Power, Justice, and Colonialism in “The Moonstone”

In The Moonstone, the titular stone’s origins are in India, where it is described as an object of great spiritual and monetary value. After the moonstone is violently stolen by Herncastle, it almost immediately brings paranoia and misfortune to anyone who possesses it. After it is gifted to Herncastle’s niece Rachel Veridner, three mysterious Indian jugglers start appearing in their town, even coming to their house the night the stone is stolen. Despite evidence that absolves the Indians from prosecution, the Veridner family has the societal power to arrest them anyway. Betteredge narrates, “when the police came to investigate the matter… he would contrive, by committing them as rogues and vagabonds, to keep them at our disposal, under lock and key, for a week. They had ignorantly done something (I forget what) in the town, which barely brought them within the operation of the law” (Collins 82).

This passage reveals the power dynamics related to policing in the novel. The adjectives “rouges and vagabonds” do not imply criminality necessarily, but rather that the jugglers are untrustworthy and suspicious. Their ‘crimes’ have “barely” brought them into custody, and are so trivial that Betteridge cannot even remember them, but the Veridners’ influence allows them to utilize this to arrest them. Betteridge’s language places him and the Veridners above the Indians; by describing them “at [the Veridners] disposal, under lock and key,” the Indians are completely dehumanized. The jugglers are at their disposal, revealing the Veridners’ absolute power over their fates. 

When Betteridge states that “every human institution (justice included) will stretch a little, if you only pull it the right way” further emphasizes the power dynamics at play (Collins 82). The “you” in this statement is ultimately referring to upper class, white English individuals. Betteridge assumes the reader is part of this privileged group. The Veridners’ influence allows them to treat concepts like justice as malleable to their own interests, ultimately revealing the corruption of policing. 

The language utilized to describe the Indian jugglers is related to colonialism. India is portrayed as a threatening ‘other,’ associated with unknown magical powers. The Veridners have almost absolute societal power over the Indians due to their higher class, race, and nationality, reflecting England’s colonization of India. Their suspicion and fear of the Indians is, while not completely unreasonable, ultimately based in colonialist attitudes. They are able to wield their social influence to legitimize their baseless allegations. This portrays the police as not an ultimate moral authority, but a force swayed by who is in power. While the beginning of the novel is just beginning to explore these themes, I am curious to see how colonialist views of Indians and police corruption will influence the novel. 

3 thoughts on “Power, Justice, and Colonialism in “The Moonstone””

  1. Contrasting the policing efforts in The Moonstone with those in Oliver Twist, one would be surprised to note that while class, race and nationality seem to have impact and influence in the former, they don’t in the latter. Mr. Brownlow, clearly of a higher class and race has little effect in influencing the magistrate on behalf of Oliver and in fact is treated with contempt. While trying to explain what occurred, he is interrupted by the magistrate with “You’re an insolent, impertinent fellow. How dare you bully a magistrate.” The punishment in both, however, appears consistent. Imprisonment for a “trivial” charge.

  2. Lily, this is a great analysis. You prove your point well. My main takeaway: the Verinder family abuses their social power and wealth to paint an image of the Indian jugglers are criminals and have them arrested. My favorite quote you used: “every human institution (justice included) will stretch a little, if you only pull it the right way” further emphasizes the power dynamics at play (Collins 82). It’s an interesting, frustrating, and unfair “he said-they said” situation where the Hindu Brahmins are suspicious and unreliable in comparison to the wealthy Europeans, who criminalized these brown bodies to fit the narrative that they have the privilege to manipulate and maintain.

    I know this happens today in the United States, with politicians and news anchorpeople and celebrities using their platforms to be 1) political, but in an abusive way, or 2) distracting the public with diluted/mis-information and provided the kinds of distractions that keep people complacent or worried about the “wrong things.” Today I saw some posts by Kim Kardashian for her 40th birthday. I’m still livid.

    Great effort. Keep at it!

  3. The functions of policing in this novel are definitely ruled by largely-unspoken social expectations. This is on display in the passage you’ve pulled, and it’s also present in the more subtle manipulations of Sergeant Cuff, who only adheres on the surface to the corruption which gives near-immunity to those who are a part of higher social classes. He tells Lady Verinder that he will “tell them [the servants] I am going to examine the wardrobes of everybody– from her ladyship downwards– who slept in the house…” (Collins 118). If repetition covers what is hidden, we know that Cuff is invested in the search through the family’s belongings– he insists multiple times in a single page that “it’s a mere formality” and that he’s “sorry to put you to any inconvenience…for a mere formality” (Collins 118).
    He later tells Lady Verinder that “the usual course of taking people in custody on suspicion, going before the magistrate, and all of the rest of it– nothing of the sort was to be thought of, when your ladyship’s daughter was (as I believed) at the bottom of the whole business” (Collins 175). He’s aware of the delicate position that his job as an officer puts him in when dealing with high-ranking people who have committed crimes (he mentions this delicacy to Gabriel) and cloaks his earnest investigation in the necessary social forms– it’s the only way for the case to be solved, if he needs to rely on witnesses and suspects who believe wholeheartedly in their own immunity.

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