The sexuality of colonial dominance

I once read that the native woman of a colonized state is rendered twice displaced; sexuality itself being a mark of Otherness. Stoler’s article was an interesting insight to the condition and the colonial experience of the European woman, who Stoler claims does not escape imperial control, especially having neglect the perspective of European female “Other” in our study of the texts. Reading the article, I cannot help but be recall the dynamics of sexual and social order posited in Forster’s A Passage to India. I’d therefore like to revisit the text in application to Stoler’s argument.

In A Passage to India, sexuality is embedded into the text in negotiation of social dominance. Stoler suggests that racial anxiety is expressed through sexuality. If so, could it also be suggested that racial anxiety is repressed through repressed sexuality? Adela figures as a kind of asexual female character, lacking the sensuality of a woman, as Aziz is quick to note. Her relationship with Ronny, both of whom are engaged to be married, is awkward, to say the least, and there hardly appears to be any sexual tension between them. Repressed sexuality then culminates to an animalistic thrill merely upon the brushing of hands. “Her hand touched his, owing to a jolt, and one of the trills so frequent in the animal kingdom passed between them and announced that their difficulties were only a lover’s quarrel” (Chapter 8). I’d argue that Ronny does not so much repress his sexuality then displace it onto his social dominance of the natives, accounting then for Adela’s ability to maintain a (veneer of) friendship with Aziz as an epitome of (hypocritical) hospitality and kindness between Indians and the British. It seems that inter racial relations are only successful in the absence of sexuality. In fact, Aziz manages to develop a casual platonic friendship with one of the main female characters, Adela, because he finds her not only sexually unattractive but even plain and ugly. On the other hand, Ronny, who is constantly aware of his need to exert sexual and social superiority over his mother, Adela, as well as the natives, struggles to keep his interaction with them on a level of civility. This displacement of sexuality onto the ruling of the native colony and policing of the European women brought into the colonized state could explain Ronny’s metaphorical sterility in his romantic relationship with Adela.

The colonial politics of exclusion in the literary world of Forster’s novel does indeed impose restrictions of the European women such that they do not participate equally in the prejudices and pleasures of colonial dominance. Stoler posits that “European women often appear in male colonial writings only as a reverse image – fulfilling not sexual but other power fantasies of European men” (44). And indeed upon Adela’s sexual awakening at the episode at the cave, she is effectively silenced by the European men who take on the role of policing sexual control. At the club, the European women parrot the views and condemnations of the natives as voiced by their husbands in their idle gossip and in the courtroom serve superficial function by insisting on sitting on chairs on a platform to give the illusion of power.