Study Guide

A Passage to India Race

By E.M. Forster

Race

Part 1, Chapter 2
Hamidullah

"They all become exactly the same, not worse, not better. I give any Englishman two years, be he Turton or Burton. It is only the difference of a letter. And I give any Englishwoman six months." (1.2.16)

Hamidullah expresses here the Indian's experience with the English colonial administrators and their wives. As a Muslim lawyer educated in England, he notices a marked difference in his treatment. In England, he was treated with courtesy, as a guest. In India, on the other hand, the colonial situation encourages a more racist attitude where Indians are treated as an inferior race. Englishwomen fare worse than Englishmen because their interactions with Indians are never professional, only private, as when they interact with their servants.

Part 1, Chapter 3
Ronny Heaslop

"It's the educated native's latest dodge … But whether the native swaggers or cringes, there's always something behind every remark he makes, always something, and if nothing else he's trying to increase his izzat—in plain Anglo-Saxon, to score. Of course there are exceptions." (1.3.86)

Ronny uses some clichés he's picked up from his superiors to explain the "native" – or the Indian – to his mother. "Educated natives" such as Aziz and Hamidullah are, according to Ronny, only seeking personal gain. The idea that as educated men, Indians such as Aziz and Hamidullah may have valid goals such as civil rights or an independent nation is unthinkable.

Part 1, Chapter 5
Mrs. Turton

"You're superior to them, anyway. Don't forget that. You're superior to everyone in India except one or two of the Ranis, and they're on an equality." (1.5.21)

Mrs. Turton's comment here exemplifies the extreme racism typical of Englishwomen in the novel. Here she attempts to convince the progressive-minded Adela that they are superior to Indians in every way, including the heads of state.

Part 1, Chapter 6

The remark that did [Fielding] most harm at the club was a silly aside to the effect that the so-called white races are really pinko-grey. He only said this to be cheery, he did not realize that "white" has no more to do with a colour than "God save the King" with a god, and that it is the height of impropriety to consider what it does connote. (1.6.2)

Fielding's remark gets him into trouble because he challenges the superiority of the white European. The racial superiority of the whites are taken as such a given, as gospel even, that to question it in any way – or to make light of it – is considered sacrilegious.

Part 1, Chapter 8

"[…] Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, but he had forgotten his back collar-stud, and there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail, the fundamental slackness that reveals the race […]" (1.8.12)

Ronny's racism makes him jump to conclusions. We know from earlier in the novel that Aziz is missing his collar stud because Fielding needed one; Aziz was just being a good friend. But Ronny just assumes that Aziz is acting according to the stereotype of the lazy native.

Part 1, Chapter 9

[Aziz's] mind here was hard and direct, though not brutal. He had learnt all he needed concerning his own constitution many years ago, thanks to the social order into which he had been born, and when he came to study medicine, he was repelled by the pedantry and fuss with which Europe tabulates the facts of sex. (1.9.17)

Here, the narrator is speaking, not an individual character, so it gives us some insight into the novel's attitude toward race. What is interesting about this passage is that the novel seems to agree with the stereotype of the "Oriental" as being more in touch with his sexuality than the British. Which brings up the further question of whether the novel has its own racist baggage to deal with…

Part 2, Chapter 24

He replied in an odd, sad, voice, "I don't hate them, I don't know why," and he didn't hate them; for if he did, he would have had to condemn his own career as a bad investment. (2.24.23)

Mr. Turton's racism is distinguished from Mrs. Turton's racism in Quote #3 of this theme. The problem is that part of the reason the British are in India is the moral argument that they're there to civilize the "natives," that it is their duty as the superior civilization to help "inferior" civilizations become modern and progressive. But that civilizing mission, Kipling's "white man's burden," assumes that the native is improvable. That's why Mr. Turton can't be as racist as Mrs. Turton: if he were, he'd have to reject his whole career as pointless.

[McBryde] remarked that the darker races are physically attracted by the fairer, but not vice versa – not a matter for bitterness this, not a matter for abuse, but just a fact which any scientific observer would confirm. (2.24.47)

McBryde is stating here a commonly held belief at the time that "darker" races are attracted to the white races, and that white women have to be protected from "darker" men. Much anthropology of the period was devoted to proving this so-called "fact." McBryde's racism leads him to believe that Aziz has attacked Adela, even though Adela never actually comes out and says that he has.

Part 2, Chapter 27

This restfulness of gesture – it is the Peace that passeth Understanding, after all, it is the social equivalent of Yoga. When the whirring of action ceases, it becomes visible, and reveals a civilization which the West can disturb but never acquire. (2.27.17)

The novel clearly disparages the racism of a McBryde or Turton. Here it counters the racist attitude that Indians are uncivilized by showing how Indians are actually more civilized than the British. Their culture seeps into their very movements, giving them a grace that a Turton or a McBryde could never acquire. But it's hard to read this passage without thinking that the novel goes a little overboard in its romantic portrayal of the sensual Indian – again, an Oriental stereotype.

Part 3, Chapter 33

When the villagers broke cordon for a glimpse of the silver image, a most beautiful and radiant expression came into their faces, a beauty in which there was nothing personal, for it caused them all to resemble one another during the moment of its indwelling, and only when it was withdrawn did they revert to individual clods. (3.33.2) [compare with English who have similarly exalted expressions]

The novel again and again attacks race, the color of your skin, as the basis for a community, whether it's the white Anglo-Indians or the Indians. Instead, when communities come together for a worthy cause, as in this religious festival, their faces acquire a "beautiful and radiant expression": it is this expression, rather than the color of their skin, that represents their belonging to a community. Compare this expression to the similarly beautiful expression on the Anglo-Indians when they come together in support of Adela. Of course, this expression quickly dissipates when they use Adela's case as an excuse to vent their ugly racist attitudes.

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