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Novels by Conrad and Forster Comparison Essay

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2021


Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902) and A Passage to India by Edward Morgan Forster (1924) are two novels that narrate the story of British people in Africa and India in the early 1920s. Though both novels disclose the similar theme of British colonial ambition and the way they influenced the main characters’ destiny, the two works differ in many aspects. The current paper is aimed at comparison of the works through three perspectives: the symbolism of the titles of the two novels, the way colonialism and racism are represented by the authors, and the way the main characters resemble and differ from each other.

Main body

Starting with the titles of the novels I should say that British colonialism is represented symbolically by them. The titles of the two works reveal feelings and attitudes. As for the Heart of Darkness, Africa was known as the Dark Continent and the title suggests the onward journey into the darkness of the continent where there is very little difference between good and evil, between light and dark, and between correct and incorrect. Also, the title stands to represent the darkness of the heart of the British people who were actually savages at heart under their fine clothes. Their instincts of dark behavior, a repressed desire to kill, and savagery as a whole come out when no one observes and censures them.

The title of the Passage to India, on the other hand, reveals the torments and tribulations that the characters undergo in the brief time that they are together in India. Adella, one of the characters wanted to meet native Indians and sample the local places while Aziz wanted to meet and make friends with the British. Both had visions of grandeur, adventure, and, perhaps, romance but the passage of events provided them with bitter experiences. Adella has undergone a transformation after the incidents in the cave and Aziz has changed after he was subjected to false accusations of molestations. Hence, The Passage to India is more of a reflection of how events influenced different characters in the story.

Another aspect the two novels can be compared through is the way British colonialism and the problem of racism were represented by the authors. According to Conrad’s novel, the British believed that the native Africans were sinister and evil and it was the only force that subdued them. Consequently, the British people supposed that they had a divine right to use floggings and beatings to instill respect in the Africans. The novel depicts how one of the shipping clerks has been offended by the behavior of an old African native after which he starts beating the poor fellow: “Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck.” (Conrad 134) What strikes most of all is that the crowd keeps watching passively, everyone fears to intervene. The reason is that a white man is regarded as invincible here and no one dares to break his superiority.

The cruelty of the British is revealed through Kurt’s behavior. He has taken over a village and has forced the villagers, many of them cannibals, to go headhunting than he has placed severed heads on the fence of his house as ornaments. This was his way to warn off other offenders. The following paragraph reveals the extent of cruelty displayed by him:

…black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids — a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber (Conrad 190).

Speaking of the second novel under analysis I should say that Indians fared much better off. The British regarded the Indians with suspicion and the diversity of the Indians puzzled them. Forrester suggests that it was a question of cultures and deep reservations between the White man with his hypocrisy and the Indians with their diffident manner. The westerners could never understand the psychology of the Indians since an open and free conversation rarely happened and it was a servant master relation:

Suspicion in the Oriental is a sort of malignant tumor, a mental malady, that makes him self-conscious and unfriendly suddenly; he trusts and mistrusts at the same time in a way the Westerner can not comprehend. It is his demon, as the Westerner’s is hypocrisy. (Forster 124)

The Indians did their best to be friendly with the British. They even attempted to dress according to western fashion, often making fools of themselves. The British had a deep disdain and seemed to regard everything Indian as something that could be criticized as shown in the following passage:

So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, welling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life. (Forster 145)

As far as the problem of racism is concerned, in the Heart of Darkness, the words Nigger and Negro are commonly used to imply that the Africans were worthless citizens who had to be treated like animals. One should take into account that the novel was actually written in 1902 when the word commonly referred to Black people. The Africans served as mere objects and prop devices for Marlow and Kurt, to be used and discarded as they wanted.

In the Passage to India, native Indians are called muddles who fit for scorn only. Here is the paragraph from the book that reveals the problem:

“Why, the kindest thing one can do to a native is to let him die,” said Mrs. Callendar.

“How if he went to heaven?” asked Mrs. Moore, with a gentle but crooked smile.

“He can go where he likes as long as he doesn’t come near me. They give me the creeps.” (Forster 62)

When I compare the main characters of the two novels I observe the following. Dr. Aziz, the main character of Passage to India is a proud, charming, and emotional Indian doctor. He is a true representative of Oriental people who are more concerned with feelings and emotions than intellect. The author characterizes him in such a way:

Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, but he had forgotten his back-collar stud, and there you have the Indian all over; inattention to detail, the fundamental slackness that reveals the race. (Forster 78)

… he [Aziz] himself was rooted in society and Islam. He belonged to a tradition, which bound him, and he had brought children into the world, the society of the future. Though he lived so vaguely in this flimsy bungalow, nevertheless he was placed, placed. (Forster 110)

At the beginning of the novel, Aziz seems to be able to bridge the gap between East and West. But as far as the story goes his trial experiences show that Indians and English can never be true friends until India is under British rule.

Considering Conrad’s main character Marlow I see that he also appears to be “contaminated” by his experiences. Though he does not die he suffers horribly. Because of his experiences, he becomes weary, skeptical, and cynical. Thus, I conclude that in both works under consideration the protagonists’ characters were shaped by the life situations in which they occurred.

There is one more pair of characters who can be compared. It is Kurtz from the Heart of Darkness and Mrs. Moore from the Passage to India. They seem to be absolutely different. Whereas Kurtz stands to represent amorality and evil in the novel, Mrs. Moore personifies the religious theme of the novel, she is a symbol of spirit and universal love here. What unites the characters is their importance to the stories told. Kurtz becomes a site on which other things in the novel can be projected and Mrs. Moore even after her death remains important for the development of the novel. Especially it is true when it comes to trial matters.


Two novels considered I can say that though both of them focus on the problem of British colonialism and racism, while Conrad’s work reveals the British bestiality at its worst as practiced on the hapless Africans, the novel by Forster shows the devious means by which the British attempted to dominate and rule over the native Indians. Though the problem stated above is investigated through different perspectives by the authors, both works admit the anti-human character of British colonialism at the beginning of the XX century. The authors’ wonderful attempts to attract everyone’s attention to the problem contributed to the disruption of colonialism and racism and to the works’ unfading power that they possess.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. W. W. Norton, 2005.

Forrester, Edward Morgan. A Passage to India. Penguin Books Ltd, 1998.

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