In beginning this essay it would be helpful to define what is meant by colonial discourse.
This term refers to the dominant ideology within British society during the time of the empire and thus can be defined as discourse which supports the action of colonisation. The colonial ideal, (the term for colonial discourse in its undiluted form), suggests that both the coloniser and the colonised benefit from the action of colonisation.The colonies benefit in that they are becoming more developed and civilised through the adoption of western practices and technologies and the coloniser benefits from, as Hobson put it “The export of surplus capital”.Thornton cited in J. Meyer’s Fiction and the Colonial Experience explains how this was the prevailing ideology within the British government until well after the unit texts I will be focussing upon were written: The Imperial principle, animating an imperial code, remained the dynamic in the thought and action of the governing classes of England until after the close of the twentieth century’s second world war.This essay will attempt to explore and suggest ways in which three chosen texts, (all British novels written during the period of the British Empire), both support or oppose this discourse.
The texts to be used in analysis of the question are Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, A Passage to India by E. M. Forster and Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh. The first question one can ask when contemplating this essay is whether the natives depicted in the books are seen to benefit from the process of colonisation.Is the opinion of Marlow’s aunt, (that the colonisers are “weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways”3) backed up by the representation of the places depicted in the books? If so this would indicate to a degree whether the texts could be construed as examples of colonial discourse. If they exemplify the colonial ideal then there can be no doubt that they do represent examples of colonial discourse.This is most definitely not the case in Heart of Darkness. The scene in the jungle clearing where Marlow is surrounded by dying natives evidences this point.
They were dying slowly – it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Also Marlow directly criticises the aforementioned opinion of his aunt in saying; “I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit.”5 This counteracts the idealised discourse which claims that the colonised people are becoming civilised as a result of colonisation. Then as the novel progresses the extent to which the natives are not becoming civilised through colonisation is revealed; through the tyranny of Mr.
Kurtz, it is clear that their “savage” ways are being inflated and perpetuated.Marlow strongly criticises the method of colonisation he witnesses in Africa, however in doing this he does not denounce colonisation as a whole. He is perhaps suggesting that there is a good and a bad way to colonise. The following excerpt highlights this notion: – To tear the treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.This passage hints that if one acted with ‘moral purpose’ then the process of colonisation could be justified.
So it could be argued that the book strongly criticises bad methods of colonisation but not the overall idea. In fact the book begins with the first person framing narrator praising the founders of the British Empire: – What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!…The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. As the company for whom Marlow works is a Belgian one, (the novel is based on Conrad’s experience in the Congo, a Belgian colony) it seems that the approach to colonisation by certain countries is being denounced.In A Passage to India the natives appear to benefit more from colonisation than those in Heart of Darkness; they have access to health care courtesy of the novel’s main protagonist Dr.
Aziz and his colleague Dr. Lal (both educated natives). Chandrapore has a train station, a law court and a college all as a result of colonisation. Nevertheless the place is far from representative of the colonial ideal and this is mostly due to the attitudes of the British.
The vast majority of the British in Chandrapore, members of the Club, are highly prejudiced towards the natives constantly suspect them of scheming and dishonesty. This attitude is epitomised by Ronny Moore the magistrate: …whether the native swaggers or cringes there’s always something behind every remark he makes, always something, and if nothing else he’s trying to increase his izzat – in plain Anglo-Saxon, to score.8