Throughout the novel A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster, and Burmese Days, by George Orwell, the authors use race, culture, economics, and liberal humanism to discuss various colonial issues. These issues include controversies, power structures, injustices, and the idea of syncretism between the colonizers and the colonized. A Passage to India focuses largely on using culture and liberal humanism to explore issues of colonialism while Burmese Days mainly uses race and economics to explore these topics. While the novels use different methods of exploration, both novels very successfully take on the task of discussing the very colonial issues of controversies, power structures, injustices, and syncretism.
One way that we can explore power structures in A Passage to India is through cultural misunderstandings. One of the main cultural misunderstandings that occurs in the novel is the invitation of Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore to Dr. Aziz’s home (69). Though he had meant it only as a gesture of goodwill towards the women, they take it as a literal invitation to his home. This misunderstanding is due to cultural differences in hospitality. Had the women been Indian as well, they would have understood Aziz’s invitation as simply a gesture of goodwill. Due to Aziz being a product of the raj and wanting to act like the Europeans want him to, he feels as though he cannot explain the misunderstanding. Because of this, he feels as though he must take the women on a trip. In this way, power structures are enforced and reinforced as the native people feel as though their culture is less important than the European culture.
Another cultural misunderstanding happens in the same passage between Ronny and Dr. Aziz. Aziz gives Fielding his collar stud as a gesture of friendship and, again, goodwill when Aziz is in Fielding’s home. Because Ronny does not know that Aziz has willingly given up his collar stud, he sees it as an oversight on Aziz’s part saying “Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, but he had forgotten his back collar-stud” (82). He then uses this supposed oversight by Aziz to generalize all Indians, saying “…there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals the race” (82). This idea only further enforces power structures, as Europeans come to believe that, without them, Indians would be incapable of completing small details and, therefore, unable to do any large, important task correctly.
Along with cultural misunderstandings, religion is a major theme in Forster’s novel. This starts very early on in the novel when Aziz and Mrs. Moore meet for the first time in the mosque. Though Aziz had just finished talking with his friends about never being able to be friends with a European, especially a woman, the instant connection he has with Mrs. Moore seems to dissolve this feeling (21). It seems as though, through her respect of him and her openness to speak with him and be...