Orientalism Displayed in the Characterization of Gandhi

At the foundation of Orientalism is a binary division between what is considered to be oriental, in comparison to what is inherently not. Like other measures of stereotypes, it consists of the belief of “us vs. them.” Though this division is merely a societal construct, it’s so heavily rooted within culture that even men of the highest accord operate within it’s belief system–men even as great as Mahatma Gandhi.

“I tried to live like an Indian, as you see,” he says to his visitors after he travels back to India to seek refuge. (1:00:34). It becomes apparent in this point in the film, though this is occurring throughout the entire character arc portrayed by Ben Kingsley, that Gandhi can be viewed as representational of the very divide that is considered to be East-West. In essence, Gandhi walks the line between the two, making him a powerful figure of political change. In the earliest parts of the film, we see him living his life very western: wearing business suits, neatly styling his hair, presenting himself as a man of law, traveling by train, sitting first class, etc. From this point of the film onward, however, Gandhi himself is aware that, if he wants to revolutionize a nation, he must change. “If I want to be one with them, I have to live like them” (1:09:25), spoken to his friend as he sits in a jail cell. Gandhi presents a distinct acuity to this cultural divide between colonialist England and his homeland; and for people to truly follow him he must present himself as an Indian. From this point forward we see him taking steps to do so: wearing handmade clothing, shaving his head, traveling by foot, etc.

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