Dec 13, 2017 in Literature

Passage to India

This study presents ‘a passage to India’, a novel developed by E.M Forester in 1920’s, in the light of Edward Said’s orientalism. The story presents a visit by Adela, Mrs. Moore and other characters to India during the colonial era. Through their interaction with the local population, their racial and religious prejudice emerges. To enhance understanding of the content of the book in an effort to identify ways of using religion and other aspects to bridge a gap between the east and the west, Edward Said’s 1978 contribution to the field of orientalism is consulted. He presents orientalism as a politically driven perspective with disrespect for the Islamic and Arab world (Edward, 17).


Oriental studies refer to area of study in linguistics, philology and ethnography. It encompasses many areas including interpreting of culture through compilation as well as discovery of the oriental texts.nnn presented in his book how the French, English and the American approached the largely Islamic society in the Middle East . One of the major contributions of his book to the field was that orientalism, though purported to foster objective aims, and is largely driven towards political ends. It indicates how orientalism has been used by this group of people such as Europeans as evident from the colonial era where they were rushing to occupy the oriental land. He further indicates that orientalism played a significant role in defining the self image of Europe. Orientalism has driven the west to view Islamic culture as static in terms of place as well as time. It has depicted Islamic religion as being incapable of generating a succinct definition of its content. On the other hand, the west sees itself as being innovative and dynamic. All this has enhanced the western imperialism. Although western countries have claimed redemption as the main driver of their quest to Middle East, the rational intent for conquest cannot be down played.

Edward said is one of the most criticized as well as respected scholars today. He was an exiled Palestinian as well as an America intellectual. He questioned many of the highly accepted as well as biased concepts about the world as depicted by the politically strong powers. He was of the idea of binary opposites, where one country’s culture was defined by that of another country. He indicates the justification of the imperialist activities of the dominant countries globally to their opposites in political, economic as well as moral fields. The west tends to view itself as being highly superior in comparison with the east. Foreign interventions by these countries are often propagated by selfish interests. This is evident in extension of the English empires, extending England’s political empire to the oriental.

The third major indication by Said in the book is that orientalism has provided a false definition of the Arabic as well as Islamic cultures. It presents a premise that it is impossible to clearly define qualities of Arabs and more so the Islamic community. Said, through his writing, has emerged as a highly popular personality to Islamic fundamentalist who perceive the west as predators to the Islamic communities.

A passage to India

In the light of Said’s orientalism, his arguments are clearly supported by the Foresters passage to India story. Forester presents the cultural as well as political naivety of the west in interpretation of matters concerning the Islamic society (Middle East). He presents the prejudiced assumption by the west missionaries that whatever Indians think is always wrong. The author presents competing perspectives along the Journey to India

Religion and bridging the prejudices at personal level

In the dialogue between Aziz and Hamidullah, the latter, who is a former student in Cambridge, indicates that in England, it is easy to find friends where one is English and the other is non English. Such an indication by the elites in the society has the potential of reducing the current prejudice against the west as presented by Edward Said’s orientalism. It would be important for the people in the Middle East to equally do away with the prejudice that they have among themselves if they are to view the west in an objective manner. For instance, when Hamidullah visits his wife (chapter 10, he has to talk to the wife via a screen which is meant for separating women from the attention of the public. This is a prejudice against women that the Islamic community should step in and bridge the gap.

In Chapter 3, Adela discloses to her friends in a club of her intention to meet the real people of India. The club ladies do not welcome the statement (Spark notes, 12). They respond to her by informing her that Indians are normally creepy and also untrustworthy. These club ladies had the opportunity of dropping their superiority complex and refer to Indians with a more humane tone. In stead of so doing, they are just increasing the divide between the rich and the poor in society.

In chapter three, a description of the Indian city is provided. The colonial buildings are described as being based far from the city and also on higher ground. This creates the notion that the English needs to remain separated from the Indians and they assume as superior high location to monitor the actions of such Indians. This kind of segregation can be avoided. By locating their buildings among the rest of the population, the white community would have escaped such notion of prejudice as presented in then chapter. Although this book primarily aims at presenting the political relationship that exists between India and England, the message is presented at personal level. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Forester presents these issues basically from an Indian’s perspective.  Although the crimes committed against the Indians by whites are mere annoyances, the snobbish, cruel and racist behavior of the white women generates more prejudice against the west. By treating the local population fairly and with dignity, such prejudice could have been avoided.

Accommodation is one of the main ways that the binary disparity among the two races could be narrowed. For instance, while the English seems rigid on their views on non whites, Indians such as Hamidulah is more accommodating. She recognizes the fact that while some English people are friendly, there are many who are also tragically comic. The Indians gives the relationship a more complex thought the people from the west. If countries from the west could take a similar deeper of examination of their relationship, recognizing the good of Indians amongst their weaknesses, they could have identified a reason to accommodate them as well as treat them with dignity.

Islamic religion offers an opportunity for overcoming the oriental versus occidental challenges. For instance, in a meeting between Mrs. Moore and aziz religious undertone emerges. The two individuals convene their meetings in a mosque. Aziz ponders on Islam and love. Later on, Mrs. Moore indicates that spirituality is based on the love for all other beings. If the same notion was to be shared with the west, most of the prejudices indicated in Foresters books could not have emerged (Qutb, 13). A positive move by Mr. Turton in chapter IV further extends this notion. He invites Indians to a bridge party. Most of the invited Indians are caught with surprise.

Due to the prejudice that existed between the two parties, this was not an expected move. Although some whites perceive his move as one that cheapens him, the Indians appreciate the invitation. Through such an accommodation without ill intent to dominate or exploit the Indians, the prejudice against western countries would have been minimal or non existent. Equally, during the bridge party, Indians seems to accommodate the western culture. Their dressing is comprised of both oriental and occidental styles. Some of the Indian women had equally learnt English, increasing their ability to communicate with people from the west as well as to understand and appreciate their way of life (Book Rags, 52).

Mr. Turton’s idea on the bridge party was to create interactions. Nevertheless, the event emerges as the novella s focal point where segregation is largely exhibited between the people from the west and the Indians. Each group sits on opposite sides and the white still behave in a rude manner to the Indians. For instance, Mrs. Turton assumes a superior position during the event over the Indians. Prejudice between the two races could have been eliminated if the party attendants behaved in the same way as Cyril Fielding did. He interacted with his fellow whites and Indians at personal level without any prejudice. He was in fact able to recognize likeminded people among the Indian population although he was a white. If this approach was to be assumed by both the occidental and oriental, chances of development of a fair relationship are high.

Orientalism indicates that the thinking of Indians is not purposeful. They are depicted as being inferior in comparison with the whites from western countries. The same sought of racism is reflected by the behavior of some Indians. Even Aziz’s friends, highly educated Indian in the upper class society perceives the Hindu as being disease laden. This racist effect on Indians is exhibited by the attendants of the bridging party who accuse the host (from the west) of poisoning them. Their indication that Hindus are largely dirty resonates well with the racist views held by whites on Indians. There is thus a need for the two races or countries to fight a vice that affects both. Although Edward Said depicted the west as the main source of such prejudice, it is clear that the vice has spread to other countries (Spark notes, 32).

The exploitive and dominant approach of imperialists on to the east is evident towards the end of chapter 10. Fielding is presented as being friendly to the Indians. Nevertheless, this interaction is perceived as a threat by his fellow Englishmen. Educating such Indian is perceived as a way of undermining the British colonial rule. The colonialists understand the fact that education is power. This is the sought of power that they want to deny them (Melvin, 23). Towards the end of chapter 10, the author nevertheless, tries to answer the earlier posed question as to whether friendship can exist between the oriental and occidental. He indicates that such a relationship can be put into existence.

One of the key indicators of orientalism by Edward Said was the religion bias of the west against the Middle East.  Even some locals have the same contempt on religion. Aziz in response to a question from her friends on Akbar indicates that Akbar was just a foolish person who thought he could use religion to unite the whole country.

In spite of this, Adela indicates that she is convinced that something universal would emerge in the future. This is in line with Edward Said’s proposition that the west scholars have distorted the orient. Such increasing distortion limits bridging of the gap between the orient and the occidental. Nevertheless, the binary assumption of the author is equally an obstacle towards such bridging of the gap. For instance, the presentation by Edward that just because he champions Palestine, he must be anti Israel is based on a weak premise. This has the potential of creating sharp tensions between the oriental and the occidental. He presented the self serving behavior exhibited by the occidental. He called for the society to go beyond such behaviors and aim at understanding and appreciating other people’s culture rather than replicating it. He called for positive understanding of knowledge and history as well as subcultures of other people.

The view of the inferiority of the oriental emerges in chapter 18 where a superintended, Mr. McBride comments that Indians are naturally criminal as a result of the environment in which they live. The view that the oriental are evil and uninformed is one of the areas that Said, in his book urges people to drop. Such a notion enhances the divide stone.  In chapter 24, Turton indicates his love for Indians. He recognizes that trying to hate this group of people will be like trying to put into waste all the energy that he has invested in them as well as his career. Upon the winning of the case by Aziz, he joins Indian students in celebration. This indicates the potential unity that can be realized if the prejudicial assumptions held by the east and the west were to be put into rest.

The author goes ahead to present findings that are contrary to orientalism. After the release of Aziz, he goes ahead to snob Adela on the bases of her looks. This infuriates Fielding, who is a white. It is ironical that the purported self interest of the west is waning and the self interest and snobbishness of the oriental is now hated by the occidental (Forester, 18). This implies that creating of a gap between these two groups will not be a duty of one group but that of parties, the occidental and oriental. Although said, in his book, focused more on the eastern and sympathized with them. Nevertheless, this episode indicates a need for a more balanced approach to both sides with a potential of bridging the gap.


From the above study, it is clear that Orientals is a purely political perspective with an aim of exploiting the poor in society. It is also clear that while the occidental indicate low concern for religion as a unifying factor, preferring reason based factors, religion has proved to be a unifying factor in the Islamic world as well as globally.  Nevertheless, its is clear that even after staying in India for a long time, people like fielding’s goes back to his  country’s prejudice among the Islamic world. This indicates the total ignorance, even by the intellectuals on the Islamic and Arab world. The west view will thus be always geared towards exploitation, segregation and opportunistic interventions in the affairs of the East (Orientalism, 22).  The main aim of this study was to explore bridging the gap between the west and the east. It is nevertheless clear that while the east has been active in using religion to bridge the gap, the west is against Islam, limiting the success of religion in this mission.

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