Don’t Trust Betteredge

I cannot help but struggle with the narration of this novel. After reading Jane Eyre and the various post-colonialist critiques, I struggle with accepting and moreover trusting Betteredge’s narration of the story. As Betteredge is the head male servant to the Verinders, his judgmental commentary of the Indian men sent to retrieve the moonstone is anything but just. As he is a white lower class male, his narration of the Indian men who must disguise themselves in lower class attire in their attempt to re-obtain the moonstone. All of this is backwards and flipped on its head, as Betteredge can only move upwards, and really has no authority to be speaking or commenting on the Indian men. Moreover, Betteredge’s bias towards the white people he is surrounded by makes him an unreliable narrator. For him to claim the moonstone as the property of the white upper class, when it is a stolen piece of property from the Indian upper class screams of bias. With arguments like that of O’Conner and Spivak, accepting the narration of Betteredge would be accepting the underlying racism. Whereas with Jane Eyre the criticism focuses on the language surrounding Bertha Mason, the imperialist leanings in The Moonstone are not solely in the language, but the overall attitude regarding the Indian culture that these characters choose to remain ignorant about. Thus, the loss of the moonstone remains almost like a work of karma, yet as it was again stolen perhaps it is more an indication of the greed and entitlement of white colonists that Collins is commenting on. Whether it is Colllins’ ignorance which is the driving force behind Betteredge’s bias, or instead a way of Collins to critique the outlook of 19th Century imperialist thinking remains to be seen. Neverthless, Betteredge’s narration is biased, and accepting his word is accepting the racist undertones.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Trust Betteredge”

  1. I see the connection between the biases of race throughout both Jane Eyre and The Moonstone. I also noticed that both novels use language to describe imperialistic views. The language is very easy to skip over. For example, in Jane Eyre the word gibberish described the post colonial views and the discrimination of Bertha. In The Moonstone, the author uses “jabbered” to give the idea that what the Indians were saying wasn’t important/intelligent.

  2. I absolutely agree with your idea that Betteredge is likely an unreliable narrator because of his gender, class, and nationality (and potentially his religion and relation to the central family of the novel). However, the core of your argument seems to come at the end of your post. Does Betteredge’s section reflect the ignorance/feelings of superiority of the time period/author or is it a critique of 19th century imperialist thinking? I think there’s a lot to be parsed out in that question if you wanted to dig into it.

  3. I thought these were interesting points – since we began reading the novel, I haven’t been a huge fan of Betteredge either, especially as a narrator (particularly because he uses his Christianity or status as a white male to sway the reader into following his clearly biased narration). I thought it was interesting when you noted that Betteredge is so desperate to protect the white upper class when he’s not even a part of it; obviously, we can assert from the readings that he wants to move upward, but I think it would make for a more expansive argument if you were to go into why he wants to defend them, and side from mobility, what could his motives be? Also, I can see what connection you’re trying to make with Jane Eyre and race (reading Jane Eyre through racist undertones in The Moonstone) but I think the argument about how they are related could use a bit more substance.

  4. This is a really interesting commentary on Betteredge and how the attitudes and behaviors of the narrator can completely turn a story on its head. It also happens to be something I *totally* agree with. It definitely also has some cultural impact on today’s world, where racism and the use/regulation of hurtful language are obviously hotly debated topics. It’s definitely important to take pretty much everything Betteredge says with a grain of salt, because even without the racism he’s an unreliable narrator in general, but what happens if we do what you suggested and read Betteredge not as a reflection of popular societal views, but as Collins offering a critique on imperialist thinking? How does the story change if we do that? Does it start to expand outwards into a critique on high society as a whole, or does it delve even further into the idea of satirized racism in literature? In a day and age where satire and reality are kind of starting to become indistinguishable, I think it’s important that we try to read Betteredge as a satirical critique on society’s imperialist views, so that we can start to understand the “So What” of the story as a whole.

  5. Thank you for sharing, Bella. I see a connection between your post and Emily’s post “Unconventional Narration: It Runs in the Family.”

    In both of your posts, you highlight particular characters, and then put these characters into conversation with narrative styles. After, you situate narration to the novel as a whole, asking if the narrator is actually reliable. When working with a narratively complex work such as The Moonstone, I think that is a great question to ask.

    I’m interested in the way you relate questions about reliable narration to issues of class, race, and gender (something I had not thought prior). Additionally, I’m interested in the connection to imperialism, something that you highlight. If Betteredge’s thoughts here are marked by British imperialistic notions, how can we apply that to the other English characters as well? O’Connor would most likely argue that it is unreliable to point out a single character and use him/her as an example for a non-literary process indicative of the novel, such as imperialism or nation-building. In other words, can we look at other English characters and understand their thoughts as racist, or more particularly here, imperialist?

  6. I think you ask some good questions here! While reading Betteredge’s part in “The Moonstone” I was entertained by him. I felt him very pleasant and always trying to be positive. I was not oblivious to his classism, racism or sexism but I think I could pass over it because it was not the main focus of the story. You are right, however. One must read Betteredge with his character in mind, particularly his classism, racism and sexism. Some questions you could use to expand your post; how does the view other character’s have of Betteredge and his character reflect on their views of sexism, classism, etc? What use, if any, does Betteredge’s faults serve to the themes of the novel? How does his “Christianity” play into this? and how is that different or similar to Miss. Clack’s?

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