Discuss ways in which representations of non English characters are used to define Englishness in any two or three texts.
Before I begin a discussion on representation of Englishness I think it is important to define what Englishness means in the context of the literary work I intend to use for my discussion. The term Englishness implies many things ranging from notions of nationality, race to class, and a way of life. For the purpose of this essay I will explore the kind of Englishness which is associated with a late Victorian notion of masculinity, Empire, adventure and Englishness in British colonies. In The making of English National Identity Krishnan Kumar traces the history of Englishness; Kumar suggests that ‘English self consciousnesses’ began to emerge when foreign commercial enterprises began to threaten English supremacy in the early 1800s ( p.224, 2003). In this essay I will look at ways in which Englishness is defined by the way non English characters are represented in Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and E. M. Forster’s A passage to India.
A passage to India was published twenty nine years after King Solomon’s Mines but there are many similarities in the two texts. Both novels are set in British colonies where the presence of the English characters amongst the natives is presented in ways which represents a kind of Englishness specific to that historical period. The natives in King Solomon’s Mines are represented as highly superstitious people who are easily frightened and manipulated by the rational and more logical English characters. Before embarking of their journey Quatermain exploits the superstitious nature of a native to safeguard his weapons. He warns the native that he will kill him ‘and all his people by witchcraft’ (p 63). The superstitious nature of the natives is used fully to the advantage of the Englishmen throughout the novel. Captain Good’s false set of teeth, his half shaved face and his eye glass save the lives of the white men and Umbopa when they first come across the people of Kukuanaland. The natives’ ignorance of machine guns and European advancements such as an eye glass and the false set of teeth lead the natives to believe that the White men are in fact not from this world. This kind of manipulation sets a clear apposition between the Englishmen and the natives.
The Englishmen are represented to be rational, logical and generally more superior to the natives. These brief examples I have described show that rationality and logic (as apposed to superstition) are distinguished components of Englishness. These qualities are also associated with whiteness, especially in Africa. In both these novels there are clear binary oppositions which can be simplified into two groups; Masculinity and rationality associated with Englishness and Femininity and irrationality associated with the Africans and Indians. King Solomon’s Mines shows that the inhabitants of Africa seem to lack these qualities with the exception of Umbopa which I will discuss later.