The Hollowmen and the Horrors of the Abyss: An exploration of Forster’s views of Imperialism in ‘A Passage to India’ explored via and compared with Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. Both A Passage to India and Heart of Darkness can be interpreted as portraying Imperialism in a critical light, as a dark force which spreads from England into foreign environments, and conveying the negative aspects of it, such as racism, cruelty and exploitation.
As this is such a huge topic I will in this essay attempt to explore Forster’s portrait of imperialism by using Conrad’s novella’s running theme of the “Heart of Darkness” – I am going to use the interpretation of the inner “Heart of Darkness” within all people- as a key to interpret Forster’s views on imperialism and to see if they were similar to Conrad’s. Morgan Forster’s idea of the “Undeveloped heart” – being the lack of compassion and inability to understand or express feelings and emotions in the English public school boy – for me is a key similarity with Conrad’s novel and his idea of the “Heart of Darkness” as the dark side of man.
It seems throughout ‘A Passage to India’ that the defect is present in all people, but that the morally grey force of imperialism encourages it. For Forster, human defects thrive and are brought to the forefront by the force of imperialism. For men and women living in Forster’s England, the defects are less noticeable, but when their environment is changed to an alien landscape and culture under the sway of imperialism, their inner darkness – being the capacity for cruelty, racism, bigotry and a lack of compassion – is brought forward.
In Chapter Two, Forster explores the defects in human nature brought to the forefront by this change in landscape and situation from the point of view of some of his Indian characters. In this chapter, Hamidullah, Mahmoud Ali and Aziz discuss whether it is possible to be friends with an Englishman/Anglo Indian. Hamidullah comes to the conclusion, from his own personal experience at Cambridge, that it is easier to become friends with an Englishman in England, away from the corruption of imperialism and power, than it is in India – where well-meaning gentlemen are corrupted: “It is impossible here.
Aziz! The red-nosed boy has insulted me again in court. I do not blame him. He was told that he ought to insult me. Until lately he was quite a nice boy, but the others of got hold of him. “… “Yes, they have no chance here, that is my point. They come out intending to be gentlemen and are told it will not do. ” (Hamidullah) Hamidullah then goes on to give any Englishman two years to have his soul tainted by imperialism and any English woman six months. These extracts indicate the Indians’ opinion that imperialism as a force always corrupts (though some more easily than others).
For example, with men like Ronnie Heaslop (the “red-nosed boy”) who were once friendly with the Indians but now have cut ties with them, as a result of imperialism’s corruption: being told to do so by those – what modern readers might regard as- racist men like Mr Turton, who have already been tainted by it. However Hamidullah, even though he is clearly sympathized with by Forster, can be seen as stereotyping the English and making him, therefore, also guilty of a form of racism. Forster also, tellingly.
shows that (some) English people on their arrival in India are aware of the changes which have taken place in their compatriots: “I do hope to avoid the mentality… Some women are so – well, ungenerous and snobby about Indians, and I should feel too ashamed for words if I turned like them, but – and here’s my difficulty- there’s nothing special about me, nothing specially good or strong, which will help me to resist my environment and avoid becoming like them, I’ve most lamentable defects.
” Here, Adela speaks to Aziz about her wish not to become like Mrs Turton and other Anglo-Indian women if she stays in the British Raj, and shows an acute awareness that it is the environment which will very likely be responsible for her downfall. She is also very aware of the defects which are already present in her personality, and which will allow her to become like the other women.
In this conversation with Aziz, she also indicates an awareness that Ronnie has changed since he arrived in India, but that these defects (or this ‘darkness’) was already present in his personality: Adela as an Englishwoman speaking about her own kind, is probably not (here) guilty of racism, and may be seen to be a true key into the English mind. She is also one of the few English people in the novel who are self aware of the corruption that imperialism imposes.