Reading ‘A Passage to India’ in light of ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone De Beauvoir
‘The Second Sex’ by Simone De Beauvoir is an essay talking about the position of women as ‘the other’. Simone primarily asks “What is a woman?” She mentions that ‘man’ represents both the positive and the neutral while ‘woman’ represents only the negative. ‘Man’ is commonly used to designate human beings in general but ‘woman’ is just defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. Simone cites that it has been taken for granted that a man is in the right in being a man and it is the woman who is in the wrong. Aristotle depicted the female nature as natural defectiveness and St. Thomas pronounced woman to be an “imperfect man”. In this point of view, Simone insists “she is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute-she is the Other.”
Simone also finds reasons why women are regarded as ‘the other’. Simone indicates that one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman. This means that women’s low position is not due to female’s biological nature and a gender is an identity constituted in time. Simone says that patriarchal society put women into the position as ‘the other’. History, myths and experience are stated as means of making women as a second sex. At the same time, Simone points out that women who are satisfied with a role as an object and never require to be a subject are also responsible for their position as an object, not a subject. According to Simone, “it is an easy road; on it one avoids the strain involved in undertaking an authentic existence[…]Thus, woman may fail to lay claim to the status of subject[…]because she feels the necessary bond that ties her to man regardless of reciprocity and because she is often very well pleased with her role as the Other.”
The points made in the essay of Simone are effective and useful to understand the concept of gender represented in “A Passage to India”, a novel by E. M Forster. “A Passage to India” is a good example of a literature which depicts women as ‘the other’ while this novel firstly seems to treat female characters very significantly for the plot. It’s true that this story is mainly about two women’s visit to India and the happening after their arrival. Main events of the novel are also about two women’s trip to mysterious cave and a trial after the trip. However, when the text is examined thoroughly, it turns out to regard women as nothing more than a medium of exchange between the men. And also, female characters show passive action upgrading their social position. Actually they seem not to recognize themselves being subordinate to men.
The first characteristic of women as ‘the other’ depicted in the novel is ‘being inferior’. At the very beginning, Indian males talk about whether they can be friends with an Englishman, and they conclude that they can never be friends in India as English people will change at last. At this part, a man says “I give any Englishman two years and I give any Englishwomen six months.” This implies that women are more likely to change compared to men. Also, in chapter 2, Aziz jumps to hasty conclusion that an Englishwoman is entering a mosque with her shoes. After finding her without shoes, he excuses that so few ladies take the trouble. In chapter 7, Ronny asks Fielding to stay with Mrs Moore so that she doesn’t stay with Indians alone. This order shows not only hostility towards Indians but also attitude regarding a woman so fragile that she is unable to protect herself. Ronny even hires a person to go along the trip to keep an eye on women. These examples expose how male characters find women being inferior.
Male characters of the novel also regard a woman as a sexual subordinate. Especially, Aziz shows strong obsession with woman’s beauty. In chapter 7, Aziz meets Adela for the first time, but he