Study Guide

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Race

By Helen Simonson

Race

Several times, Major Pettigrew had been in the store when young boys on a dare would stick their enormous ears in the door to yell "Pakis go home!" Mr. Ali would only shake his head and smile while the Major would bluster and stammer apologies. (1.24)

The young boys' behavior is reprehensible, and sadly, they probably learned it from their own parents. The Major feels it necessary to apologize for them, but that doesn't change the racism in the village.

The Major had heard many a lady proudly speak of "our dear Pakistani friends at the shop" as proof that Edgecombe St. Mary was a utopia of multicultural understanding. (1.24)

The villagers act like they live in some magical post-racial Edgecombe St. Mary, but, while not as aggressive or borderline violent as the phrase "Pakis go home!", this comment is rooted in similar racism.

"Excuse me, Ernest, there's a strange woman outside who says she's waiting for you? […] Are you expecting a dark woman in a small Honda?" (2.13)

The Major's brother's widow doesn't just say "a woman"—she says "a dark woman." These people act like they've never seen a non-white person in their lives. Oh, wait: most of them haven't… unless it's behind a counter.

"I don't know what it's like where you come from, but we try to keep things nice and genteel around here." (5.78)

This statement by a shop clerk basically amounts to her saying "you people" to Amina. No wonder Amina gets offended.

"I say we should talk to Mrs. Ali, the lady who runs the village shop in Edgecombe," said Alma.

"Perhaps she could cater some Indian specialties for us, or direct us to where we can buy or borrow some cheap props—like some of those statues with all the arms." (6.71)

Alma thinks of important gods in the Hindu religion as "cheap props." What she really shows here is her ignorance of Hindu culture, but that doesn't mean what she says isn't racist.

Regardless of [Mrs. Khan's] husband's prominence, or their generosity, [the Major] thought it quite unlikely that Daisy or the membership committee would have any interest in entertaining the question of their joining the club. (9.105)

The subtext here, barely below the surface, is that Mrs. Khan will not get to join the club because he and his family are not white.

"We've gone from being the right sort of people to being a strange bunch with a circus of hangers-on. For God's sake, one's Pakistani and one's tipsy—what were you thinking?" (10.82)

Roger lumps an alcoholic and a Pakistani into the same category. Both, to him, are problems that need to be addressed. That Roger sure is a charmer.

"Well, it's all the same thing," said Daisy. "It's all India, isn't it?"

"But it's not the same at all," said the Major. (11.110-11.111)

You would never hear Daisy say, "It's all England, isn't it?" That's because she is the type of person who cares about her own culture and heritage and dismisses everything else.

"Mrs. Ali is so quintessentially Indian, or at least quintessentially Pakistani, in the best sense." (11.145)

Alma might as well call Mrs. Ali "quintessentially brown," because just about all she can see is skin color. She makes no effort to know the woman beneath the brown skin. And what on earth does she mean by "in the best sense"?

"And 'everyone' disapproved, of course," said the Major. "No doubt because she is a woman of color." (20.109)

Here, the Major calls out Roger (and everyone else) on his racism to his face. Roger will never admit it, but Mrs. Ali's race is a big factor in his dislike of her. Her social class is another. But he likely wouldn't be as disapproving if Mrs. Ali were a white shopkeeper.