Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Anne R. Zahlan


In my thesis I examine how language, particularly the English language, participated in the Raj, as depicted thematically in Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901), E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924), and Paul Scott'sThe Raj Quartet (1966-1975): The Jewel in the Crown (1966), The Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971), and A Division of the Spoils (1975). I show that all three authors portray language as central to British colonialism in India; the connection between the English language and the Empire grows increasingly problematic as the linguistic situation becomes a metaphor for the state of the doomed Raj.

In the section analyzing Kipling's Kim, I argue that language functions as a vital, yet limited colonial tool used by what I call Kipling's wise British administrator in preserving the empire. The text connects the English language with order, rationality, and military efficiency while in Kim the Oriental languages facilitate relational and spiritual pursuits. As Kipling's wise administrator must intimately know and be responsible for the Indian people, both sets of languages complement each other and are needed for effective management of the realm. British characters, however, are depicted as linguistically superior to Indians in acquiring languages, an ability that Kim uses to justify imperialism in India. Indian characters, in contrast, fail to acquire fluency in English and thus lack the rationality and order that Kipling depicts as necessary for self-government. I further argue that in Kim Kipling uses linguistic relations didactically to present his utopian vision of how the empire ought to governed. The text also provides negative examples to illustrate that British imperialists should not be scornfully ignorant of India's people, cultures, and languages. I posit that Kipling not only perceived threats to the Raj, but wrote Kim as a warning to a linguistically snobbish Britain.

In the section discussing E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, I argue that the English language catalyzes the novel's cultural and personal conflicts. Both Indians and Britons reveal very different methods of interpreting and employing language. British characters use language to discover truth and to order reality, an enterprise that proves to be nearly impossible in Forster's India. In contrast, Indian characters often employ language in what Forster's narrative voice describes as "truth of mood," using words that enhance a situation's aura but may or may not be intended literally. Members of each group frequently misinterpret the speech of members of the other group; this miscommunication leads to the most tragic conflict of the novel, the Marabar Caves incident. The novel suggests that only through mutual affection can miscommunication be avoided or kept at a minimum. Although Forster's narrative voice appears often sympathetic to the Indians' plight, I further argue that it distances itself from both Indian and British groups.

In the third section I argue that Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet uses the English language thematically to expose the illusions and lamentable failures of the Raj. By depicting the persecution of Scott's Hari Kumar, an Indian raised to speak and think as a Briton, the text reveals that the Empire rests not on objective truths, but rather on illusions. Language in general and English in particular are exposed as culturally based and culturally subjective; English, therefore, fails to be the common, uniting language for multi-tongued India. Further, historical accounts of the dying Raj are presented as subjective and fragmented, yet characters persistently write such accounts in an effort to bring order to the turbulent period. I additionally argue that Scott's Raj Quartet inverts Kipling's Kim and exposes the myth of the colonial Bildungsroman. Scott distorts Kipling's wise, linguistically diverse British administrator into the sadistic, oppressive Merrick who employs language as a torture device. In this context, many characters sympathetic to the Indians' plight abandon language altogether--especially English, with its cultural and political baggage--and adopt silence. Other sympathetic characters pursue linguistic expression, but do so more privately, seeking order and understanding of the Raj's chaotic wreckage.

Because these novels of Kipling, Forster, and Scott reveal a respect for India, her peoples, and her cultures--each expressed in its own way--never do they advocate the complete domination of the English language over the Indian tongues. Even Kipling's Kim limits English's domain, supports the Indian peoples' retention of their own languages, and even advocates linguistic diversity among Britons. Forster and Scott more pessimistically depict problems encountered when a language is transplanted into a country whose forms challenge the Western mind. Yet all three authors implicate the English language to share blame for the Raj's troubles and, ultimately, its failure.