Although somewhat of a caricature, the character of Ronny Heaslop is capable of surprising us on occasion and, therefore, it cannot be described as being entirely flat. Ronny represents what Forster describes as the “public school” type. Not being much of an intellectual, Ronny adapts the opinions, mores, and judgments of his peers, and most of his actions are determined by a desire to conform to the wishes of the English colony.
Ronny is a comparative newcomer to India when we first meet him, and he is content to ape his superior’s attitudes toward the natives. Too unsure of himself to risk consequences beyond his control, Ronny has restricted his intercourse with the natives to that which is necessary for the performance of his job. He takes his work seriously; he feels that it is not necessary for him to behave pleasantly toward the natives, only to rule them. He is self-satisfied, complacent, with no trace of humanitarianism. His mother and Adela both notice that living in India has strengthened the sides of his character, which neither particularly admires.
Toward Adela, Ronny is unconvincing as a potential husband. There is little talk of love. One can hardly imagine Ronny proposing to Adela; he lets her make the decisions regarding their relationship. When she calls off their engagement, he is hurt but too proud to tempt her back; when she says they will be married, he is pleased and surprised, and he consents. His main concern seems to be whether she will fit into the life of the Anglo Indians, rather than whether he loves her.
Ronny is gentle, tolerant of the ways of his countrymen, and he shows deference to his superiors. Following the “insult” to Adela, he appeals to these men for protection from the evil which has befallen him. He is sincerely appreciative of all they do for him. But his feeling for Adela is dead; she belonged to the callow academic period of his life which he has outgrown. Marriage to her would surely ruin his career.
Ronny’s relationship with his mother is also curiously insensitive. Impatient with the older woman’s interest in and sympathy with the natives, he tries to explain his attitude. But his mother is discerning, and re realizes, he is parroting the opinions of others, and this embarrasses him. He is also embarrassed by her religious convictions; Ronny’s public school form of religion is superficial, not influence his life. He is impatient with Mrs. Moore after the picnic to the caves; he cannot understand her attitude, and he fears she may weaken the case for the British. He has a slight sense of guilt about sending her away, brief regrets on her death, but his prevalent emotion is vexation with her for having allowed herself to become involved with natives. Ronny regards as tiresome the Indian deification of his mother following her death.
He has not changed much when we read his letter two years later. He is still the callow official, trying, vainly to understand what is befalling the English in India. He makes his peace with Fielding and Adela, but his heart is never involved.
Ronny’s behavior surprises us only during the trial when he supports his subordinate, Das, in the conduct of the trial. Perhaps this is because Ronny sees in Das’s moral courage of the public school brand and cannot help applauding.