In Philippa Levine’s “Britain in India”, India is shown to be significant to the British identity not only for economic reasons but more importantly how they see themselves as a Western power. Although it is often thought that the heart of empire exists where the colonizer’s homeland is, in this case the heart of the empire truly exists on the fringes and that is where the colonizers encounter the colonized.
The India which the British see when they are in Britain is not the “real India” as a character in Passage to India desires to see, but rather a projection of whom they would like to think themselves to be. India is more than a physical space but is more importantly an imagined space for the fiction of British superiority to be mapped upon. The notion of Western civilisation is itself a vulnerable and fragile construct, which may be shattered by a head on confrontation with reality. Perhaps this is why when characters from Britain come to India, they find themselves transformed from socially polite and reasonable beings into ‘brutish’ tyrants.
When the British come face to face with the Indian, the illusion of India and its subsequent ties to the British identity is broken and the British is left unable to cope with it except by reinforcing the broken illusion of colonizers’ superiority by creating a whole new artificial construct of social segregation. It is at the fringes of the empire, where the heart of the colonial enterprise may be exposed– an artificially enforced view of British superiority that often exists to exploit in the name of civilising the savage native.