SYNOPSIS • Discussion on themes and critical questions continues… • Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory • Critical Reflection • Some statements from the text • Characters
Theme of Contrasting Regions • A Passage to India turns again and again to India as a country so vast, so diverse, and so exotic that it cannot be fathomed by the puny human mind. • India is contrasted with England, which is presented as a small, charming island that doesn't overwhelm you with its neat valleys and lakes.
The mysterious Marabar Caves stand in for India as a whole: an entity that is certainly extraordinary but about which not much can be said. The novel itself seems torn between championing India's rich history and disparaging its muddled diversity.
Thinking teasers • How is India as a country represented in the novel? What are some of the characteristics of its geography, its landscape, and its cities? How are English characters affected by their experience of India? What does India do to their state of mind, their emotions, the way they look at the world? How is India depicted as foreign, exotic, and different from England
A Passage to India attempts to encompass the vast cultural and geographical diversity of India at the same time that it constantly reminds the reader of the futility of such a project.Forster's novel consistently represents India as so alien that it is virtually unrepresentable to the "Western" mind.
Social Occasions: Parties, Picnics, and Festivals • A Passage to India may well read like a series of bad parties. We see parties such as: the Turtons' Bridge Party, Fielding's tea party, and Aziz's picnic. All of these occasions are supposed to be about coming together, making some friends, and having a good time, but all of them fail miserably.
The British Empire as a dud party, you ask? Well, the novel shows that each of these occasions fail because of the British need for exclusion, for hierarchies, for social boundaries, and for establishing an us-versus-them that always sets up an "us" as superior to "them."
Aziz's catastrophe of a picnic is just a spectacular instance of how destructive the British desire for exclusion can be. • But this desire for exclusion isn't confined to the British alone. The novel opens as Moshurram, a Muslim festival, approaches. During the trial, the Moshurram riots were associated with demonstrations in support of Aziz.
Before the trial, however, the Moshurram troubles referred to the inevitable tangles between the Muslims and the Hindus about the parade route. The Moshurram riots are an allegory for the religious factionalism that continues to threaten the South Asian subcontinent to this very day.
In contrast to these failed social occasions, take a peek at the Gokul Ashtami festival, which is a festival set up to fail. (We mean fail in the sense of failing to exclude anyone.) The festival celebrates all beings, excluding no one and nothing, not even the tiniest of bugs or the silliest of jokes.
Mosque, Cave, Temple, and a few comments on the weather • You might have noticed that the novel is not only divided up into chapters, but it is also divided into three parts entitled "Mosque," "Cave," and "Temple." The parts are also organized by the three seasons in India: "Mosque" takes place during the cool weather, "Cave" during the hot weather, and "Temple" during the rainy season.
These part divisions set the tone for the events described in each part. • In "Mosque," the first part of the novel, Aziz's reference to the architecture of the mosque as that of "call and response" harmonizes with the general tenor of this part of the novel, where people are meeting each other at various social functions. Like the cool weather, people are generally calm and friendly.
In contrast, the "Cave" section of the novel contains the climax of the novel. Taking place during the hot weather, emotions are inflamed, and nobody seems to be able to think coolly and rationally. • Just as Mrs. Moore's hold on life was threatened by her experience of meaninglessness within the cave, the entire community of Chandrapore is turned upside down as riots and unrest surround the trial.
Finally, the "Temple" section attempts to wash away the chaos of the "Cave" section with its pouring rains. • In keeping with the Hindu motif of the temple, the chapter celebrates the Hindu principle of the oneness of all things with Godbole at the Gokul Ashtami festival, and provides us with a reconciliation, though a tenuous one, between Fielding and Aziz.
Nothing • In a twist that Godbole would surely appreciate, nothing in the novel is actually something. That is, it's a symbol. A symbol of – nothing.The novel begins with the word "nothing" in its first sentence. You might have noticed that the novel seems obsessed with gaps and holes. The novel is roughly structured like a donut, with a big hole where Adela's experience in the cave should be.
But if you think about it, even though nothing is written about Adela's experience in the cave, it doesn't mean that nothing happened or that nothing can be said. In fact, it's probably the most interesting part of the book precisely because it's missing.
As the narrator comments on the Marabar Caves – which are just a big series of holes – they are "extraordinary." The extraordinariness (if that's even a word) of nothing – one of the more mysterious and certainly compelling motifs in the novel.
The Sky • The sky recurs in chapter after chapter, sometimes personified to the extent that depictions of the sky almost become characters in their own right. • The sky, as the entity that embraces all things, could be construed as a symbol of inclusiveness, but it has also been read as a symbol of the vast expanse of either British imperial control or the inconceivable vastness of India itself.
What happened to Adela in the cave? A few theories are thrown around in the novel – either Adela hallucinated, the guide did it, or a random villager did it. Do any of these theories work for you? Can you come up with a more satisfactory one? • Forster said of Adela's experience in the cave, "When asked what happened there, I don't know" (Childs 22). How would the novel be different if Forster wrote out what happened to Adela in the cave? And why doesn't he show us how Mrs. Moore actually died?
How successful do you think the novel is in its critique of "Orientalist" stereotypes? Do you think the novel still clings to some of these racial stereotypes when it depicts Indian characters?
The novel's title suggests that passages are critical to the novel. Certainly one way of thinking of the title is that the "passage to India" is Adela's, or perhaps the passage that all of the English characters take to India. • What are some other passages to India in the book? In what sense can we understand some of the Indian characters as taking a passage to India, either to an independent India or to the idea of a "real" India?
Some in detail… • What do Adela and Mrs. Moore hope to get out of their visit to India? Do they succeed?
From the outset, both Mrs. Moore and Adela assert that their desire is to see the “real India” while they are in the country. • Both women are frustrated with the lack of interaction between the English and the Indians, and they hope to get an authentic view of India rather than the standard tour for visiting colonials.
While Adela mopes in the Chandrapore Club, Mrs. Moore is already out on her own meeting Aziz in the mosque. • Mrs. Moore, it seems, gets closer to a real sense of India because she seeks it out within Indians themselves, approaching them with sincere sympathy and interest.
Adela, on the other hand, does not look to Indians for a glimpse of the “real India.” Instead, she operates in a somewhat academic vein, going around and trying to gather information and impressions of the country.
Ultimately, both women largely fail in their quest to see the “real India.” Adela is thwarted before she even begins: her engagement to Ronny forces her to give up her quest for communion with India and to take her place among the ranks of the rest of the Englishwomen in Chandrapore.
Mrs. Moore realizes that India exists in hundreds of ways and that it cannot be fathomed by a single mind or in a single visit.
What causes Adela’s breakdown? Why does she accuse Aziz? What qualities enable her to admit the truth at the trial?
Adela is an intelligent and inquisitive girl, but she has a limited worldview, and is, as Fielding puts it, a “prig.” Adela has come to India to experience an adventure and to gauge her desire to marry Ronny. • During the early stages of the visit, she weighs both her emotions and her experiences with an almost clinical precision.
But in her desire to have a single authentic experience and a single authentic understanding of India, Adela is unable to take in the complexity of her surroundings, which have been muddled even further by the presence of the English. • There is no real India; there are a hundred real Indias.
As the muddle of India slowly works its way into her mind, it undermines her preconceptions without giving her anything with which to replace them.
On the way to the Marabar Caves, Adela realizes for the first time that she does not love Ronny. The sheer incomprehensibility of experience—as represented by the echo in the caves—overwhelms her for the first time. • Traumatized, Adela feels not only as though her world is breaking down, but as though India itself is responsible for the breakdown.
This idea solidifies in her mind as the idea that Aziz, an Indian, has attacked and attempted to rape her. Still, Adela is committed to the truth and has a strong mind. • When she sees Aziz at the trial, she reenters the scene in her mind in a sort of disembodied vision.
The first issue that Forster addresses in A Passage to India is whether or not an Englishman and an Indian can be friends. Parts I and II of the novel depict the friendship of Aziz and Fielding, first on the ascendant, and then as it breaks apart.
Part III, however, gives us a measured resolution to this issue. In this final section of the novel, Fielding and Aziz meet again after two years and resolve their misunderstandings—though not their differences.
Additionally, Forster uses Part III to address the issue of how a foreigner can best understand and make peace with the “muddle” of India..
Part III, which is set in the Hindu state of Mau during a Hindu religious festival, offers the Hindu vision of the oneness of all living things as a possible answer to the problem of comprehending India. The most mystical characters of the novel take the spotlight in Part III.
References from the textExplanation and discussion • In every remark [Aziz] found a meaning, but not always the true meaning, and his life though vivid was largely a dream.
This quotation occurs in Chapter VII during Aziz and Fielding’s first meeting at Fielding’s house, just before the tea party. Fielding has just made a brief comment in which he meant that the post-impressionist school of painting, to which Aziz has just made joking reference, is obscure and silly. Aziz, however, takes Fielding’s comment to mean that it is silly for Aziz to have Western cultural knowledge.
Aziz’s embarrassment and discontent does not last long in this instance, but the incident foreshadows the misunderstandings that eventually break down the men’s friendship.
Aziz’s capacity for imagination and intuition leads him to genuine and deep friendships with Mrs. Moore and Fielding. However, Forster also shows that Aziz’s intuition, which lacks grounding in fact, can lead him astray. In the aftermath of his trial, Aziz’s false hunch that Fielding is courting Adela Quested leads to the breakdown of the men’s relationship.
In the above quotation, an early case of this false intuition, we see that Forster lays the blame for the breakdown on Aziz. Forster does not fault the difficulties of cross-cultural interaction, but rather Aziz’s overactive imagination.
This flaw in Aziz’s character, in a sense, also stands for a flaw of India itself. Forster presents Aziz’s attitudes toward others as unfounded in reality. Cut off from a logical cause, Aziz’s responses damage relationships rather than build them. This cut-off quality is later mirrored in the very landscape of India: the land around the Marabar Caves, described in Chapter XIV, appears “cut off at its root” and “infected with illusion