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Inequality and Integration in the Lonely Londoners and A Passage to India

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The books The Lonely Londoners and A Passage to India, both present us with a world that has stark divisions and inequality based on class and race, as words like “spade” are used freely in The Lonely Londoners to label the Caribbean community thus discrimination is rife. Both texts have strong links to the British Empire, as A Passage to India, is set in British India, where many of the main characters are Britons living in colonial India and in The Lonely Londoners the novel revolves around characters who have migrated from the Caribbean as a result of a surge in post-war immigration from the Commonwealth due to a newly created welfare state, including the author Selvon, who arrived in 1950. Forster and Selvon explore the nature of integration and have a keen interest in the relationship between people of different races and do clearly show that ethnic minorities are prevented from being accepted into society as a result of their race. However, at a closer look, the authors show how complex integration between two different cultures can be and introduce the notion that perhaps it is the difference in class that results in more division. This is apparent as Forster shows that integration is attainable through the relationship between the English, Mr Fielding and the Indian, Dr Aziz. This corroborates that race does not have to act as a divide in society.

One way in which Selvon presents unsuccessful integration in The Lonely Londoners is through having no protagonists. Selvon’s background perhaps influences this choice as he lived in communal housing when first living in London and trying to integrate himself, therefore meaning his outlook on integration might be a more cynical and angry one, where he calls for the need for equality which he did not see exist in his own life. This is reflected through the lack of a protagonist in The Lonely Londoners as we are introduced to characters like Tolory and Moses who come from “similar backgrounds” and “humble beginnings” and engage in helping one another from the offset. This is evident when Moses says “both of we is Trinidadians and we must help out one another”, the use of the modal verb “must” further shows that Selvon had a strong belief in community, as rather than it being an optional choice it comes across as a compulsory action to take. Yet the fact that these characters have to rely on one another so much suggests that integrating into British society was challenging for them, as it conveys the image of vulnerability, due to the majority of characters arriving with very little possessions and a lack of personal security, Selvon does this to reflect his own experiences, as a immigrant to the UK and potentially educate the reader on the struggles of the working class immigrant community in inner-city London. Due to the characters in The Lonely Londoners being so close, where the majority live together, it creates a sort of inclusive community, which is not always useful in terms of integrating into society, as mixing with other races is minimal. This is damaging for integration as other cultural intake is extremely low, meaning the characters in The Lonely Londoners would have less tolerance towards surrounding Britons and vice versa. Yet despite this the critic Lisa. M Kabesh (year) states that “Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners is a text preoccupied with movement – it shows a London transformed by West Indian immigrants as they search for work, travel to and from their jobs, move in and out of rented apartments… This emphasis on mapping has led many critics to engage with this text as a work of community-building”. The constant theme of mobility and moving is paramount in building the community we see in The Lonely Londoners, this is very refreshing to the readers, as we join the characters in the development of their community throughout the novel by discovering new thoughts and places in the eyes of the newly arrived immigrants, shown when Selvon writes “ Galahad remember that as he stand up there by the pond… Which part these seagulls come from, he wonder”, these seemingly boring day to day thoughts are a part of the journey that we take when reading this book, as the book goes on we learn along with the characters, Selvon may have done this to highlight to the reader at the time, the struggles of moving somewhere completely different and that at times the community should be considerate of transitions like these in oppose to judging. Although Kabesh is right in that Selvon shows it is important for a community to be built when immigrating, this does however make it harder for the individual to integrate into that society.

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By Kabesh stating that the novel is “preoccupied by movement”, it suggests that movement is what leads to a “community” or a sense of belonging. Selvon uses the narrator Moses to challenge the ideals of immigrating to a more developed society by focusing on the reality of being an immigrant and showing the struggles it entails. We can see this when he writes “for this city powerfully lonely when you on your own”. The word “powerfully” is very emotive as it adds a personal undertone to the immigrants lives that we don’t see much, whereby behind all the socialising and working, being new in a typically unfriendly city can be very lonely, hence the name of the novel. This shows that a “community” is needed to survive in a foreign country even if it prevents integration. It takes on instead a wiser omnipresent voice for younger immigrants to learn from, rather than an actual protagonist. This allows Selvon to create an atmosphere of equality among the characters where the reader is not prejudiced or biased to any individual character’s experience, thus Selvon shows in this segment that humans can naturally work well together but it is society’s prejudices against those that are different, and in this instance it is race, that prevents equality.

Forster instead in A Passage to India has two protagonists, one who is an upper-class Englishman, Mr. Fielding, and the other an educated and successful Indian character, Dr Aziz, Fielding’s willingness to integrate is shown by Forster when he writes, “He had found it convenient and pleasant to associate with Indians” this viewpoint would have been very controversial during the 1920s, as many believed that races should be kept separate. Contrasting The Lonely Londoners, Forster shows us a much broader range of characters from different races, religions and classes. We can see this when Forster writes about the “Muslim”, “Hindi” and British people attending the party which suggests integration could be possible. Yet, having said this, it is clear that Forster believes integration isn’t always a force for good as he states that the “Bridge party was not a success”, suggesting integration is not necessarily positive when it is forced. A Bridge Party in this context is an event where a mixture of races and religions are encouraged to socialise together, this is also done to keep the peace amongst races but clearly, Forster is showing that these characters do not truly believe they are all equal. Forster then goes on to say how “the Indian guests stand idly at one side of the tennis lawn while the English stand at the other”. This is not exactly a utopian vision of integration when diversity is present but instead symbolises the segregation that still exists in the characters minds and perspectives. Perhaps Forster is showing that education is what divides people. Forster himself commented on his visit to India, stating that “the sense of racial tension ….. never left me”, this is reflected well in the bridge party. Kate Symondson stated in her article that “ In answer to the question of whether an Englishman and an Indian can be friends, India replies – in her hundred, undefined voices – ‘No, not there,’ ‘not yet’”. This is shown towards the end of the novel where the Indian community demonstrate outrage towards the British, who wrongly accuse Aziz of rape, this is Forster’s way of showing how forced integration can be potentially problematic, as the “rape” resulted from the trip to the Caves, which came across as a very unnatural event which culminated from the even more forced Bridge Party. However the keywords in Symondson’s interpretation are “not yet”, suggesting that it is not set in stone that the two races are kept apart forever and whilst Indian people may find this hard to imagine due to the decades of colonisation, there was potential for change, which is what Forster is trying to put across.

It could be said that Forster explores how although integration can happen he is warning the reader against possible dangers when it is forced. His use of the natural imagery of the caves acts as a symbolism for what can happen when it is. This is due to the characters that have attempted to come together all being worse off as a result of visiting the caves, as Aziz ends up arrested, Mrs Moore ends up dying and Adela becomes bed stricken. The description of the caves suggests they are dangerous yet beautiful as “They are like nothing else in the world” and “There is something unspeakable in these outposts”, Forster then continues to describe the reflection of the flames on the polished inner surface of the caves, ‘another flame rises… the walls of the circular chamber have been most marvellously polished”. The flames are seen as fragile human interventions from the outside that briefly bring beauty but are doomed to extinction, from this we can apply this analogy to Forster’s opinion of the forced integration of the British and Indians, for example at the Bridge parties explored earlier, as he is saying that the British intervention in India does produce some beauty in India like the hordes of new infrastructure, but is eventually doomed to fail as it is unnatural. In terms of the structure of the book, this represents a crisis which the rest of the novel seeks to resolve, Forster does this to entice the reader and give the novel more substance, as it helps retain a common theme to the book by providing the reader with a case to follow without knowing what the outcome will be, this is very effective as Aziz’s freedom is in the balance. Following on from this, Chapter 17 acts as a mouthpiece for public opinion at the time, and highlights how lowly the British thought of some Indians, we can see this when Mr Mcbryde says “Quite possible… when an Indian goes bad he goes not only very bad but… queer”. This could highlight how integration is in face not possible whatever the class, as it shows that even when talking about people of a relatively similar class, some of the British in the book clearly have racial prejudices; this was picked up by the readers of the book when it was first published as it received worldwide condemnation due to how it perceived the English officials, stated by Symondson in “The Mystery and Muddle Of A Passage To India”, an article in connection with the British Library. Yet Forster does give challenging voices to this through Fielding’s attitude to the Aziz situation as it is one of compassion and objectivity, we can see this when he says he will have to “muddle ahead”, with reference to the future of the case and the coming months, this is a noble position, as he could quite easily wash his hands over the whole thing and be “loyal” to the English, as McBryde suggests. Fielding represents a more educated type of Briton, who is in India to regulate education and teach. The Fielding- Aziz relationship is one that vouches for the statement that class is a bigger divider than race in some cases, as Aziz and Fielding are both educated (Doctor and Teacher) and relatively upper-class men which allows them to put prejudice aside during most of the book. In comparison to this the immigrants in The Lonely Londoners are sold a dream before coming and unlike Forster’s use of caves, Selvon uses the imagery of sights in London to romanticize the dream that the immigrants have been sold when travelling to the UK, an example of these big dreams being portrayed is when Tanty says “But they say that it have more work in England”, the use of “they”, shows that a lot of the immigrants have based many of their dreams on what the government had fed them, in an attempt to entice them into coming. This idea is further explored when Selvon writes “he using the names of the places like they mean big romance, as if to say ‘I was in Oxford Street’ have more prestige than if he just say ‘I was up the road’”, this shows that some immigrants in this novel were still in awe of these landmarks and like in A Passage To India, this imagery leads to change in some of the major characters life, evident in The Lonely Londoners when Selvon writes when referring to Galahad going to Charing Cross “just to say he was going there made him feel big and important”, showing that these landmarks had a serious mental effect on the characters, to the extent that Galahad felt “like a new man”, Selvon would have done this to show that the only boundary between the immigrants in the book and full integration, are the people in that society, as the immigrants had no qualms with adapting to London life and at times actively embraced it. However, when some characters arrived in the UK this illusion is shattered. We can see this at the beginning of the book with the opening being ”one grim winter evening”. Selvon structures the novel to open like this to present us with the harsh reality of what many immigrants go through who are promised “streets paved with gold”, this contrasts with the British in India who are told to expect “queer behaviour” and “untrustworthy men”.

Forster takes the role of an omniscient narrator in A Passage To India and sets an objective tone to the novel this allows him to overview the scenarios in the novel, with an unbiased angle, most prominent during the court case a time where one would be most judgemental the narrator stays calm, collected and unbiased. This very divisive chapter sets Britons against Indians and creates division, Forster’s commentary on this is representative of the whole novel and allows us to enter minds as divided as those on both sides of the case. We can see this at the start of Chapter 24 when Forster writes “Adela after years of intellectualism, had resumed her morning kneel to Christianity… Just as the Hindu clerks asked Lakshmi for an increase in pay, so did she implore Jehovah for a favourable verdict. ”, this is a cultured commentary on both characters and it is Forster’s way of again showing that integration is possible, the use of “just as” places Adela and the clerk as equals, as Forster is showing how people of a different race, class and gender can actually have quite similar lines of thought, which would not have been common thought in the 1920s. On the other hand, the narration of The Lonely Londoners is slightly more inclusive and less objective, this is mainly due to the fact that it takes the form of Caribbean dialect and not the Queen’s English, like in A Passage To India, this can be seen throughout the novel, a prime example of this is Selvon’s consistent referral to acquaintances as “fellars”, “Mahal was a mad Indian fellar”. Selvon said he did this to provide an “authentic representation” according to “Form and Language in Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners”, of this particular subcultural group. One similarity to Forster’s, A Passage To India, is the very personal insightful look we get into main characters lives whose stories are related through the episodic structure of the narrative, and who combine to represent a collective subcultural community of black working-class immigrants in 1950s London. This is in many ways like Forster’s commentary on both communities in A Passage To India, yet even more personal as it is in the first person, as opposed to Forster’s third person commentary, shown when Selvon writes “Sir Galahad was a fellar like that”, this engaging tone allows us to feel even more connected to the characters in The Lonely Londoners and almost part of the community at times, the use of “like that”, suggests we are familiar with what being a “fellar like that” entails, furthering the idea of a new cultural movement in London. Selvon does not follow any Britons lives in the story which contrasts to A Passage To India, in order to promote the new Caribbean subculture in London, whilst showing that integration may not be possible, where we get an insight into the lives of both sides of the “divide”, this links to my statement as it reinforces the idea that class is a bigger factor to division than race, as the characters in The Lonely Londoners are portrayed as working class from the offset we can see this when Moses asks Galahad where his luggage is and is met with “What luggage? I ain’t have any”, this poverty is shared by all the characters and may explain why they do not integrate as well as say Fielding in A Passage to India, who travelled to India with the knowledge he would take up a good position. Race does play a part in making it difficult to integrate, however, the British are unwelcoming and are seen as superior. Prejudice exists throughout the whole thing and race is certainly a contributing factor, however, it also might suggest that if they were of a higher class in society they may have had more of a chance to integrate. Finally, another way in which Forster presents integration is through the use of repeated images, phrases and motifs. The Novel takes the form of a symphonic structure, with the three parts having distinct tones and structures. This repetitive nature of some motifs, images and phrases, in the midst of the different parts of the novel could be symbolic for people who even when placed somewhere new, can, in fact, fit in by being themselves. The echo motif from the Marabar Caves is first instigated in chapter 14, when Forster writes “For not only did the crush and the stench alarm her; there was also a terrifying echo”, this motif continues throughout the novel and is the basis of the rest of the novels proceedings, by leading to the court case which dominated the remaining chapters. The dangerous nature of the echo is discovered when the echo is said to have undermined “her hold on life”, this melodramatic terminology represents a line being crossed by the Britons, who at that point were overly keen to integrate and appreciate the culture, even when it may put them in danger. In addition to this towards the end of the novel, the caves become just another one of “the hundred voices in India”, showing they become less relevant after the court case and not so prominent, due to Adela, a victim of the echo, losing the case. Forster is also very repetitive when it comes to the repetition of animalistic imagery. We can see this when the image of the snake that proves to be a tree stump on the journey to the caves is taken up by the “coliling worms” of the Caves echoes, the Russell’s viper in the Government College and the “undying worm” of Mrs Moores disillusion. The repeating of this animalistic imagery helps to give the narrative a meaningful texture and density, developing and suggesting complex ideas, in a more artistic way then plainly stating them. For example, describing Mrs Moore’s mental state as a “undying worm”, reinforces the fact that the echoes inflicted long-lasting mental deformities on to Mrs Moores state and also helps to foreshadow her unfortunate death later on in the book, as it suggests she is hanging on to her life by the end of a thread, by the use of the word “undying”. In comparison to the Lonely Londoners, is much more free-flowing and less structured, as it doesn’t have any chapters and certainly no sections like in A Passage To India, this aides the novel with a free-flowing tone and gives the reader a more simple task when following the story. However, Selvon does use a repetitive technique when talking about the big sights in London, we can see this when Selvon writes about the big lights in “Piccadilly” and his friends house in “Kensington” later on, this can be compared to the constant repetition of the Marabar Hills, as they are clearly having an effect on the people witnessing them, awe inspiring at first and in the case of the caves detrimental later, much like the big sights in London where the novelty wears away towards the end of the novel. Overall, both texts’ repetitive nature, aided by the understanding of the books and allowed for more interesting stories, with recurring themes that are easy to follow.

In Conclusion, I believe that both novels warn against integration to an extent, bearing in mind they were written in the 20th century. However, A Passage To India presents us with a world where it is a lot more possible than in The Lonely Londoners. My original statement was “ Class is a bigger factor division than race”, after writing this piece, I still stand by this statement, as the Aziz and Fielding relationship, shows this, an inconspicuous friendship at times, that thrives for the most part of the novel, despite both communities despising each other for the most part of the novel. In the Lonely Londoners, the characters arrive expecting the worst of the English, who did not cover themselves in glory in this book, but the thought dominating the character’s mind more than anything was the idea of moving up the class system, or at least acquiring more capital, due to their humble circumstances. This set the English and the Caribbean’s apart from the get-go and created an us vs them atmosphere within the community. However, I believe the novels are not equally comparable when it comes to integration, as the Immigrants in The Lonely Londoners, have to put up with a lot more discrimination, than in A Passage To India, therefore making it harder for them to achieve total integration.


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