Passage to India!
Lo, soul, sees’t thou not God’s purpose from thy first?
The earth to be spanned, connected by network,
These races, neighbors, to marry and to be given in marriage,
The oceans to be crossed, the distance brought near,
The land to be welded together.
Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”
The conception and perception of India as a place calls for a study from botha
colonizer and colonized perspective. In what ways do we experience place? How does
colonization influence what place means? What happens when multiple histories
operating within a single place compete with one another, and where do people fit in such
a scheme?1 Place not only refers to India’s physical landscape but encompasses its
language, history, culture, and traditions. Understandingplace begins with identifying
the person, or group of persons who is appropriating the space, whether it be the
colonizer or the colonized. Polar oppositions, such as “self” versus “other” and
authenticity versus hybridity, lead to colonial discourse. Once the binaries are identified,
senses of place are established and discourse is set in motion.
To name a space is to understand it and tocontrol it. Language is the
fundamental site of struggle for postcolonial discourse. This thesis will discuss and
articulate examples of the colonizer’s and the colonized construction of place and the
discourses that arise by the use of language in terms of binary formations. The projection
1 These questions were put forward in Dr. Cilano’s course syllabus at UNCW Spring 2003 English 563:“History, Identity, and Place.”
and representation of India as a “mystical place” is a stereotypical image reinforced over
time in literary works. Language and literature are together implicated in constructing
the binary of a European “self” and a non-European “other.” In examining E. M.
Forster’s 1924 novel, A Passage to India, we see that British visitors, Miss Adela Quested
and Mrs. Moore,come to India in search of the mystical, exotic, and “real” India. This
study will question whether India as a “place” can truly be identified and labeled.
Forster has detailed various people’s ideas of place throughout his novel, and
depending upon who is speaking in the narrative, the ideas change. The Self/Other
binary establishes where one is operating in one’s sense of place. In the firstchapter,
the dichotomy of the colonizer and the colonized is initially established through scenery,
which foreshadows the binary constructions for the entire novel. Postcolonial literature
attempts to counteract and dismantle these constructed binaries in conjunction with how
postcolonial literature is also complicit in maintaining such dichotomies.
Forster creates the parallel of the unknownIndia via the Marabar Caves and
utilizes the caves to symbolize the unknowability of a place. The caves have become
symbolic of “other”: as they are complex, bewildering, and ungovernable. As for the
characters, mystery and muddle surround the Marabar Caves, just as they do India itself.
THEORETICAL CONCEPT OF PLACE
The naming of place is a way of naming our own belonging or identity.Understanding place begins with identifying the person, or group of persons who name
the space, whether it be the colonizer or the colonized. To name a space is to understand
it and control it. Place, as belonging, is dependent upon self-definition. Self-definition
is dependent upon the binary construction of Self/Other, “us” versus “them.” Each
person’s binary construction contributes to one’ssense of place. Once the binaries are
identified, senses of place are set in motion.
The people of India have had “others” name their space, and the naming of places
in itself fuels discourse for both colonized and colonizer. The colonizer’s agenda of
naming the “empty spaces” of India insinuates that, prior to colonization, the land was
unnamed. This renaming of existing places begins the...
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