Jeremy Choat Professor Lewis



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Jeremy Choat

Professor Lewis

HIST 2333-001

18 April 2013

British Imperialism in Africa and India

The Age of Imperialism, a great time of conquest and colonization during the late 1800’s until 1914 for the British and for the rest of Europe. This period saw the start of formal control of India by the British and the land grab of Africa by the European powers. This “Scramble for Africa” left the British with lands essentially from the Cape of Africa to Egypt, including Nigeria. The two novels, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, show the two different takes of British Imperialism during the Age of Imperialism. The novels tell of two diverse native groups of people, who are in different stages of British colonization. Both novels show how the British changed the local society by ways of religion, attempt to make the natives “British” and use of their mentality of superiority and racism in order to do this.

In the book Things Fall Apart, author Chinua Achebe tells of an Igbo tribe in Nigeria, in the village of Iguedo, and how the British completely changed the tribe’s unique culture. Achebe details original Igbo society extensively before the British arrive to properly show a “before and after look”. In comparison, in the novel, A Passage to India by E.M. Forster the story starts with the British occupation of India. Forster shows the two sides of life of India: the ruling British and the common Indian citizen and how both sides can never coexist.

Both Achebe and Forster use their main characters as the native people in society. In Things Fall Apart, The main character in the novel, Okonkwo, originally is known as the greatest warrior in the tribe. Okonkwo tries to prove he is the alpha male in the society because of his father, Unoka, was known for being a debtor, coward and effeminate (Achebe 4). Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, resembles his grandfather because he isn’t as masculine as his father. Okonkwo’s fear of being dishonorable like his father actually becomes ironic at the end of the novel when he hangs himself. This act is considered to be cowardice in their society, which is considered an “offense against the Earth… [and he] will not be buried by the clansmen (Achebe 117). Okonkwo goes from being self-conscious about his image to having the same or even worse image as his father (Achebe 117). Also Okonkwo’s stubbornness and unwillingness to change with the new society of the British caused him to die a dishonorable man, while his son became happier with the British missionaries. In A Passage to India, the main character, Dr. Aziz is considered a man of many talents but he is known throughout the community for being a medical doctor (Forster 15). Aziz starts as an open person and befriends two English women, Mrs. Moore and Adela, who are looking to see the “other side of the world” outside of their British compound (Forster 20). Unlike Okonkwo, Aziz tries to reach out to the British and tries to become friends the British. Similarly, both characters end up hating the British because of the acts that the British commit to them and their people.



Contrary to most British imperialists, both of the authors show that some of the British do want to help the natives. The characters, Mr. Brown, Cyril Fielding, Adela and Mrs. Moore, are all British but they give the native people a chance, unlike other British in the colonies. Mr. Brown, leader of the colonists, is very respectful to the Igbo community and their society’s peaceful nature. He even builds a hospital and a school for the villagers (Achebe 102). He wants peace between the tribe and his missionaries to avoid deadly conflict. Mr. Brown wants the people to learn English and tries to adapt so they don’t lose everything they have (Achebe 102). In A Passage to India, Aziz’s friend, Cyril Fielding, tries his best to help Aziz and other Indians. As a teacher at an Indian school, Fielding gives the native people a sense of self-liberty and finds the racial separation as discouraging to Indian people (Forster 63, 108). Fielding and his friend Hamidullah plan to bail out Aziz out of jail and after Aziz is accused of sexual assault (Forster 169). This situation of a British person helping an Indian, especially in this case, was very abnormal, perhaps taboo Fielding also states to the governor of the city, Turton, that he would give up his position in service to India, if Aziz were to be found guilty (Forster 180). These notation speaks to the loyalty and good-heartedness of Fielding. Aziz also meets an open-minded British woman, Mrs. Moore, and her friend, Adela, Aziz grows quite close both women. Adela is an unique character to A Passage to India is Adela. Mrs. Moore brought Adela to India with her so she would hopefully marry her son (Forster 23). India and Aziz intrigue Adela, at the beginning of the novel. She grows very close to Aziz and even considers marrying him. Both Mrs. Moore and Adela sees the very good of Aziz but both women let Aziz down. After Aziz’s denial of Adela’s marriage request, at the Marabar Caves, she claimed Aziz sexually assaulted her and Aziz was throw in jail (Forster 155). After the Marabar Caves, Mrs. Moore is very shaken because of the incident and leaves to go back home to England and never testifies in Aziz’s trial (Forster 151). The relationship of Aziz and the two women symbolizes how the British and Indians can never mesh because of the British attitudes in India. Both authors show the very bad that the British people can be to the native population but also show that there are some people from Britain that have good intentions towards the native people.

Religion is always an important part of a society; it gives a group of people an identity that unites the people. In both novels, the authors show the British trying to disrupt the native society by changing the local religion. The first white people to enter into Igboland were the British missionaries that rode “iron horses”(Achebe 80). Part of the village’s religion, they use an oracle who predicted that more white men would come to their village (Achebe 81). The native people, initially view the missionaries and Christianity as being quite humorous because how different both were to the village. On the other side, the missionaries were also confused by the Igbo’s gods who the missionaries said “are not alive and cannot do [Igbo] any harm … they are pieces of wood and stone… [the tribesmen] broke into derisive laughter” (Achebe 84). The Igbo had a caste system, which pushed the outcasts, also Nwoye, into Christianity where they finally feel accepted (Achebe 90). The frustrated Nwoye finds peace in the new religion because it answers many of the troubling things in his life, which infuriates his father (Achebe 85). When Nwoye and other tribe members join the missionaries’ church causes resentment within the community and divides the natives against themselves (Achebe 93). The British missionaries have the perfect plan by finding the outcasts in the society because they want to be happier than before. By the end of the novel, when Okonkwo and the other opponents want to kick out the British it is too late because of the strength of the church in their village. The division causes Igbo society and religion to fracture because people are going against their original morals and fighting each other and converting religions (Achebe 96). In A Passage to India, there are no missionaries going to India to convert the Indians but religion determines some of the characters decisions in the novel. Mrs. Moore respects Aziz’s religion, Islam, and is intrigued by the religion. Before Mrs. Moore met Aziz, she took off her shoes before entering the mosque, which is mandatory but shows her respect for their culture (Forster 21). Mrs. Moore respects Islam so much that she even considers converting to the religion (Forster 62). The British Fielding and Adela also respect Islam, which indicates that the people who respect the religion of the Indians also accept the people and their way of life. The novel gives a different perspective to religion than Things Fall Apart, the British do not use the same tactics of converting the Indians like in Africa. Instead, The British let Indians practice their religion, which is not the case for the Igbos. Perhaps the British see the Indians as more civilized and are scared to face the wrath as was the case during the Indian Mutiny when the British tried to convert them. Though the religious tone is not as strong as in Things Fall Apart, it creates a common bond between Mrs. Moore and Aziz. This bond gave Mrs. Moore a much different view of the Indian people than her son and many of the other British people in India had of their Indian subjects.

Another way the British changed the native societies is by trying to convert the people to become more British. In Things Fall Apart the main motive the British had was to first to eliminate the Igbo’s religion. By converting the native population to Christianity, they can possibly learn English and adapt to the British way of life. When the village started to leave their original faith, it also left behind their traditions and their way of life. The Igbo’s society revolved around their religion and when it was gone they had to find a new way of life, which was with the British. In A Passage to India, the Indian’s original tradition had already been hurt because the British occupied India years before the novel. Aziz is seen as already being influenced greatly by the British by being a doctor, playing British sport and speaking English. Aziz trying to become British is a constant struggle for him and never does gain the respect of the British. At the start, Aziz cannot be friends with Mrs. Moore or Adela because it is frowned upon for British ladies to be in the company of a native (Forster 27). The British do not give Aziz or any other Indian respect, which is obvious of the British’s racism.



The main cause of the British changing the native society was by their racist and feeling of superiority over the native people. This is quite prevalent in A Passage to India because it causes Aziz to get thrown into jail because of Adela’s accusation of rape; the British authorities gave very little consideration for Aziz’s innocents. The British officials had very little evidence of his wrong doing besides finding broken glasses. The hope that Aziz would be proven innocent seemed very grim because of his race (Forster 165). Aziz grows so frustrated with the racist culture that he leaves everything behind after being jailed and when Fielding befriends/marries Adela after the incident and despised the British (Forster 258) In Igboland, the racist mentality is not as strong as in India but the authorities in Africa see the Igbo as being lesser people. Both novels tell of similar characters, Reverend James Smith and Ronny, which are stereotypical British people who have very little respect for the native peoples. Reverend James Smith who replaces Mr. Brown and is much more harsh on the Igbo people than his predecessor and “saw things as black and white ... And black was evil” (Achebe 104). Smith wanted life to be strictly based around The Bible and prayed that the village would find the faith (Achebe 105). There was a misunderstanding with the Igbo and the colonists, which led to their church being burned The Reverend saw this act as rebellion against him and the colonists and wanted to seek revenge for the act (Achebe 108). Mrs. Moore’s son, Ronny, an English magistrate, is not very open to the Indians, like his mother, and seems to be wary of the Indian people from the beginning (Forster 27). Ronny tells Adela to not consider if Aziz is innocent after she considers if she wasn’t sexually assaulted (Forster 175). This shows the unwillingness of the British people to give Indians an equal opportunity in society. Ronny seems to not be as evil as other Englishmen in India but his job and the culture makes him unable to see the Indians as equal to the British. By changing the Igbo’s way of life means that the British way of doing thing is much better than what the African tribe was doing. Both novels use racist tones to tell the natives that the British are in charge of their society.

The British in Africa and India are seen as cruel to the native people in both Things Fall Apart and A Passage to India novels. In the Igbo society, it seemed that the large proportion of clansmen voluntarily assimilated by converting to the British’s religion and to some of their culture. Even though the Igbo’s culture and tradition slowly died because of the British arrival, many in the lower caste of the society thought their life was better because of the colonization. While in India, the native people, including Aziz, tried to become British but were still rejected by the British. The two colonies are completely different but the British still used similar tactics of religion, teaching the people to be British and use of racism toward the natives. These tactics though ended up not working like the British wanted within the novel and in history.

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