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Metropolitan vs. Colonial Space in Forster’s A Passage to India and Lawrence’s Women in Love

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Metropolitan vs. Colonial Space in Forster’s A Passage to India and Lawrence’s Women in Love


      At first glance, it seems easy to state a definitive distinction between what Said calls “metropolitan space” and “colonial space.” In its simplest form, metropolitan space is the space occupied by the colonizers. Examples of this include England, France and the places these people reside in while living in these colonies. Likewise, colonial space is that which is occupied by those who are colonized. India and Africa are both good examples of this. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that this distinction is not as simple as it may originally appear.

     Although the above definitions are accurate, they are also incomplete. As Said says, colonialism is not a “simple act of accumulation and acquisition (9).” The distinction between metropolitan space and colonial space does not lie solely within physical and tangible spaces. It also exists in the mindsets and attitudes of the people involved in colonialism. Said points out that a direct result of colonialism is that it comes with changes in attitudes (52).

     Another important element of the distinction between metropolitan and colonial spaces is the understanding that this distinction exists because of the differences in power. Said defines metropolitan space as a “socially desirable empowered space (52).” He goes on to say that metropolitan spaces are connected to colonial spaces by the “design, motive and development” of these colonial spaces. Further, he says that cultures want to move into these colonial spaces because they are viewed as ‘desirable but subordinate (52).” This point is especially important to note. There is a definite understanding that those who occupy the metropolitan space have the power while those who occupy the colonial space do not.

     The vocabulary used is also an essential element of the distinction between the two spaces. Said mentions that some of the key elements/words associated with colonialism include: “inferior” and “subordinate peoples. (9)” These terms further reinforce the division of power.

     E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India is a prime example of the distinction between metropolitan and colonial spaces. Using the simplest definition, Forster presents an India where the distinction between metropolitan and colonial spaces is very clear. Metropolitan space is present in the form of England, but also is present locally in the form of the club. The Indians occupy their own colonial spaces that the British rarely enter into. Examples of this include the bazaar and their bungalows.

     Though the novel is full of many examples of the more intricate distinction between metropolitan and colonial spaces, in Chapter V concerning the Bridge Party the examples are especially abundant. At the Bridge Party, the two groups have their clear, tangible division: the British and the Indians. Ironically, though the party (in theory) is there to bridge the gap between the two groups, it instead acts as a reinforcer of this gap. It is made clear that the Indians are outsiders at the club. From a physical point of view, the two groups remain separated. The British stand on one side, while the Indians stand on another. Though a few attempts at communication do exist, for the most part, the East v. West dissonance is carried on.

     Once attempt at communication occurs when Mrs. Moore requests to be introduced to the Indian women. Mrs. Turton replies, “You’re superior to them, anyway… You’re superior to everyone in India (42).” There is nothing covert about Mrs. Turton’s feelings about the inferiority of the Indians. The use of the word “superior” calls to mind Said’s earlier statement about colonial vocabulary.

     Yet another example involving Mrs. Turton at the Bridge Party comes moments later. She greets the Indians in Urdu. However, she only knows the imperative form of the verbs in Urdu, and as such, is rude to the Indian women. In her metropolitan space, ordering around her inferiors is the only reason she has to speak the language. Mrs. Turton is soon surprised to discover that this particular group of Indians have learned English. Perhaps even more important to note, these Indian women know polite forms of English. This makes Mrs. Turton uncomfortable. In fact, “her manner had grown more distant since she had discovered that some of the group was Westernized, and might apply her own standards to her (43).” It is perfectly acceptable for her to judge them, but not the other way around. This, of course, is because of the difference in power between her and the women. In her eyes, it is okay for her to pick up the “quaint” Indian language, but it’s unacceptable for the Indians to speak her language or to try to adopt her mindset.

     As is expressed by Mrs. Turton’s attitude, people are expected to fill certain roles. Spoken and unspoken restrictions are placed on both groups. For example, just as the Indians are not allowed to enter the club, the English are looked down upon when they travel to the Marabar Caves. Members of both groups are aware of the expectations and do their best to fulfill them.

     The Collector knows clearly his role and what is expected from him at the Bridge Party. He mingles with all of the guests, yet at the same time he “was under no illusions, and at the proper moment he retired to the English side of the lawn (45).” Likewise, Ronny expresses his frustration when his mother suggests that he should not do things the way everyone else does. He laments, “What do you and Adela want me to do? Go against my class, against all the people I respect and admire out here? Lose such power as I have for doing good in this country because my behavior isn’t pleasant (51)?” Ronny’s words make it clear that those who do not stick to the norm are seen as different.

     Any attempts to traverse between the two spaces (by either group) are met with suspicion and discomfort. Those who do attempt to traverse between the two spaces are viewed as very different. Yet despite this, there are exceptions. After the incident in the Marabar Caves, when Mr. Fielding fights the accusation against Aziz, he is seen as “weak (211).” However, this negative view of him exists even before he publicly supports Aziz. He is seen as different at the Bridge Party when “the moment for refreshments came, he did not move back to the English side (46).”

     Miss Quested is another excellent example of this. Before the Marabar Caves incident, she is fascinated by everything that is India. She is viewed by the British women as someone who is strange. Yet, after the incident, she is treated very differently. The women fawn over her and worry that she is not alright. This is described as them being “kind to her, indeed over-kind…the women too sympathetic (214).” Of course, it is only after Miss Quested’s view on India and Indians change that she is accepted by the women.

     Though D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love does not directly deal with colonialism like A Passage to India, it is set in an England that is very much affected by its colonial explorations and expansions. With this comes colonial attitudes, which are present even within the metropolitan space.

     One example of this can be seen when Birkin and Gerald travels to London. In the chapter entitled “Crème de Menthe,” Gerald is fascinated by the African statue at Hailliday’s apartment. As Said says “metropolitan culture… can now be seen to have suppressed the authentic elements in colonized society (251).” To Gerald, this statue is an “authentic” representation of what African culture is really like. Of course, there is much more to African culture than what is displayed in this statue. The statue is described as “strange and disturbing” and also as “rather wonderful (74).” This illustrates the ambiguous feelings often associated with colonialism.

     With the exception of this statue example, Women in Love may seem a strange choice to address the issue of metropolitan and colonial spaces. However, it can be argued that the distinction between city and country in Women in Love is similar to the distinction between metropolitan and colonial space in A Passage to India and other colonial works. The biggest similarity exists in the form of attitudes concerning power. Just as the British culture is seen as superior in Forster’s India, those from the city view the country as being inferior to their culture. Just as in A Passage to India, those who belong to the metropolitan space view those of a lower status with contempt.

     The Crich family’s annual water-party is strikingly similar to the Bridge party held in A Passage to India. Those with the power (and money) invite people who are lower than them socially to interact with them. Crich does this because “he loved to give pleasures to his dependents and to those poorer than himself (155).” However, much like the majority of British in Passage, Crich’s children are less than enthusiastic about this. They are described as preferring “the company of their own equals in wealth.” Furthermore, they hate “their inferiors’ humility or gratitude or awkwardness.” Words such as these are often used by the city people when speaking about those who live in the country. These attitudes echo the sentiments of the British in A Passage to India as well as Said’s previous comments about the vocabulary used when speaking about colonialism . Yet, despite these superior attitudes, both the Criches and the British in India agree to these interactions.

     Once again, much like Passage’s Bridge Party, at the water-party, where much mingling is expected, people actually stay with their respective groups. These groups gossip about each other and through all of this, despite the fact that this is an attempt to bring them together, the division still exists.

     The aforementioned examples are but a few of the many present in A Passage to India and Women in Love. Yet, hopefully, they convey the idea that the distinction between metropolitan and colonial spaces is more complex than simply locating these spaces on a map.

Works Cited


Forster, E.M. A Passage to India . Harcourt: San Diego, 1924.

Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love. Penguin Books: London, 1920

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism . Vintage Books: New York, 1993.

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