In her work Letters of a Hindoo Rajah, Elizabeth Hamilton seems determined to make a bold statement about the nature of British Imperialism. Similar to playwright Elizabeth Inchbald’s satirical Mogul Tale, Hamilton seeks to address the perceptions and misperceptions promulgated by Orientalism and western fascination with the East. Hamilton does this by rewriting the tale of Orientalism, casting the Occident as the Orient, and having Hindoo characters play the roles of Imperial stereotypes. Sheermaal is the intrepid Orientalist, exploring the exotic region of the British Isles. Maandaar, the exiled Rajah, is a reflection of a deposed Scottish “Laird”, struggling to maintain his former position after being conquered by a foreign power. Zaarmila, then, represents the gullible populace of Britain, who absorb and perpetuate Oriental stereotypes in their everyday life, yet are also aware that not everything is as it appears.
This recasting of the Occident as the Orient is made apparent by Sheermaal’s etymological comparison of “Laird and Rajah”, which also sheds light on Hamilton’s own beliefs regarding the nature of Empire. This section of Sheermaal’s letter is interesting because it proves how impossible it is to explain a foreign culture without restructuring. The only way Sheermaal is able to explain British society—particularly classes in annexed Scotland—is to compare it to the Hindu caste system in an attempt to show cross-cultural similarities. This is clearly evident when he says towards the end of the letter, “the people of Great Britain are, at this day, divided into separate Casts (sic), as distinct from each other as the Brahmin from the Kettrie.”
However, Sheermaal’s comparison of Lairds and Rajahs is important more because it shows that, in Hamilton’s eyes, British Imperialism does not begin with the crossing of an ocean. Rather, Scotland itself is an example of a country overrun by a cultural hegemon with which it chose to engage. From Sheermaal’s account, it is clear that the Scottish class structure has been largely cast aside in favor of English practices, as evidenced by his example of the Scottish lady who was “a person of family”. This reflects British imperial practices in India that drained the Brahmin and ruling castes of power.