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.