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Rape in 20th Century Literature

Rape in 20th Century Literature

Sadly enough, the view of women as property is one that still prevails in modern times.

Beginning again in biblical time rape was seen as a reward to the victors. Foreign women were kidnapped in times of war and the insult was against the defeated. Women were taken and became the property of the winners and in modern times rape continues to be used as an intentional tactic of terror. Sadly enough, the view of women as property is one that still prevails in modern times. The cultural message, i.e., that women’s sexuality is not her own continues in some of the best-loved literature of the 20th century. In E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924), set in India at the height of the British colonial era, racial tension underscores every aspect of life. When a British visitor, Adela Quested, comes to Chandrapore and then ventures out into the Indian country-side, she claims to have been “insulted” by, Dr. Aziz, an Indian native in one of the Marabar Caves. A trial ensues and the issue readily becomes one of racial hatred between the British and the colonials. Women’s honor must be defended but as a symbol of all that is most precious—not as the subjective possession of an actual woman. “They had started speaking of ‘women and children’—that phrase that exempts men from sanity when it has been repeated a few times. Each felt all that he loved best in the world was at stake, demanded revenge, and was filled with a not unpleasing glow, in which the chilly and half-known features of Miss Quested vanished, and were replaced by all that is sweetest and warmest in private life. (p.203)” Tensions at the trial ran high with the natives assuming for good reason that their colleague, Dr. Aziz, would inevitably be found guilty. The attitude of the prosecutor was, “Everyone knows the man’s guilty…” The defense attorney asked that the court room be cleared of Europeans so as not to intimidate native witnesses on behalf of the defendant. It was an all-out racial war.

When Miss Quested finally took the stand however she recanted. “I’m afraid I made a mistake,” she said. “Dr. Aziz never followed me into the cave.” Miss Quested had reversed her testimony and the courtroom erupted. “And then the flimsy framework of the court broke up, the shouts of derision and rage culminated, people screamed and cursed, kissed one another, wept passionately….Victory on this side, defeat on that…(p.257)” Miss Quested was now invisible. “They paid no attention to her. They shook hands over her shoulder, shouted through her body…p.257” The war and the victory were not about her as a person. It was entirely about the man who honored or insulted her sexuality and the society he represented.

Ellen Toronto, PhD is a clinical psychologist in Ann Arbor, MI. She co-authored A Womb of Her Own: Women’s Struggle for Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy available on Amazon. See additional information about Ellen and her practice on her website; to schedule an appointment email etoronto@umich.edu or call her at 734.761.5501.

This article was originally published at Psych Central. Reprinted with permission from the author.