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 How far do the views presented in ‘Our Country’s Good’ and ‘A Passage to India’ agree with this statement Essay

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Culture is a word that is difficult to define as it is a transient notion; culture is constantly changing over time. Despite this, culture can be summarised as the shared values, practices and goals that characterise a group of people and give them a sense of belonging. In ‘Our Country’s Good’ and ‘A Passage to India’ there are examples of different cultures which clash.The idea of exporting culture is one that is unlikely to prove fruitful, as culture is based on common ideas uniting a group of people. Attempting to take culture overseas ‘for the spread of civilisation, for the Christianising of the negro’ (Bax, 1896) was supposedly the main philanthropic aim of British colonialism, in addition to the exploitation of foreign resources to further strengthen Britain and gain vast wealth. The implicit sense of superiority found through the aims of colonialism is found in ‘Our Country’s Good’. Scene 3 opens with the empowered men ‘shooting birds’ whilst discussing that the land of Australia is bound by English law, this creates a distinct image of the English destroying indigenous species at the same time as strengthening their own power. Whilst they are discussing how they can further enforce their superiority and sense of justice onto the convicts, they show no respect for the new land and begin to destroy their surroundings in order to establish their own.This treatment of the indigenous animal population can be compared to the treatment of Aziz by Major Callendar in Chapter 2, as Aziz is plucked unwillingly from his environment and forced to offer his services unquestionably to Major Callendar. The comparison is drawn as the Englishman exerts his power onto his native subordinate, perhaps as a message, to constantly show the Indian population that the English determine their actions and are that they are the power they answer to. Both these examples serve as evidence for the treatment of indigenous beings as fairly inconsequential, serving as a means to enforce superiority of culture. These actions create division; in ‘A Passage to India’ the English then appear to be unapproachable and heavy-handed, separate from the natives and filled with self-indulgence. This allows the English not to have to adapt to Indian culture, but to preserve the way of life they left behind in England.Hamidullah Begum in chapter 2 of ‘A Passage to India’ refers to the difference in Englishmen in England and Englishmen in India, remarking friendship is ‘only possible in England’. There is inference to the way in which people change after living in India, they are turned by their own kind and become enveloped in the colonial way of life, maintaining what they perceive to be English culture. “I give any Englishman two years…. All are exactly alike.” The isolation of the English in India that is self-inflicted in order to maintain a sense of Englishness, as found in the club where only Englishmen are permitted entry. This isolation creates divisive barriers which cannot be transcended and unknowingly creates an aggressive form of English culture.This culture is completely non-progressive and whilst culture in England would progress, English culture in India would remain still. This is the preservation of the cultural identity that all of the English characters can identify with and by creating barriers formed from prejudices, this sense of Englishness can be maintained. The preservation of Englishness through the club and the prejudices which create barriers are formed as a reaction to the new culture which they have not previously experienced, forcing the English into their club which acts as a hermit-like shell. This is comparable to the rituals that Ralph Clark undertakes regularly before sleep.The ritual in which he reads a passage from the Bible and kisses his wife before bed is fairly irrational and is not necessarily something that he strongly believes in, but does as a reaction to the culture of sleeping with the convicts. The convicts he sees as “guilty” and inferior, he cannot envelop himself in this developing culture amongst the other officers, yet finds himself performing absurd rituals that allow him to cling onto the Englishness that would be found at home in England. Ralph seems defensive when springing up upon the entrance of Ketch, as though to hide what he is doing, showing self-awareness of the ridiculous nature of his ritual. This is perhaps a reflection upon the cultural dilemmas that colonialism creates, showing that clinging onto a sense of Englishness and creating divisive barriers formed from stereotypes such as “I’m not a convict, I don’t sin” without interpreting events in lieu of their circumstances, is not the best course of action and is ridiculous.Ralph Clark’s absolute sense of right and wrong, based upon what he deemed to be ‘sin’, was thrown into disarray by Ketch Freeman. Ketch shows the circumstances in which he was labelled as a criminal, which don’t correspond with an absolute sense of criminality, but are born out of circumstances that are misinterpreted. “I wasn’t even near the sailor that got killed… And I had hopes of making a good life here.” Ketch shows his perception of his own innocence to Ralph, by presenting a humane anecdote, in which his intentions and actions were misinterpreted and taken out of context, leading to his condemnation. He then continues by showing how he wishes to transcend the boundaries enforced by those like Ralph; convicts and officers, by becoming an actor. The theatre is used throughout the play as a symbol for the unity that man can achieve. The play was created in the 1980s partly as a reaction to Thatcher’s Conservative government cutting all subsidies to the ‘arts’ such as the theatre, on the basis that they are inefficient and elitist. However, this play strives to show through the power of the theatre, barriers such as race, culture and wealth can be broken down. This is what Ketch shows when he expresses a wish to become an ‘actor’ and Ralph’s view on the convicts changes from that point onwards Culminating in him ditching his non-progressive overly conservative stance of maintaining Britishness in every way possible by abandoning his initial prejudices and sleeping with Mary Brenham.Uncertainty in views on the nature of cultures and of divisions are also found in ‘A Passage to India’ in which Fielding and Adela both are presented in a state of flux with regard to their cultural sympathies. Early on in the novel, Adela rejects the idea of marrying Ronny, whilst maintaining a desire to ‘see the real India’. The rejection of Ronny having seen the nature of his job and the manner in which he treats his subordinates, could be construed as racist. “We’re not out here for the purpose of behaving pleasantly!” Adela approaches India idealistically and is unimpressed by the treatment of the natives, yet finds the company of Aziz more enjoyable and relishes the opportunity to visit the Marabar Caves. The caves representing the complex nature of India in which events are easily misinterpreted, the nature of simple things is distorted by the echo of the cave, which happens to Adela when she feels violated and accuses Aziz of rape. Within the cave, Adela realises the alien nature of Indian culture compared to what she is aware of, represented in the film adaptation by a temple that appears enchanting yet is protected by violent monkeys.The nature of Indian culture is not simple and has within itself various barriers, the caste system and religious partitions were commonplace in India round the time when Forster wrote ‘A Passage to India’. The various sub-cultures that develop would be unfamiliar to all Indians, shown by Aziz’s lack of knowledge of the Hindu birth ceremony, which appears strange to him as well as Fielding in part 3 of the novel. If Indians themselves cannot comprehend the vast complexity of the various cultures to be found within their society, there is no hope for the Englishman and this realisation that Adela finds within the cave causes her to become disoriented. This disorientation, caused by her feeling out of place, makes Adela unaware of the events that take place so she then feels raped and accuses Aziz. Adela has through this gone against her initial ideals and the complexity of Indian culture has forced her back into the insular British colony where she feels at comfort, keeping with ideals that she can easily recognise.The basis for Aziz’s trial is on a small amount of evidence, despite this it is widely presumed within the English community that Aziz is guilty, that the word of an Englishwoman is worth more than that of an Indian without qualification. Ronny feels torn by this, due to the advice of his mother Mrs Moore, but then manages to remove her from India in order to protect the colony from the adverse social ramifications that acquitting Aziz from all charges would have. This can be compared to the trial of Liz Morden based upon the presumption that all convicts are criminals and prejudgment based on unconvincing evidence. The attitude of Ross presented in Liz Morden’s trial ‘It shows a corrupt justice as well’ is similar to the mindset of the English in terms of attempting to sacrifice the truth based on prejudice in order to ‘save face’ and ensure that desirable social consequences occur. This mindset is similar to that presented in ‘A Passage to India’ with Ronny sending Mrs Moore to England in order to preserve the social structure that suits the colonialists.As a member of the influential Bloomsbury group, which included the likes of Virginia Woolf, Forster was likely to have been influenced by the advent of literary modernism and aspects of this are shown in ‘A Passage to India’, especially through the character of Fielding. Fielding is a character who wishes to ‘tread through India without categorisation’; he is disillusioned with the social barriers in place and the way in which prejudiced views blind the English and he feels alienated from his fellow Englishman as he does not share these views. The breakdown of social and cultural sureties and the dilemmas presented alongside this are presented through the character of Fielding, who is sympathetic towards the Indians and can identify with them to an extent.Yet, through his lack of willingness to pick sides, Fielding feels isolated and is spiritually lonely, as a result of the divisions created by the colonial rule, yet also feels opposed to the hierarchies within Indian culture itself. These tendencies which are typical of a modernist protagonist is how Fielding is presented by Forster, as well as the general lack of certainty in the way Fielding approaches such complex issues. This leads to the conclusion that Fielding ends with, that only the reform of social structure in India can allow him and Aziz to become friends, as Fielding himself when forced to choose ultimately ends up returning to that which he can understand and can seek solace in, in the form of Western culture.This is a contrast to ‘Our Country’s Good’ in which characters such as Phillip and Ralph breakdown the social barriers and perform a play which unites the officers and convicts. There is a sense of certainty about the way in which ‘Our Country’s Good’ ends, with a method through which barriers can be broken and man united, yet ‘A Passage to India’ primarily through the struggles of Fielding presents a situation where both sets of people can interact on an equal level, but due to the complexity of the clashes between the cultures, he cannot provide any answers.The idea of weighing up two separate cultures against each other in order to create a non-divisive society is presented as a form of ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ in ‘A Passage to India’ and ‘Our Country’s Good’. Both separate sets of cultures need to compromise their values to an extent in order to reach a common culture in which there are commonly held values. The problem with this is that both separate groups are concerned only with their own utility and neither would wish to compromise their ideals in fear that the other culture would dominate their own and all remnants of their culture would be lost. The outcome in ‘A Passage to India’ and in ‘Our Country’s Good’ are notably different, as throughout ‘Our Country’s Good’, the theatre becomes a tool through which the officers and convicts realise they have common values.Through the rehearsals the officers realise the nature of the convicts is not as absolute as they had once though and the recurrent motif throughout both novels that events are misinterpreted comes up. From this, the officers and convicts advance and reach a stage at which both cultures form their own colony, which is entirely separated from the life they would lead in England. Whereas ‘A Passage to India’ presents a different view, the Indian culture is too varied for the English to even try to find a common medium through which social barriers can be broken. Instead, the Indians such as Aziz trying to integrate with the English through events such as the expedition to the Marabar Caves are punished for effectively making a compromise, whilst the English remain insular and attempt to make no such deal. This then reinforces the imbalance of power and compounds colonialisation further, creating more barriers and ultimately making it more difficult for people to transcend these and live harmoniously.

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