Colonized or Self-Colonizer: A Generational Journey Through Independence in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Cassandra Galentine, Northern Arizona University, USA


The British Raj was established in India by Queen Victoria in 1858, and Britain remained the dominant power structure until Indian Independence in 1947. Though many novels as well as works of critical scholarship attempt to capture elements of the British Empire’s presence in India and its psychological effects on the citizens of India, less attention has been paid to the comparison of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India to Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. When examining these two texts closely, it becomes clear that Forster’s novel exists as a narrative of a single moment of British Imperialism, whereas Roy’s novel presents a multigenerational approach to describing effects of the British Empire. These different perspectives and historical contexts affect the characters’ ability to transcend the continuous cycle of colonizer turned colonized. The juxtaposition of a colonial text composed by an English author with a postcolonial text written by an Indian author within the context of Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized, provides an illuminating perspective on the evolution of the intertwined colonizer/colonized relationship and displays the potential to mitigate the lingering psychological effects of imperialism.

[Key Words: Albert Memmi, colonizer, colonized, postcolonialism, British Empire]


Both A Passage to India and The God of Small Things were written about the British Empire’s presence in India and share similar psychological themes throughout. However, the two novels develop representations of the colonizer and the colonized through strikingly different narrative backgrounds and forms. E.M. Forster’s approach to a critique of imperialism comes from a colonial, British perspective, and addresses one brief period of time in the history of Anglo-India, whereas Roy’s text approaches the subject from a postcolonial, multi-generational narrative form. This fundamental difference between the two authors creates many crucial points of variance in the expression of the colonizer/colonized relationship when placed in comparison postcolonially. This comparison exposes the psychological effects of colonialism which are illuminated by the reactions of the Indian characters in each novel—in particular, Dr. Aziz, and the Nawab Bahadur from Forster’s text, and Pappachi, Baby Kochamma, Ammu, Rahel, and Estha from Roy’s text—to their Western colonizers and their ability or lack thereof to blend British and Indian identity.

  1. Memmi: The “mythical portrait of the colonized”

To better understand the terms of comparison, it is useful to first establish the concept of the colonizer and colonized. French-Tunisian author Albert Memmi, in The Colonizer and the Colonized, briefly addresses his own relationship with the colonization of Tunisia. His deeply personal experience with colonialism lends credibility to his text, but he then applies his experience to create a description of imperialism and its effects in general terms. Broadening the scope allows Memmi’s text to be applied to all colonial legacies beyond Tunisia. Memi’s text is useful when assessing the effects of British rule in India within Forster’s and Roy’s novels. Crucial to such an examination is Memmi’s description of the “colonized” and their reaction to a long history of colonization.

In describing the colonized, Memmi argues that much of the colonized identity is generated by the colonizer. This is what he describes as the “mythical portrait of the colonized,” to which he devotes an entire chapter (Memmi 80-89)[1] The identity that the colonizer imposes upon the colonized is the most crucial part of colonization because the threatof the colonizer and their imposed identity on the colonized results in “a certain adherence of the colonized to colonization” (88). Though this is an integral part of successful colonization, Memmi does not believe it to be the final step in the process. He states that

It is not enough for the colonized to be a slave, he must also accept this role. The bond between colonizer and colonized is thus destructive and creative. It destroys and re-creates the two partners of colonization into colonizer and colonized … Just as the colonizer is tempted to accept his part, the colonized is forced to accept being colonized (89).

Thus, Memmi suggests that the colonized must identify with the colonizer at some point. This stage is what he considers to be the final act of the colonized preceding revolt. The colonized’s acceptance of colonization is reflected through several characters in A Passage to India and The God of Small Things.Memmi’s philosophy, when applied to these characters, allows for a historical, critical approach to exploring the overarching legacy of colonialism, and whether the Indian characters from either text successfully reconcile both British and Indian facets of culture into their own personal identities, or if, in the process, the colonized characters inevitably identify with the colonizer as Memmi predicts.

  1. Forster, Roy and Mirror Civilizations

Both Forster and Roy’s Indian characters represent facets of Memmi’s critical text. However, Memmi’s description of the colonized’s affinity for the colonizer, is more easily identifiable in Roy’s text because the novel was written postcollonially and includes three generations of characters that bridge the gap of Indian independence. A Passage to India still resonates strongly with Memmi’s text, but was published in 1924, twenty-three years before India’s independence from the British Empire. This difference in historical context as well as the “moment in time” nature of Forster’s book vs. the “generational” nature of Roy’s, shows individuals within the nation of India in two different stages of colonial identity. The God of Small Things demonstrates a nation that consists of a blended conglomeration of colonizer and colonized. Roy accomplishes this by incorporating voices of a pre-independence generation, an independence generation, and a post-independence generation within her text. Contrastingly, Forster’s novel captures the British Empire and the Indian people through the European gaze and sets up a starker dichotomy of colonizer and colonized.

A Passage to India, though focused on an acute moment in history, maintains a critique of the British Empire throughout. The most prominent character and protagonist of the novel, Dr. Aziz exists as a colonized subject. His close friendship with Cyril Fielding and his eagerness to please his supposed friends Mrs. Moore and Adela is what first forms his relationship as the colonized with the colonizer. Dr. Aziz ingratiates himself with Mrs. Moore and Adela in his constant attempts to fulfil their wish to see “the real India.” Throughout the entire beginning of the novel, Aziz’s goal is to “unlock his country for her” (Forster 73). Though he is still proud of his country, Aziz attempts close friendship with Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Adela. Though Aziz becomes less of an Anglophile as the novel progresses, particularly after Adela’s rape accusation, he can be seen desiring that which is English throughout the first half of the novel…Access Full Text of the Article

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