Playing the English Gentleman by Mahatma Gandhi
In Playing the English Gentleman by Mahatma Gandhi we have the theme of identity, acceptance, change, perception and tradition. Taken from his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth the reader realises after reading the essay that Gandhi may be exploring the theme of identity. There is a sense that Gandhi while a student in England wishes to fit in with his peers even though he may live a lifestyle that would be deemed unfamiliar to an English gentleman (being a vegetarian for example). Regardless of this Gandhi does go some way in order to give off the appearance of an English gentleman. Going as far as getting dancing lessons, changing his attire, learning the violin and getting elocution lessons. All of which Gandhi hopes will help him to fit in with his surroundings and be accepted by others. However there does come a point when Gandhi realises that he is living a lie and that he is not only fooling himself but also denying his tradition or the fact that he is an Indian and not an Englishman.
What is also interesting about the essay is the fact that the reader is left with a sense that Gandhi may be feeling insecure within himself. Unable to accept who he is and as such decides to change his very fabric in order to fit in with his peers. In reality it is up to others to accept Gandhi as he is and not the other way around. Gandhi’s peers have an obligation to accept him as he is. Though this may not necessarily be how matters are perceived by others. Many might believe that in order to be accepted as a peer, which Gandhi wants to be, one must change their life to how the majority live theirs. The insecurity that Gandhi may feel as a student is not to be confused with a deeper insecurity often found and developed in a person since youth. Gandhi simply wants to fit in while living in England. It doesn’t appear as though he is intent on living his life while back in India as an Englishman. Though some critics might think differently suggesting that Gandhi’s insecurities are deeply rooted and he is embarrassed by his appearance when compared to the average Englishman. If this is the case then the fact that Gandhi decides against change suggests that he realises he is attempting to be something he is not. And as such Gandhi is comfortable with his identity.
However the fact that Gandhi can have concerns about his identity is important as it suggests that Gandhi may have internal doubts about who he is. Though it might be important to again remember that Gandhi overcomes these doubts are rediscovers who he really is. An Indian man who is studying and living in England. A person who does not necessarily have to change his appearance or how he speaks. The responsibility as mentioned is on others to accept Gandhi for who he is. Whether people do is entirely up to them. Should they not accept Gandhi for who he is than they are at a loss. The fact that Gandhi learns quickly that dancing is not for him might also be important as symbolically this could suggest that Gandhi walks his own path. A path that may make an English gentleman uncomfortable as it is contrary to his beliefs. Similarly when it comes to speaking and the lessons in elocution. Symbolically Gandhi could be suggesting that speaking may not be important but rather the content of one’s speech might be more important.
The end of the essay is also interesting as there is a sense that though Gandhi might feel as though he has been beaten in his attempts to be an Englishman. He has rediscovered who he really is. Something which in time would serve Gandhi well. Even if he at the time he could not imagine how it might. By rejecting the rules of being an English gentleman Gandhi has not only found his true identity but he has also learnt a valuable lesson. How important it is for a person to be true to themselves. Something that is obvious to readers by the fact that Gandhi gives up all pursuits when it comes to being an English gentleman. Gandhi is displaying an honesty that many might not because they wish to fit in with a system that may or may not be right or appropriate for them. Some people are naturally suited to be English gentlemen while others are foolish to try and pursue the rule if it means they forgo their true identity.