yellowpigs.net

Sara Smollett
April 11, 1998
Sophmore Seminar



Forster and Dubois



It is easy to draw parallels between Forster's A Passage to India and Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk as both deal with societies with strict class delineations. There is also a fundamental difference between the treatment of the two books; although both authors write about the lower class, Du Bois himself is a member of the oppressed race, the black in a white world, whereas Forster is a member of the oppressing minority, an Anglo in an Indian world. Thus, although they address many of the same subjects (education and religion, for example) and even sometimes take the same stance, their backgrounds and perspectives are completely different. Both consider rigidly defined societies with limited freedom, advancement, or hope of escape.

The fate of the Other, the racial or social minority, or rather inferiority, is often rigidly defined and difficult to escape. In Forster's India, fate is the domination by the English who fail to recognize the Indians as equal individuals. The Indians may dream of expelling the Anglo-Indians, but they know their dream will not easily become reality. The Indians have learned to adapt to the Anglo political and social rule. At the ``Bridge Party'' and during the initial conversation between Dr. Aziz and Mr. Fielding, it is apparent that conversation is tactical; words are chosen carefully to avoid misunderstanding, and the Indian always becomes submissive to the Anglo-Indian.

In Du Bois' South, the same situation exists. The blacks, on the whole, are inferior to the whites, and it is extremely difficult to escape this domination and advance. Du Bois lays out goals for advancement (namely education and increased self-esteem and black pride), but it is a plan that will not complete its course for more than half a century. In order to get teaching jobs, Du Bois must agree to submit to the ``white'' way of thinking and not pass on his revolutionary ideas acquired in the North. The goal was to keep blacks in submission to the whites. Then, this oppressed minority, this Other, has no choice but to act in accordance with the ordained social constructs of the powerful majority.

One goal of both the Ango-Indians and the American whites seems to be to achieve segregation. With very few exceptions, Moslems and blacks are not allowed the opportunity to assimilate with the whites. The highest class of the Moslems, those that one could almost meet socially in Britain, do mingle with the Anglo-Indians, but they are not entirely accepted. Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested, curious about the Indians whom they have not seen at all on their visit to India, throw a Bridge Party, ``to bridge the gulf between East and West'' (26). The results are not very satisfactory to either the English or the Moslems. This attempt at integration foreshadows the difficulties involved in mixed race relationships. As the Collector remarks much later in the novel, ``ĆI have never known anything but disaster result when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially (182).'''

The attempt to integrate instead of segregate also appears in The Souls of Black Folk, primarily in the essay ``Of the Coming of John.'' John, a black boy, leaves the small town of Altamaha for school in Johnstown. There is an ominous warning repeated numerous times by the whites, that sending John off to school ``will spoil him'' and ``ruin him'' (246). The whites did not want him to become educated and bring back his ideas and impose them on others. In both the Indian and American South paradigms, every effort was taken to subjugate the darker race. Although both did advocate education at times, it was limited education, education that would in the long run best serve the whites.

When John finishes college, he goes to a theater with a crowd of whites. He is then escorted out by an usher, none other than an old white playmate from his hometown. He thinks to himself: ``perhaps I am to blame myself in struggling against my manifest destiny simply because it looks hard and unpleasant'' (254). He realizes that it is his inescapable fate to live as a black among blacks no matter how much education he has gained (similar in some ways to Du Bois' situation). John's education, his introduction to Northern society, has indeed spoiled him. Education is both a blessing and a curse to the blacks. He is further disillusioned because, as he tells his sister, it makes one unhappy to study a lot. John has seen a world that refuses to open itself up to him because of his color. No matter how much he is to achieve, he can never fully succeed in his society because he will never be allowed that opportunity.

The females, being another minority, have even less chance of success than the males. It is interesting that neither Forster nor Du Bois devote much discussion at all to female characters. When they do though, there seems to be almost an exact inversion between the female oppressor and the female oppressed. In both cases, however, the female is trapped by the fate of rape and marriage.

Perhaps the most important female characters are the wives of Dr. Aziz and Du Bois. For both men, the birth of a child had significant impact on their relationships with their wives. Dr. Aziz did not initial love his wife, but grew to love her especially through their son. ``Touched by Western feeling he disliked union with a woman whom he had never seen; moreover, when he did see her, she disappointed him, and he begat his first child in mere animality. The change began after its birth. He was won by her love for him. . .'' (57). In contrast, Du Bois came to love his son through his wife. ``I did not love it then; it seemed a ludicrous thing to love; but her I loved, my girl-mother, she whom now I saw unfolding like the glory of the morning ≠ the transfigured woman. Through her I came to love the wee thing. . .'' (227). Through birth, both of them also lost: Dr. Aziz's wife died in childbirth and Du Bois' son became ill and died as an infant.

With the exception of their wives, there are very few female characters of any importance; in fact less than a dozen females are even mentioned, and almost all of those are wholly insignificant, as ``all [Englishwomen] are exactly alike'' (7). There is a most curious line near the end of A Passage to India about Indian women: ```... far too much nonsense still goes on among our ladies. . . . the missionaries inform us our women are down-trodden. If you want a subject for a poem, take this: The Indian lady as she is and not as she is supposed to be''' (301). The only female characters considered are Anglo-Indians. Mrs. Moore, whom Dr. Aziz meets in a mosque, is a somewhat important character, but she is never fully developed and is almost considered to be more of a male than a female (Aziz treated the women ``like men. Beauty would have troubled him''. . . (71)).

Miss Quested, on the other hand, is more or less sufficiently developed, as she is central to the major conflicts. Adela (Miss Quested) has come to India with Mrs. Moore to observe her son Ronny and decide if she is to marry him. Just as in Austen's works, this question of marriage takes on great importance. Indeed, ``to be or not to be married, that was the question'' (101). In the setting of India, she sees a very different man, and decides that she cannot marry him. Just a few pages and a car accident later, she has seen his better side and decides to marry him. In the cave she continues to consider her decision, and comes to the shocking realization that she and Ronny don't love each other. ``Not to love the man one's going to marry! Not to find it out till this moment! Not even to have asked oneself the question until now!'' (168) It is probably this train of thoughts and her discomfort and confusion that later causes her to claim that Dr. Aziz has raped her.

Rape also appears in Du Bois' ``Of the Coming of John,'' although this time the victim is a member of the oppressed race. When white John returns, he takes a sudden mischievous interest in black John's sister Jenine. Still, only a few lines are devoted to Jenine, as Du Bois' focus is on the male characters, and Jenine is almost only incidental.

``Hello, Jenine! Why, you haven't kissed me since I came home,'' he said gaily. The young girl stared at him in surprise and confusion, -- faltered something inarticulate, and attempted to pass. But a willful mood had seized the young idler, and he caught at her arm. Frightened, she slipped by, and half mischievously he turned and ran after her through the tall pines. (261-2)

The underclassman in society is trapped, locked into a fate with very little chance of escape. The societies of British India and the American South both had justice systems based on inequality. In A Passage to India, Dr. Aziz must accept his fate. Both rapes have immediate consequences. As soon as Adela opens her mouth and says that he attempted to rape her, he is arrested. As the trial will be his word against hers, it is clear to everyone that he will be found guilty (except that fortunately Adela recants her false accusation). In contrast, had a Moslem accused an Anglo-Indian of rape, it is almost certain that there would be no case. Rape again becomes an issue in The Souls of Black Folk when black John's sister Jenine is raped by white John, although as it is the rape of the inferior race, it is of very little significance whatsoever.

The inherent injustice of the justice system is accepted as part of life. Du Bois relates in ``Of the Meaning of Progress'' that when a farmer charged Jim with stealing wheat, the ``furious fool'' retaliated by throwing stones at him. ``They told Jim to run away; but he would not run, and the constable came that afternoon'' (104). Again, in ``Of the Coming of John,'' seeing his sister with white John, black John kills him and then realizes that he has committed the ultimate crime. He will be put to death for murdering a white even though whites are allowed to rape and murder blacks at times completely unquestioned. He uses the little freedom he exercises over his fate and kills himself. John can do nothing to avoid death because he has crossed the color boundaries and attacked a white. As a double minority, Jenine can do nothing about being raped by white men and must submit to the desires of white men. The fate of Dr. Aziz as well rests on the mercy of the Anglo-Indians.

This reduction of freedom marks the fundamental difference between the two classes: the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressed does not have the power to decide his own fate. In segregated societies, the oppressed can succeed to a certain extent, but when integrated with the oppressor, there is a necessary exchange of power. The oppressed ceases to be an individual with control over his own life. This is the difficulty that Forster and Du Bois attempt to expose.