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The Moonstone Use Of Race English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1799 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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H. Rider Haggards novel She is a Victorian novel in which the author explores the themes of adventure and the unknown, or the “Other”. As the novel was published during the end of the nineteenth century, it mirrored the notions of degeneration and racial decline that the Victorians held during the time. To many Victorians, any types of racial hybridization lead to the collapse or decline of the pure white British race. Haggard develops the plot and themes of She using these racial notions that he, himself also supported. In contrast to Haggard’s novel, Wilkie Collins approaches these racial notions in a completely different way. Collins’ The Moonstone is a novel that challenges the Victorian outlook on racial degeneration by presenting anti-imperialistic thoughts and approaching the Indian culture in a positive way. Whereas Haggard draws on race to emphasize British superiority in his novel, Collins in a way, portrays the Indian race in a positive manner and criticizes the Victorian mindset on race.

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Haggard idealizes the British Empire’s supposed cultural and intellectual superiority during the nineteenth century. His personal beliefs and critical views on race issues are evident through the black and white binary present in She. It is the white British men who demonstrate the strength and courage needed for surviving the dangerous journeys in Africa, and because of their aptitude to endure and succeed, they become a symbol of the British Empire as a whole. Haggard’s only survivors of the journey end up being Horace Holly, Leo Vincey, and Job. By combining all the black Africans together into one group, he enables himself to freely draw on these racial comparisons to demonstrate and prove the British superiority he and the Victorians believed in. Holly describes an ancient statue, which shows what they believe all black Africans look like:

…shaped like a negro’s head and face, whereon was stamped a most fiendish and terrifying expression. There was no doubt about it; there were the thick lips, the fat cheeks, and the squat nose standing out with startling clearness against the flaming background….and, to complete the resemblance, there was a scrubby growth of weeds or lichen upon it…like the wool on a colossal negro’s head.

Haggard uses these descriptions to describe and create a look for savage-like black Africans. In the same way, prejudicial statements are made in the novel regarding black Africans having an inclination to be thieves: “I don’t like the looks of these black gentry; they have such a wonderful thievish way about them.”

However, She also contains a number of descriptions for what Haggard may have considered as a good African native. Good natives seem to be portrayed in the novel as black Africans who posses moral, white-British qualities. For example, Leo’s black companion, Ustane, “who by the way stuck to the young man like his own shadow,” is made known to be a courageous, loyal and faithful person. At one point she even risks her own life to save Leo from harm:

The girl Ustane had thrown herself on Leo’s prostrate form, covering his body with her body, and fastening her arms about his neck. They tried to drag her from him, but she twisted her legs round his, and hung on like a bulldog, or rather like a creeper to a tree, and they could not. Then they tried to stab him in the side without hurting her, but somehow she shielded him, and he was only wounded.

This uncommon attachment of noble qualities onto African characters allows Haggard to prove his belief of British cultural supremacy by demonstrating that the Africans are only racially dignified when they encompass “white” qualities. He does this so that he can get the Victorian reader to identify that there’s nothing more ideal about other races other than the attributes they gain from the British. Nevertheless, due to Haggard’s internal judgement and racial beliefs, the relationship between Leo and Ustane never flourishes as this would have gone against the idea of maintaining the purity of the white race. So, Haggard conveniently has Ustane killed by Ayesha when he felt the time was right to confirm her inevitable inferiority. Haggard continues to portray the supremacy of the whites throughout the novel. Even Ayesha (or “She”) is presented as a white individual who is superior to the Amahagger people who again, are “a curious mingling of races.”

Whereas Haggard idealizes the British Empire’s intellectual and cultural dominance, Collin’s portrayal of other races in his work The Moonstone sheds a less positive light on the British Empire and encourages readers to view things from a different perspective. Similar to She, The Moonstone is also a literary work published during the Victorian period. The novel illustrates the ruthless nature of the British Empire and shows sympathy and open-mindedness towards the Indians and their culture. It demonstrates Collins’ personal anti-imperialist thoughts and challenges the Victorian belief that the whites are a better race of people. Collins’ civil treatment of the Indians and their sacred inspiration behind the pursuit of the Moonstone is set side by side to the contempt exhibited by most English writers for other races during the century. By handling the Indians in this manner, Haggard is able to centre his analysis on the core social-mental corruption and pretence of the Victorian British Empire.

Collins’ anti-imperial attitude is reflected through the representation of his characters. Herncastle and Godfrey can be seen as the symbol for the white British Empire and are clearly portrayed as wicked people in the novel. To contrast these characters, there are many other characters and characteristics that are completely foreign. Clearly the Indian Brahmins and their mission after the moonstone are foreign to the average Victorian. However, Franklin Blake is also a noteworthy mixture of different European qualities. “As an Italian-Englishman, …German-Englishman, and…French-Englishman”, he is shown to be someone with the potential to utilize and accept various mannerisms and realities: “But then I am an imaginative man and the butcher, the baker, and the tax-gatherer, are not the only credible realities in existence to my mind.” This openness to embrace different things may explain his liking towards Ezra Jennings.

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The reader’s sympathy is stirred up for those colonized people such as the Indian Brahmins and the marginalized people in England such as Jennings and Rosanna Spearman., Even though they are the characters who embrace the position of the marginalized “Other” in the novel, they are also the one depicted as the good people by Collins. Jennings is described as:

…the most remarkable-looking man…His complexion was of a gipsy darkness;…His nose presented the fine shape and modelling so often found among the ancient people of the East, so seldom visible among the newer races of the West…. From this strange face, eyes, stranger still, of the softest brown… Add to this a quantity of thick closely-curling hair, which, by some freak of Nature, had lost its colour in the most startlingly partial and capricious manner. Over the top of his head it was still of the deep black which was its natural colour…. I looked at the man with a curiosity which, I am ashamed to say… His soft brown eyes looked back at me gently; and he met my involuntary rudeness in staring at him, with an apology which I was conscious that I had not deserved.

It is apparent that Jennings is connected to the East in different ways. He is of mixed race, and he uses a well thought-out administration of opium, the typical medicine of the East during that time, to help solve the mystery of the novel. Not one of the “superior” British characters is able to explain the theft of the moonstone until final solution is accomplished by Jennings, an outsider in the English culture.

Spearman is shown to be very trustworthy, although she is a servant and also considered an inferior “Other”. While there is so much evidence for her committing the theft of the moonstone, the mistress in adamant about her innocence: “My mistress dwelt strongly on Rosanna’s good conduct in her service, and on the high opinion entertained of her by the matron at the reformatory. ‘You don’t suspect her, I hope?’ my lady added, in conclusion, very earnestly.” This example goes against the idea that the inferior are always to blame for mishaps in the Victorian culture.

During the nineteenth century, the British imperial movement in India was likely to be backed up by Victorians as being an enlightening undertaking, where good English values were brought to the Indian culture. However, The Moonstone proposes that the Hindu culture may certainly be more moral than the colonizers would ever understand or admit to. They place their value in spiritual things and live moral lives according to their sacred religion. Whereas in England the moonstone is valued simply in terms of its commercial worth, in India its value and significance rests exclusively in its sacredness to the culture. While Gabriel Betteredge sees the “quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian Diamond-bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues, set loose…by the vengeance of a dead man,” Collins draws out plainly that the invasion is the outcome of the predatory British violation of India and its cultural and religious belief system. This is illustrated by contrasting the devotion and harmony of the Indian Brahmins who enter England to the gory scene that illustrates the British men’s aggressive entry into Indian and their theft of the moonstone.

In conclusion, a stark contrast can be seen between the way Haggard and Collins treat the issues of race and British superiority in their novels. Whereas Haggard’s belief in the white-British superiority makes black African races in the novel inferior to their culture and way of thinking, Collins’ approach to the Indian race opens the eyes of Victorian readers to the values and moral qualities of the Indian culture, and stirs up sympathy for the culture. He makes readers realize that the British Empire is not as superior as it seems and is actually full of double standards. He opens up the closed mindset Victorians had regarding the world outside of the country in which they live and believe so highly in.


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