a polyphonic and symphonic design, ultimately allowing the literary concept of ‘strangers in a strange land’ to develop. E.M. Forster actually resided and had the opportunity to experience Indian culture, gaining first-hand perspective and allowing, “… Forster’s portrait of Anglo-Indian rule [to be a] well observed portrait, from the pen of someone who was thoroughly familiar with the realities of the Raj,” thus breathing life into the novel (“A Passage to India” 3). Through actual experiences and gaining knowledge and cultural understanding of India, this allows Forster the ability to give all the characters, regardless of gender or race, a vivid and dynamic personality regarding any topic discussed throughout the entire novel. Forster’s comprehension of India then allows a further polyphonic idea to develop, the separation of the East and West. Through observation in the novel itself, it can be, “…[found] that Forster’s India is an empty space… its principal landmarks Mosque, Caves, and Temple functioning primarily as cavities to contain western perceptions of that which is missing from the East…” reveals another layer and depth to the novel (Parry 185). Truly, in all senses, the Western world, being primarily composed of White Anglo-Saxons and Christians, could not understand an Eastern world of Indians, Muslims, and Hindus. Luckily, Forster being blessed with the chance to engage the Eastern world, can draw fundamental problems out easily and present them through the narrative of the novel. This symphonic weaving allows both cultures the opportunity to see another for the lacking of understanding each possess and furthermore breathes even greater depth into perspective of both cultures throughout the novel. Finally, Forster masterfully observes, “… the once or future perfect relationships between Indian and Anglo-Indian men have been damaged,” truly representing a dynamic polyphonic aspect within the novel (Davidis 2). Realizing that the whole relationship between two cultures already fell into a dismal decadence, Forster throughout the novel keenly creates opinions within characters which reflect this sense of destruction and deterioration, from both the British and Indian cultures. The overhanging sense of dead relations and ultimately failure of integrating the two societies helps Forster add depth and create an incredibly complex and intricate novel. These perspectives and opinions, existing through the complexity of polyphonic and symphonic, allow the novel to further explain the concept of the British as ‘strangers in a strange land.’
Throughout the novel, the British seemingly present themselves as aliens, through their actions and concepts, truly making them ‘strangers in a strange land.’ This concept can be first seen through, “Adela’s statement that she wants to see the “real India” implies her awareness that she sees a British India created by the white powers that be; the statement also reveals, of course, her mistake in believing that there can be a single India at all…” revealing the whole misconception of the British (Davidis 8). Never in the history of India have the people been united under their own power or self-identity, yet the British simply ignore this historical topic. While indeed the British, in a sense ‘unified’ the country of India, the geography, religions, and people do not see themselves as a collective whole, but individuals living amongst another. The British misconception that Indians believe in seeing themselves as a unified group leads to another large problem at hand, arrogance. Ronny creates a perfect example of British arrogance, as, “Like the older and equally jaded Callendar, Ronny believes that Indians are, for some inexplicable reason, resistant to the notion of truth,” demonstrating an ironic arrogance (Christensen 13). The British, believing and acting upon that their heritage and culture understands the absolute ways of truth and knowledge, strut around India with the notions of racial superiority and lofty attitudes. Ironically, this whole concept of truth reveals a cynic twist about the British, who quite indeed are resistant to the notion of the truth about their alienness in India. Rather than realizing or understanding that India belongs to the Indian, the British continually impose their power and regime across India, never grasping the reality that India is not for the British. Sadly, this ironic truth sets the stage for,“… Fielding, [who] had no roots among his own people. Yet he couldn’t become a sort of Mohammed Latif,” revealing another dismal aspect of the British alienation (Forster 289). Fielding, a British man who turns against his own for the sake of the Indians, demonstrates how the two cultures cannot even integrate with another. Once leaving his own people, Fielding literally has no place to go. Being brought up in English civilization and culture, he cannot simply scrap all those ideals and practices for the Indian methods, as he does not have roots amongst the Indians. Without being able to rely or even relate to either culture, Fielding becomes isolated, one of a kind. Fielding displays how the British just cannot join with the Indians, ultimately demonstrating how the British alienation themselves. The British all believe in morals and ideals which further prompt them towards the path of isolation, truly developing and revealing the concept that indeed the British are ‘stranger in a strange land.’
The Indian perspective and opinions of the British reflect and support the concept of ‘strangers in a strange land.’ From the very beginning of the novel, the clear-cut division between British and Indian can be observed from the failure of the bridge party. As the Turtons host the party, the event is seen as, “[A] British sense of cultural superiority and the Indian perception of their inferior status in British eyes create such tension and awkwardness that the party is a miserable failure,” reflecting the concept of superiority complex and revealing the social gap within India (Gaydosik 1). When Britons enter India, their whole ego self-inflates, creating themselves to be something greater than their own deity, yet while in Britain, they are just another peasant. The Indians, not exactly understanding how to deal with this self-inflation, instead just remain to them and attempt in cutting out the British from their personal lives, thus representing the social divide at the bridge party. This social divide becomes an even greater issue, climaxing around the Marabar Caves. Just as the Indians understand and see the British as aliens, “… the Caves themselves are symbolic for the “alien” “otherness” of India itself: complex, ungovernable, bewildering, enigmatic…” represent how India is an alien to outsiders of the region (“A Passage to India” 1). Ultimately, the Marabar Caves and the Indians foil each other, as both represent the complexity of India and yet the British cannot comprehend. The caves, solely native to India, demonstrate and formulate an opinion that the British need to leave India, through their exotic and mysterious identity. Finally, Aziz creates a stand between the Eastern and Western worlds, as, “You [Adela] keep your religion, I mine. That is the best. Nothing embraces the whole of India, nothing, nothing…” revealing how the Indians know that what the British represent cannot suffice or live within India (Forster 160). Adela’s misconception regarding the fundamental differences between religions sparks a signal, revealing that the difference between the two societies and cultures is greater than themselves. Furthermore, Aziz’s response should only push the British away, as he understands that nothing unites India and certainly the British cannot do but harm. The Indian perspectives about the British always further enforce the literary concept that the British are truly ‘strangers in a strange land.’
The literary concept of ‘strangers in strange land’ perfectly summarizes the British and Indian characters in A Passage to India. Summarizing the points, the polyphonic and symphonic movement ultimately shows, “The novel portrays [an] ever-shifting and panoramic view of an ‘India’ which cannot be grasped,” furthering Forster’s point that India cannot be united (“A Passage to India” 4). The British, through the novel, reveal the point that, “This novel looks forward to a time when neither Englishmen now Englishwoman will want to see the “real India”…” once again demonstrating how the British alienate themselves through their crooked methods (Davidis 18). Finally, “Forster’s conclusion to the novel does not offer an optimistic promise that people can overcome the vast differences that separate them: nationality, religion, culture, race, and gender open chasms between individuals and groups,” reveals how the Indians did not integrate with the British, and vice versa, therefore, revealing that maybe sometimes as humans the concept of ‘stranger in a strange land’ really represents us in a modern world (Gaydosik 1).
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