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A Passage to India

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Context


Edward Morgan Forster was born in London in 1879, the son of an architect and his comfortable family. His father died when Edward was very young, and he was raised by his mother and a great-aunt. A bright student, Edward attended Cambridge University, from which he graduated in 1901. He spent much of the next decade traveling and living abroad; many of his observations and experiences from this time were later revived in his fiction, most notably A Room with a View (1908), which chronicles the experiences of a group of English people vacationing in Italy, and A Passage to India (1924).

Forster first visited India in 1912, and traveled extensively throughout the country. A lifelong advocate for tolerance and understanding between people of different social classes, races, and backgrounds (a homosexual himself, Forster experienced prejudice and misunderstanding first-hand), he was troubled by the racial oppression and deep cultural misunderstandings that divided the Indian people and the British colonists who had ruled them for more than two centuries. Forster established his reputation as a novelist and social critic with such sharp, incisively observational novels as A Room with a View and Howards End (1910), in which he criticized the class divisions and prejudices of Edwardian England; in A Passage to India he turned his eye on the racial misunderstandings and cultural hypocrisies that characterized the complex interactions between Indians and English toward the end of the British occupation of India.

Forster's style is marked by his sympathy for his characters, his ability to see more than one side of a single story, and his fondness for simple, symbolic stories that neatly encapsulate large-scale problems and conditions. These tendencies are all evident in A Passage to India, which, when it was released in 1924, was immediately acclaimed as Forster's masterpiece.

A Passage to India was the last of a long string of novels for Forster in which his craft improved markedly with each new book. After it, he never again attained the level of craft or the depth of observation that characterized his early work, and he mostly contented himself with writing critical essays. In 1946, Forster accepted a fellowship at Cambridge, where he remained until his death in 1970.

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Characters

Dr. Aziz - An intelligent, emotional Indian doctor in Chandrapore who attempts to make friends with the English expatriates Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore, and Fielding. He is falsely accused by Adela Quested of attempted rape after their expedition to the Marabar Caves, but the charges are dropped after Adela's testimony at the trial. Aziz was educated at Cambridge, and has three children; his wife died several years before the beginning of the novel.

Miss Adela Quested - A young girl who comes to India with Mrs. Moore, to decide whether or not to marry Mrs. Moore's son Ronny. An intelligent, inquisitive, but somewhat insensitive girl, Adela begins with a desire to see the real India, but later falsely accuses Dr. Aziz of attempting to rape her in the Marabar Caves.

Mrs. Moore - Ronny Heaslop's mother, an old woman who voyages to India with Adela Quested, to see the country and hopefully see Adela married to her son. Befriends Dr. Aziz, but has an unsettling experience with the echo in the Marabar Caves, which prompts her to hurry back to England. She dies at sea.

Cyril Fielding - The Principal of the Government College near Chandrapore, an independent man who believes in educating other people to be individuals. Befriends Dr. Aziz and takes his side when he is accused of attempting to rape Adela Quested.

Ronny Heaslop - The Magistrate at Chandrapore, Mrs. Moore's son. Prejudiced and intolerant of Indians, he adopts the standard tone of Englishmen who live in India. Briefly engaged to Adela Quested.

Mr. Turton - The Collector, the man who governs Chandrapore. He is officious and stern.

Mr. McBryde - The Superintendant of Police, who has an elaborate theory explaining the inferiority of darker-skinned races to lighter-skinned ones.

Major Callendar - The Civil Surgeon at Chandrapore, Dr. Aziz's superior. A boastful, cruel, ridiculous, and intolerant man.



Hamidullah - Dr. Aziz's friend and distant relative.

Mahmoud Ali - Dr. Aziz's friend, a lawyer who is deeply pessimistic about the English.

Professor Godbole - A Brahman Hindu who teaches at Fielding's college.

Dr. Panna Lal - A low-born Hindu doctor, Aziz's rival. Intends to testify against Aziz at the trial, but begs forgiveness after Aziz is set free.

Stella Moore - Mrs. Moore's daughter, who marries Fielding toward the end of the book.

Ralph Moore - Mrs. Moore's young son, a sensitive young man.

The Nawab Bahadur - The leading Loyalist in Chandrapore, a wealthy and distinguished Indian who is faithful to the English.

Miss Derek - A young Englishwoman who works for a wealthy Indian family and often steals their car.

Amritrao - The lawyer who defends Aziz at his trial, a virulently anti-British man.

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Summary

Miss Adela Quested travels to India with Mrs. Moore, in the hopes of marrying Mrs. Moore's son Ronny, a British Magistrate in the city of Chandrapore. Adela and Mrs. Moore each hope to see the real India, rather than simply the institutions of English culture the English denizens of India have imported there. At the same time, a young doctor named Aziz is increasingly frustrated by the poor treatment he receives at the hands of the English, especially Major Callendar, the Civil Surgeon, who has a tendency to summon Aziz in the middle of dinner. One night, Mrs. Moore meets Aziz at a local mosque (Aziz is a Moslem), and the two become friendly. Aziz is moved and surprised that an English person would want to be his friend.



Mr. Turton, the Collector who governs Chandrapore, hosts a bridge party so that the English will have the opportunity to meet some of the more prominent and wealthy Indians in the city. At this awkward event, Adela meets Cyril Fielding, the principal of the government college. They agree to take tea together, and Fielding says that he will invite Aziz. At the tea, a group made up of Fielding, Aziz, Adela, Mrs. Moore, and the Hindu Professor Godbole passes an enjoyable afternoon before Ronny arrives and rudely interrupts Professor Godbole in the middle of a song, by storming away. Later that evening, Adela tells Ronny that she has decided not to marry him. But they are in a car crash together in the car of the Nawab Bahadur, and the excitement of the event causes Adela to change her mind.

Not long afterward, Aziz mounts an expedition to the Marabar Caves for the group that attended Fielding's tea. Fielding and Professor Godbole are late, so Aziz takes the two ladies without the other men. Inside the Marabar Caves Mrs. Moore is unnerved by the uncanny echo that seems to translate every sound she makes into the noise "Baum." Aziz, Adela, and a guide go on to the higher caves while Mrs. Moore waits below. Adela, thinking about the fact that she does not love Ronny, asks Aziz whether he has one wife or more than one wife--a question he considers offensive. He storms off into a cave, and when he returns, Adela is gone. He finds her broken field-glasses, and heads down the hill. Back at the picnic site, he finds Fielding waiting for him, and is overjoyed to see his new friend. On the way back to Chandrapore, however, Aziz is unexpectedly arrested and charged with the attempted rape of Adela Quested.

Fielding believes that Aziz is innocent and angers all of British India by joining himself with the Indians in charge of Aziz's defense. In the weeks before the trial, the racial tensions between the Indians and the English are at an all-time high. Mrs. Moore is distracted and miserable because of her memory of the cave-echo, and Adela is emotional and confined to bed. At last, Mrs. Moore sails for England, to which she has longed to return; she dies on the trip, but not before realizing that there is no real India--there are a hundred complex Indias, each of which means something different.

At the trial, Adela is questioned about the expedition to the caves. Shockingly, she now declares that Aziz did not attack her, that she simply made a mistake. Aziz is set free, and Fielding escorts Adela to the government college, where she spends the next several weeks. At last Ronny breaks off their engagement, and Adela returns to England. Aziz is angry that Fielding would befriend Adela after Adela nearly ruined Aziz's life, and their friendship suffers as a consequence. At last Fielding too sails for England. Aziz declares that he is done with the English, and that he intends to move to a place where he will not have to encounter them.

Two years later, Aziz has become the chief doctor to the Rajah of a Hindu region several hundred miles to the south. He has heard that Fielding married Adela Quested shortly after returning to England; Aziz now virulently hates all English people. One day he is walking through an old temple with his three children, when he encounters Fielding and his new brother-in-law. Aziz is surprised to learn that the boy's name is Ralph Moore: Fielding marred not Adela Quested, but Stella Moore, Mrs. Moore's daughter. Aziz befriends Ralph, and after he crashes his rowboat into Fielding's the night of a religious festival, he renews his friendship with Fielding as well. They go for a final ride together before Fielding leaves, during which Aziz tells Fielding that after the English are out of India, they will be able to be friends. Fielding asks why they cannot be friends now, when they both want to be; but the sky and the earth and everything around them seem to say "Not yet."

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Analysis

A Passage to India is a novel about understanding and misunderstanding, about the sentiments that connect people and the prejudices that divide them. Its subject is the British occupation of India in its later days, when the movement for Indian statehood and independence from England was already beginning to build steam. The book follows Forster's habit of terse, compact social criticism, in which a single story becomes symbolic of a wider condition or truth. In A Passage to India, the story of Adela Quested's false accusation against the Indian Dr. Aziz--that he attempted to rape her on an expedition to the unsettling Marabar Caves--becomes symbolic of the distortions of understanding and interpretation that can occur between cultures, and of the injustice that inevitably occurs when one people holds power over another. The Marabar Caves themselves are a powerful symbol of that distortion--in them, everything echoes incoherently, nothing can be understood, and human action is a morally insignificant nullity.

But the novel is more than simply a cultural meditation or a propagandistic call for political tolerance. Forster displays throughout the novel a very subtle knowledge of character and of the working of the human mind. What is more, he connects the muddle of India to his own idea of the moral nature of humanity: Adela's crisis is a direct result of her incomplete and unsatisfying connection to her surroundings, an old theme in Forster's writing. Adela's almost clinically adventurous desire to see the real India indicates just how unprepared for the stunning complexity of the real India she actually is; she tries to fit the world neatly into her preconceptions, and discovers to her horror that it overwhelms them. Throughout the novel, Forster argues through characters such as Adela that tolerance and affection can only result from openness and understanding.

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Book I, Chapters 1-6

Summary

Except for the extraordinary Marabar Caves, located in the hills some twenty miles away, the Indian city of Chandrapore is unremarkable; it stretches shabbily along the Ganges River, and only the upper rise of the city, where the English live, is beautiful. One evening in Chandrapore Dr. Aziz rides his bicycle to the home of his friend Hamidullah. There, Aziz smokes a hookah while Hamidullah and Mahmoud Ali debate whether it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. After a short chat with Hamidullah's wife, a distant aunt of Aziz, they go to the table, and the servants bring them dinner. Aziz quotes poetry, to the delight of the other guests, but is called away by a servant of the British Civil Surgeon, Callendar.

Aziz is angry at the presumptuousness of the call, and angry about the colonialist net England has thrown over India. Nevertheless he rides to Callendar's house, but his tire goes flat and he is forced to take a tonga. When he reaches the house, Callendar is out, and has not left a message; and two English ladies take his tonga, stranding him. Aziz leaves a message, then walks back into the town. He goes to a mosque near the all-white Chandrapore Club, and meets an old English lady, Mrs. Moore. He chastises her for being in the mosque, but is impressed to learn that she remembered to take off her shoes. Aziz escorts Mrs. Moore to the club, and learns that she has two sons (one of whom is the City Magistrate of Chandrapore) and one daughter, just like Aziz himself. The little doctor is pleased to have met an Englishwoman who is both kind and sympathetic.

At the club, Mrs. Moore ignores the performance of Cousin Kate and goes into the billiard room, where she joins her traveling companion, Adela Quested, who will probably--though not certainly--marry Mrs. Moore's son Ronny, the Magistrate. Adela and Mrs. Moore have hoped for adventure, and they talk about the frustrating difficulties of seeing the real India, when all the English people they meet only want to do English things and introduce them to other English people. After the play, Adela and Mrs. Moore discuss the Indian people with Ronny and a few others; all of the English people who have been in India long are squeamish and condescending about the natives--one of them even says that the best thing one can do for a native is to let him die. Ronny, Adela, and Mrs. Moore go down to look at the river, and when Ronny learns that Mrs. Moore has met an Indian in the mosque, he is suspicious and negative. When he learns that it was Dr. Aziz, he feels somewhat better, but his mother is taken aback when when he says that he must tell Callendar that Dr. Aziz told Mrs. Moore how much he dislikes him.



Mr. Turton, the Collector, and his wife send out invitations to a bridge party, and cause a flurry of gossip by sending invitations to a number of prominent Indian gentlemen. The Indians are greatly stirred up by the invitations, which take on another level of significance when the Nawab Bahadur, one of the most prominent Indians in the region, announces his intention to go to the party. But the party, held in the tennis courts at the club, is not a success. The Indians gravitate to one side of the court, the English to the other, and the two groups watch one another awkwardly. When Mr. Turton instigates mingling, the groups become even more awkward. Adela and Mrs. Moore offer to call on Mrs. Bhattacharya, who immediately agrees to cancel her trip to Calcutta in order to entertain them. They are shocked and embarrassed that she should do such a thing, but everyone laughs. Mr. Fielding, the president of the local government college, is pleased that Adela is so interested in meeting Indians, and agrees to show her, Mrs. Moore, and Dr. Aziz the college.

That night, after Adela goes to bed, Ronny and Mrs. Moore talk about her. Ronny is irritated that Adela is so concerned over the plight of the Indians, and angrily protests to his mother that he is not in India to be pleasant--he is there to establish justice and keep the peace. Mrs. Moore chastises him for being self-satisfied, and reminds him that God is love, and that God wants him to be kind. Ronny is uncomfortable about religion, and Mrs. Moore regrets that the conversation has shifted away from Adela.

Aziz does not attend the party, which occurs on the anniversary of his wife's death. When he recovers from his grief, he borrows Hamidullah's pony, and goes to play polo with a British subaltern. He has an enjoyable time, but encounters an angry man named Dr. Panna Lal, who is irritated that Aziz was not home that morning. Aziz tries to be polite, but is irritated by the man, and insults him. The encounter leaves him in bad spirits, but he is immeasurably cheered when he returns home and receives an invitation from Mr. Fielding to take tea with him the day after tomorrow.

Commentary


Forster uses the first chapters of A Passage to India to introduce his main characters and themes, and also to instill in the reader a sense of the Indian and British cultures of Chandrapore. As a writer, Forster likes things neat, and the characters and ideas are arranged very tidily in this section; Forster arranges things very efficiently to convey the most complete sense of his environment in the fewest strokes possible. For instance, the first scene featuring the Indian characters finds Aziz, Mahmoud Ali, and Hamidullah in the midst of a conversation on the subject of whether Indians and Englishmen can ever be friends--which is also the main theme of the novel. Aziz meets Mrs. Moore in a mosque, which conveys both his commitment to Islam and her desire to "see the real India." At the club, the English are watching a play called Cousin Kate, which must be the most thoroughly English title in existence, conveying the essential desire of the English to recreate England in India rather than to adapt to their foreign environment.

Of course A Passage to India is mostly concerned with the state of affairs between Indian and English culture, and the interactions and conflicts between them are the most important moments in the story. This section does not show many such interactions--Aziz's meeting with Mrs. Moore being the most important--but it does establish a sense of the ways in which the Indians think about their English overseers and vice versa. The English (particularly, in Forster's characterization, the English women) are snobbish and insensitive to the Indians--Callendar, for instance, thinks nothing of summoning Aziz to his house in the middle of the latter's dinner, then of disappearing before Aziz arrives and not even leaving an explanatory note. The women at Callendar's house take Aziz's tonga without so much as a thank you.

For their part, the Indians seem to regard the English either with anger and cynicism (as Mahmoud Ali does) or with a kind of bitter amusement (as Aziz does), treating them as comic, even idiotic, figures whom the Indians are forced to tolerate. Some of the Indians are willing to get to know the English and develop a more complex understanding of them (some of the Indians, Aziz included, have even lived in England), but the English are hardheaded in their disinterest toward the Indians. The only exceptions to this rule are newcomers, which is why Adela and Mrs. Moore are such intriguing figures: in their desire to see the real India, they are willing to look far beyond the myopic view of the other English people.

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Book I, Chapters 7-11

Summary

Dr. Aziz goes to the college to take tea with Fielding, Adela, and Mrs. Moore. The group gets along very well--Fielding and Aziz in particular seem destined to be friends--and chats lightly about India. The ladies agree to call on Aziz, but he suddenly recalls that his bungalow is shamefully unkempt, and suggests that they meet at the Marabar Caves. Adela and Mrs. Moore are delighted. Mrs. Moore leaves with Fielding to look at the college, and Adela chats with Aziz and another visitor, the Brahman Professor Godbole. Ronny arrives to take Adela and Mrs. Moore to a polo match; he is rude to the Indians, and stiffly accuses Fielding of having been negligent in leaving Adela alone with them. The tea-party breaks up unpleasantly; everyone is irritated, all their nerves on edge. Before they go, Professor Godbole sings a haunting song, but Ronny walks off in the middle of it.

After having observed Ronny in his tropical environment, Adela has decided not to marry him, and tells him so at the polo match. He is hurt, but still acts kindly to her, and Adela is touched by his understanding. They go for a walk in the evening, and then for a car ride with the Nawab Bahadur. Sitting together in the back seat, they receive an unexpected thrill when their hands touch. The car hits an animal and crashes without much harm. Excited by the accident, and perplexed by the frenzied distress of the Nawab Bahadur, Adela and Ronny look for the animal, but do not find it; they decide it must have been a hyena. They intercept Miss Derek as she drives back to the town, and she gives them a ride. As they reach home, Adela tells Ronny that she wishes to take back what she said to him earlier; just like that, they are engaged to be married.

Mrs. Moore, who has waited for them at home, is upset when she hears about the crash, and murmurs that it may have been caused by a ghost. She and Adela play cards, and Ronnie goes to work on his files. In town, the Nawab Bahadur tells a group of Indians about his distress--he fears evil spirits, for when he first bought a car, he ran over and killed a man. Dr. Aziz tells the Nawab Bahadur's grandson that the younger generation must firmly reject such superstitions.

Dr. Aziz falls ill as the hot weather descends on Chandrapore, and lies in bed with a fever, his bungalow swarming with flies. He thinks of beautiful women, and tries to think of a way he can visit Calcutta, where he can go to a brothel. He is visited by a group of educated Indian friends, including Hamidullah. They talk about his illness. Hamidullah's son Rafi tries to insinuate that Mr. Fielding is responsible for the illness, since Aziz recently took tea with the principal and Professor Godbole, and Professor Godbole is now ill as well. They chastise Rafi, and discuss religion; they are all Muslims, and Aziz recites poetry. The Hindu Dr. Panna Lal arrives on Callendar's orders to determine whether Aziz is really ill or only shamming. Then Fielding himself arrives to visit his new friend, and becomes involved in a conversation about religion; he confesses that he does not believe in God. The group files out, Fielding disappointed with his visit. Outdoors, it is palpably hot; the early summer heat is swelling around them, and they hastily go their separate ways.

Before Fielding can leave, Aziz crossly calls him back into the house, where he shows him a picture of his wife--a great confidence. The two men talk about India and the English, and Fielding tells Aziz that he never worries about his situation. If he were to be fired, he would simply move on, for the only thing he believes in is teaching others individualism. The flies are thickening and crawling into the men's ears. Fielding leaves, closer in friendship to his host.

Commentary


This section is mostly concerned with the cultural misunderstandings between Indians and English, and with the first tentative steps that can be taken to overcome those misunderstandings. The burgeoning friendship between Fielding and Aziz seems to be the possibility of greatest hope for a real connection between the two cultures. Adela and Mrs. Moore mean well, but they are so concerned with their idea of seeing the real India that they seem unable to grasp the infinite complexity of India--they want to find one single understanding of "India" that includes every aspect of it, but as they are beginning to sense, no such single understanding is possible; there are, as Forster writes, "a hundred Indias," and each of them is complicated. As we begin to see in this chapter as well, the rift between Indians and English is not the only culture gap on the subcontinent: Indians themselves are split along religious lines, with Moslems such as Aziz and Hamidullah regarding Hindus such as Professor Godbole and Dr. Panna Lal with distrust.

A Passage to India is not the world's most subtle novel--it is pretty evident that Forster's sympathies lie with the Indians, and that the purpose of the novel is to encourage cultural understanding--but Forster does display an extremely subtle understanding of character. The scene in which Adela and Ronny ride in the backseat of the Nawab Bahadur's car and, caught up in the moment, kindle a brief flicker of romance, is very finely drawn. And Forster's sketches of the misunderstandings between Indians and English show a similar sense of the subtle complexities of each side's position. Ronny and Adela are stunned, for instance, by the Nawab Bahadur's reaction to the crash, but do not realize that he is hiding something (the man he killed), and that he fears evil spirits. (The weirdly sensitive Mrs. Moore also fears evil spirits, when she is told about the crash and believes it to have been caused by "a ghost.")

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Book II, Chapters 12-21

Summary

The Marabar Caves lie in the high regions of Dravidia, which, during all of geological history, have never been underwater; they lie beneath a long stretch of crazily proportioned hills that jut upward like fingers. They consist of hollowed-out chambers with marvelously polished walls, connected by rough tunnels. They have a strange effect on the visitor's mind: there is nothing apparently remarkable about them, but those who visit the caves find it difficult to talk about them, and cannot even be sure why.


In a certain light, seen from the city, the Marabar Hills look romantic; and seeing them in such a light from the verandah of the club, Adela comments to Miss Derek that she wishes Dr. Aziz would have kept his promise to arrange an outing there. An Indian servant overhears her, and the story creeps back to Aziz, who is overcome with shame. He pushes the expedition through, and on the appointed morning he meets Adela and Mrs. Moore at the train station. They board, and the train begins to move--without Fielding and Professor Godbole, who have been held up. Mrs. Moore and Adela convince Aziz that they will enjoy the caves anyway, and he steels himself to prove that Indians can be responsible. He wonders what they can expect to find in the caves, for he has never been in them.

On the train ride, Adela and Mrs. Moore discuss Adela's plans for her marriage to Ronny. They near the hills, and a dramatic sunset begins to break, but then suddenly ceases to be beautiful. Disembarking from the train, they find an elephant and a bevy of servants waiting to take them on the hour's journey to the hills. That passed, they enjoy a snack and frank conversation before stepping into the caves. The first cave is very unpleasant to Mrs. Moore; it is crowded with servants, and dark, and a persistent echo makes everything sound like "boum." When they leave the first cave, Mrs. Moore says that she will not go into another, but that Aziz and Adela should go without her. Aziz, Adela, and a single servant travel into another cave, and Mrs. Moore sits outside trying to write a letter to two of her children. She feels increasingly upset and threatened by the memory of the echo in the cave--as though all the universe were simply a giant "boum" drowning out the voice of God.

As Adela and Aziz climb up to the large warren of caves, Adela thinks about her impending marriage to Ronny. She realizes with a gasp that they do not love one another, and wonders if that is a reason not to marry him. She asks Aziz about his wife, who he pretends, just for a moment, is still alive. Adela thinks that Aziz would probably be attractive to native women, and, having heard that "Mohammedans" often have four wives, she asks him how many wives he has. He is offended by the question, and goes into the cave.

When he comes out of the cave, the guide is there alone. He sees a motor-car below, and sees Adela getting into it. He finds her field-glasses, and notices that their strap is broken. Confused, he returns to the camp, where he finds Fielding waiting for him. Overjoyed to see Fielding, he learns that Adela has ridden back to Chandrapore with Miss Derek, who drove Fielding to the hills. Aziz enjoys a madcap picnic with Fielding and Fielding's friends. As they return to Chandrapore, however, he meets an unpleasant surprise: the Police Inspector appears and, without explanation, arrests him. Terrified, Aziz tries to escape through the window of the train, but Fielding hauls him back in. Fielding agrees to go to the station with Aziz and tells him it must be a simple mistake. However, Mr. Turton summons Fielding, and Aziz is forced to go to jail alone.

Fielding visits Turton, who tells him obliquely that Aziz tried to rape Adela when they were alone in the hills. Fielding believes that Aziz is innocent, and says so; Turton is furious that Fielding does not rally around his race. The rest of English society is up in arms about the incident, and Turton himself is wretchedly unhappy that the tragedy will mar his administrative record. He thinks that now he knows what the Indians are really like, and that he will make them pay.

Fielding goes to visit Mr. McBryde, the District Superintendent of Police, who is likewise astonished to hear that Fielding believes Aziz to be innocent. He tells Fielding that Adela says the man who attacked her broke her field-glasses, and that Aziz was found with her broken field-glasses in his pocket. He also says that Aziz had written a letter to his cousin in Calcutta arranging to visit a brothel: proof of his sexual perversions. Fielding says that he himself visited brothels at Aziz's age, but McBryde refuses to allow Fielding to see either Aziz or Adela.

Fielding talks to a despondent Hamidullah about Aziz's defense; Hamidullah plans to bring in Amritrao, a prominent anti-British lawyer from Calcutta, to handle the case. Hamidullah is stunned and gratified that Fielding would be on the Indians' side against the British. Fielding also speaks to Professor Godbole, the Brahman Hindu, who is unconcerned about the case and who argues that guilt and innocence are spread among all people, because good and evil are universal principles. Any evil act, Godbole says, is the responsibility of everyone. Fielding is at last able to obtain a permit to see Aziz, but the prisoner is inarticulate with misery, muttering only "You deserted me." The one thing Fielding cannot understand is why Adela would make a false accusation; she seemed such a serious, inquisitive girl.

A tense meeting is held among the English at the Chandrapore Club to decide on a course of action. The Collector instructs the ladies not to worry for their own safety, and updates the group about Adela's health: she is ill, but not in danger. Mrs. Moore has also taken ill. As the meeting progresses, Major Callendar and an army subaltern try persistently to insult and outrage Fielding, whom they view as a traitor. When Ronny arrives--the martyr to Adela's tragedy--the whole crowd stands up to support him, but Fielding remains seated. He says that he believes Aziz to be innocent, resigns from the club, and leaves.

Fielding spends the rest of the day in conference with his Indian allies. It is the holiday of Mohurram, and the streets are filled with musicians and youths in colorful costumes. Fielding tries to consult again with Professor Godbole about the incident, but he has gone away to start a new school, and slipped off without saying good-bye.

Commentary


The fragile wisp of understanding that had connected English and Indian in the first book of the novel completely unravels in this section. The incident of the Marabar Caves--the central dramatic moment in the novel--threatens to tear Chandrapore apart. Forster handles the disintegration brilliantly by withholding from the reader what actually happened to Adela in the caves--because of his own reactions, we strongly believe that Aziz is innocent, but we do not know what really happened, and so we cannot be completely sure.

The announcement of the rape attempt draws out the worst, the most melodramatic, and, as Forster says when Turton confronts Fielding, the most irrational in the English rulers of Chandrapore. As English culture closes ranks against the Indians, the Indians attempt an aggressive defense, by summoning the virulently anti-British lawyer Amritrao from Calcutta. To both sides, the matter very quickly becomes more than simply the question of whether Aziz did or did not try to rape Adela: to the English, the crime indicates a threat to their own safety from a native population that by rights should be subservient and obedient, and to the Indians, the imprisonment of Aziz becomes a symbol of the mistreatment and prejudice the whole nation is forced to endure at the hands of the English.

The Marabar Caves themselves are the single most important symbol in A Passage to India. Their numbing regularity, and the inescapable, indecipherable echo that follows any sound made within them, come to represent (especially to Mrs. Moore, who is never the same person again after her experience in the caves) the nullity of human action, the meaninglessness and uninterpretability of existence, and the impossibility of understanding or discerning purpose or order in human life. In terms of the novel, the caves are the place where the moral imperative for English and Indians to try to understand one another (as Mrs. Moore put it earlier, to act out God's will by showing one another greater and greater kindness) is drowned out by meaninglessness and confusion.

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Book II, Chapters 22-33

Summary

Adela rests at the McBrydes' house and tries to recover from her malady. She is scrupulously and melodramatically cared for by Miss Derek and the other English ladies. She alternates between feeling fine and feeling emotionally unbalanced and overwhelmed by her memory of the echo in the Marabar Caves. When her condition improves, Ronny takes her to see Mrs. Moore, who is likewise driven to distraction by her memory of the cave-echo, the indifferent inescapability of which has shattered her comfortable religious beliefs. Mrs. Moore is unkind and distant, and says several times that she thinks Aziz is innocent. She demands to leave India at once; after an initial disagreement Ronny comes to think that leaving is a wonderful idea.

Mrs. Moore is able to gain passage in the cabin of Lady Mellanby, and so sails for England before the trial of Aziz and ahead of the worst hot weather. As she travels she obsesses over the echo, but becomes even more upset when the sights she sees from the ship--a fortress called Asmirgah, the bustle and chaos of Delhi--force her to realize that the echo in the caves does not signify the meaning of India as a whole: India is endlessly complex and contradictory, and resists being made into a symbol.

The day of the trial, Adela is again feeling shaky and troubled by the memory of the echo. At the court, where Ronny's assistant Das is presiding as magistrate, the English cluster together and talk about the shortcomings of the Indians. Major Callendar boasts that he has been torturing his patients at the hospital, including the Nawab Bahadur's grandson. As the trial commences the English demand that Adela should be moved up out of the crowd on account of her health, and when Das agrees, the whole group moves onto the platform. Aziz's defense protests vigorously, and the group is forced to move back down to the crowd. McBryde summarizes the evidence against Aziz, and tells the crowd his theories on the racial nature of Indians--dark-skinned people are attracted to lighter-skinned people, but not vice-versa. When Mrs. Moore's name comes up at the trial, Amritrao and Mahmoud Ali insist that she would have made a valuable defense witness had she not been packed off to England, and the Indian crowd begins to chant her name.

At last McBryde questions Adela. As she speaks on the stand, she seems to re-enter the scene. When McBryde asks her whether Aziz was the man who attacked her, she realizes that he was not. She says so. She says she made a mistake when she accused him. The crowd erupts into hysteria; the English yell that Adela's ill health is causing her to hallucinate, and the Indians demand that she withdraw all her charges against Aziz. Thinking clearly at last, she withdraws the charges, and McBryde is forced to comply. Aziz is free; he faints in Hamidullah's arms.

Outside, alone in a huge crowd of Indians, Adela bumps into Fielding, who declares that she is not safe and then bundles her into his carriage. A group of students comes along to pull the carriage in a procession through the streets, and the crowd cheers to see Adela and Fielding, though they are not sure why Adela is in the procession. Fielding's carriage returns to the Government College, while the rest of the crowd goes to the hospital to seize Callendar and rescue the Nawab Bahadur's grandson. The Nawab Bahadur announces that he intends to give up his British-conferred title and be known simply as Mr. Zulfigar. In front of the hospital, they encounter a contrite Dr. Panna Lal, who was to have been a witness for the prosecution. He apologies profusely and brings them the Nawab Bahadur's grandson, averting a riot and saving the hospital.

At the Government College, Fielding and Adela discuss her recent behavior. Adela believes that her mind was clouded from living at "half pressure," from being distanced from real life and real feeling. They agree that either she hallucinated the whole event and broke her glasses herself, or was attacked by the guide or one of the servants in Aziz's party. Hamidullah arrives and is disgusted to find Adela with Fielding. They discuss where Adela should stay that night. Ronny arrives to tell Adela his news: his mother has died at sea. Adela is heartbroken, and asks if she could sleep at the college that night, to be alone with her thoughts. Fielding and Ronny each agree that she should. Hamidullah is rude to Ronny about his mother's death, which shocks Fielding. Fielding is made even more upset in the car on the way to Aziz's victory dinner, when Hamidullah and Amritrao discuss how many rupees Adela will now owe Aziz as compensation for her false accusation. For a miserable moment, Fielding thinks that human beings have no real existence, except in one another's minds.

After the victory banquet at Mr. Zulfiqar's mansion, amid the slumbering forms of drunken friends, Aziz and Fielding argue over whether Aziz should press Adela for compensatory damages. Fielding encourages Aziz to be merciful to Adela, but Aziz says that he has had enough of British India, and will try to make his way in some Moslem state where the English cannot touch him. Fielding reminds him that Adela did him a good turn this morning. Aziz says he will ask Mrs. Moore what to do; Fielding tells him that Mrs. Moore is dead, but Aziz does not believe him, and Fielding reflects that a person is not really dead until their death is generally believed.

But Mrs. Moore is dead, and the news of her death makes itself felt in Chandrapore. A legend spreads about an Englishman who killed his mother for trying to save the life of an Indian. In some versions of the story Mrs. Moore has become a mystical beast, a crocodile with boar's tusks. She nearly becomes the basis of a new local cult, but the frenzy eventually dies down. For his part, Ronny feels guilty over his mother's death, but nevertheless hopes Adela will leave him soon. He no longer loves her, and to marry her now, after her shocking about-face on the witness stand, would wreck his career.

The Lieutenant-Governor visits Chandrapore, and praises Fielding for his steadfastness and correct interpretation of the situation in supporting Aziz during the trial. (The other Englishmen, he says, handled things rather poorly.) Fielding continues to try to coax Aziz into showing mercy to Adela and not suing her for compensatory damages, and at last he agrees--it would have been Mrs. Moore's wish, he says. Adela continues to stay at the college, and she and Fielding become closer and closer. Adela tells Fielding that they will never know who, if anyone, followed her into the cave; Mrs. Moore would have known, she thinks, but Mrs. Moore is dead. At last Ronny breaks off the engagement, and Adela leaves Chandrapore for England. She decides to visit Mrs. Moore's two children there, and then to begin work at a profession.

Another consequence of the trial is a brief respite in the factional disagreements between Hindus and Muslims in Chandrapore. Dr. Panna Lal asks Dr. Aziz to write a poem for "the general Indian," to be published in his brother's magazine. Aziz agrees, but is unable to find a theme not related to Islam. Hamidullah, frustrated by disagreements with his wife, suggests that Aziz write about Indian women, who are supposed to be oppressed by their husbands, but who in reality run their husbands' lives. During this time, a rumor, started by Adela's servant, spreads through Chandrapore. According to the rumor, Adela and Fielding spent Adela's last weeks in the city as lovers.

Aziz believes the rumor, and grows angry with Fielding. He suspects that Fielding intends to marry Adela, which would explain why he was so anxious for Aziz not to sue for any of her money. When Aziz confronts him, Fielding grows angry; Fielding quickly apologizes, but Aziz's feelings are hurt, and he is still suspicious. When Fielding reveals that he is sailing soon for England, Aziz becomes even more wary of his friend, and their relationship begins to strain. At last Aziz takes his children on a holiday. Fielding writes him a letter, to which Aziz replies coldly. When Fielding leaves, Aziz is not in Chandrapore to see him off.

When he arrives in Venice, on the way to England, Fielding is overwhelmed by the beauty of the city, where everything seems to be placed right that is placed wrong in India. As the early summer blooms across Europe, Fielding is touched by romantic feelings he thought were long behind him.


Commentary


Not only in A Passage to India but also in other novels--notably A Room with a View--Forster explores the idea of a "muddle," a situation so complicated and confusing and tangled up that it is nearly impossible to fix or make sense of. In this novel, the main muddle is India itself, but the most dramatic muddle is that of Adela Quested, a sensible and open-minded girl who nevertheless presses an unsubstantiated charge against a man she first befriends and later knows to be innocent. In this section, in the scene of the trial, Adela realizes what a mess she has created and, finally exercising some presence of mind, honestly admits her mistake and tries to correct it. During the scene of the trial relations between the English and the Indians are at their most conflicted and tense, with the result that both sides tend to look ridiculous--Mahmoud Ali's impassioned farewell speech to Aziz is just as silly as the Englishmen climbing up to the platform with their special chairs. But each side has an ominous undercurrent as well: the Indians nearly destroy the hospital, using the trial as an excuse to incite a murderous riot; and the British act with brutally open racism, referring to Aziz as a "buck nigger." To crown it off, Callendar proudly admits to having tortured the innocent grandson of the Nawab Bahadur, the leading Indian Loyalist.

The events of this section also serve to draw Fielding and Adela closer together, which has the consequence of forcing Fielding and Aziz farther apart. The long talks Fielding and Adela have at the college shed some light on Adela's unconscious motivation for her accusation against Aziz: she was living her life at "half pressure" she says, and felt disconnected from her own feelings. The cave, which gave a terrifying shape to her numbness, plunged her into some sort of nervous breakdown, and her mind invented the attack to give it a ready explanation. (Or else she really was followed into the cave by the guide.) The quality of living at "half pressure" also characterized Adela's attempt to see the real India--rather than really connecting with her environment, Adela simply looked for some idea or symbol that would enable her to understand India without altering her perspective. But the unanswerable incoherence of the Marabar echo forced her to see the impossibility of ever gaining a single, coherent view and brought about a moment of crisis.



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Book III, Chapters 33-37

Summary

Two years later, and several hundred miles south of the Marabar Hills, Professor Godbole participates in a Hindu ceremony. A banner has been erected over the ritual, reading, through a mistake of the printer "God si Love." Professor Godbole enters a trancelike state during which he has a vision of Mrs. Moore and of a wasp--two insignificant creatures, he thinks, but still more significant than he himself is. The ailing old Rajah comes forth to participate in the ceremony, and then is taken back to see his doctor, Aziz.

Aziz leaves the ceremony, and speaks briefly to Professor Godbole, who tells him that Fielding is due to arrive soon. Fielding is traveling across the country inspecting educational institutions. Aziz has no desire to see his old friend, who, as expected, married Adela Quested in England. Aziz's life is going extremely well in this place free of Englishmen--he is an important doctor, and factional conflicts no longer impede his ability to write poetry. He has grown to legitimately hate the English.

The Rajah dies, and Aziz agrees to cover up his death to preserve the sanctity of a religious festival. Walking with his children, he encounters Fielding in a temple near his home. He learns that Fielding did not marry Adela, but married Stella Moore, Mrs. Moore's daughter. Made irrationally angry by his own mistake, Aziz is rude to Fielding, and says that he does not wish to be friends with any Englishman or Englishwoman. He summons his children and leaves.

The local palace vibrates with chanting and the beating of drums. Aziz goes to the guest house and reads Fielding's letters: one from Ronny to Fielding, the other from Adela to Stella. Aziz thinks about how the English are closing ranks against the Indians. He encounters Ralph Moore, Stella's brother, who received a bee sting in the temple. At first Aziz is cruel to Ralph, but when the night-chanting begins at the palace, he is moved, and is kind to the young man. He thinks that he is unwise to make another British friend--it will only lead to another downfall--but he offers to take Ralph out on the water nonetheless. They row near the festival procession, and just at the moment when the chanting reaches its climax, a great wave sends them crashing into the boat holding Fielding and Stella. The four tumble into the water.

After the miniature shipwreck, Aziz and Fielding are able to resume their friendship, though they know it will be short-lived. Aziz has become harder in his stance against England, and Fielding has married an Englishwoman and even now wonders whether, if the Marabar incident were to be repeated, he would be willing to throw his life away simply to save a stray Indian. They go for one final ride together, and argue about politics. Aziz declares that India will become a nation, and that the Indians will drive every last Englishman into the sea, and that then, Aziz and Fielding will be able to be friends. Fielding asks why they cannot be friends now, since it is what they each want. But their horses separate, and the earth and the sky seem to say "Not yet," and "Not here."


Commentary


This third book of A Passage to India is really little more than an epilogue--the main story, the Marabar incident and its aftermath, has been concluded, and this book does not introduce a new narrative so much as it ties up the loose ends of the main narrative. It is nevertheless extremely important in the structure of the novel as a whole.

A Passage to India is divided into three books, entitled "Mosque," "Caves," and "Temple." The central event of the first book was Mrs. Moore's meeting with Aziz in the mosque, the central event of the second book was the trip to the Marabar Caves, and the central event of the third book is Fielding's meeting with Aziz in the Temple of the Head. Each event involves an experience shared by both English people and Indians, and each occurs at a central location that becomes a metaphor for a certain kind of interaction between the two cultures. What is more, Forster's efficient presentation of his narrative makes the three parts of the book function as three stages of an argument. The first book presents the subject: "Could an Englishman and an Indian ever be friends?" The second book challenges the subject from every angle, subjecting it to the muddle of cultural and racial hatred and the injustice of the trial. The third book now presents the conclusions to be drawn from the argument: yes, Englishmen and Indians can be friends, but not yet, not as long as England continues to assert imperial dominance over India.

As Aziz understands it in this section, the cycle of the book's structure is a regular, inevitable process: a positive meeting between the cultures (as at the mosque with Mrs. Moore) must always be followed by a crisis that causes that meeting to collapse (as at the caves with Adela). But the conclusion of the book is still optimistic--the temple parallels the mosque, as Aziz's friendship with young Ralph Moore and his renewed friendship with Fielding convince him that his dogmatic hatred of the English is not something he should sustain. And at the end of the novel, the whole earth seems to say that Aziz and Fielding cannot be friends yet--but the very inclusion of the yet implies that, one day, a friendship between them will be possible.

It is significant that the closing environment of the book is set among a Hindu populace and in the midst of a Hindu religious festival. The all-embracing, holistic morality of the Hindus is sharply contrasted throughout the novel with the more militant moral views of Islam and Christianity. It is perhaps that all-embracing view that Forster sees as most able to make sense of the muddle of India. Everything may be irreducible chaos, but everything may still be celebrated; and if every person is responsible for all good and all evil, as Professor Godbole argues, then questions of fault and blame can be laid aside, and all the inhabitants of India can turn their attention toward advancing the cause of goodness.

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Study Questions

  1. Think about the character of Adela Quested. What causes her 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 gauge her desire to marry Ronny and for an adventure, and she seems to weigh both her emotions and her experiences with an almost clinical precision. She wants to see the "real India," which apparently means an India unfiltered through English people and institutions. But in her desire to have a single authentic experience and a single authentic understanding of India, Adela is unable to take in the real 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. But Adela's attempt to make life match her comfortable preconceptions cannot prepare her for this fact, and as it slowly works its way into her mind, it undermines her preconceptions without giving her anything to replace them with. At the caves, Adela realizes for the first time that she does not love Ronny, and the sheer incomprehensibility of experience--as represented by the Marabar cave echo--seems to overwhelm her for the first time. Traumatized, Adela feels not only as though her world is breaking down, but as though India is responsible for the breakdown. This idea concretizes in her mind as the idea that Aziz, an Indian, attacked and attempted to rape her. (Of course, this is only one interpretation--the possibility remains that the guide actually did attack her, but that possibility seems somewhat bleak as a fictional choice.) Still, Adela is committed to the truth and has a strong mind, and when she sees Aziz at the trial, re-enters the scene in her mind, and realizes that her actions are ruining a real person's life, she is able to pull back and withdraw her charge before a verdict can be handed down.


  1. What role does the holistic moral outlook of Hinduism play in the novel? Why might Forster have chosen to set the conclusion of the novel around a Hindu religious ceremony?

If there are "a hundred Indias" rather than one real India, then the best and most perfect outlook for understanding India must be the one that acknowledges and celebrates contradiction and multiplicity, and for Forster, this is the outlook represented by Hinduism. What is more, India is a "muddle"--it is not possible to sort out guilt, blame, and responsibility, or to come up with easy answers that can fix things between the Indians and the British. Hinduism as practiced by Professor Godbole holds that every individual is responsible for every good and every bad action that any other individual commits. So while certainly not sufficient by itself (Professor Godbole would have let Aziz go to prison without worrying), Hinduism might help the two cultures to put aside questions of blame and accusation, and instead to focus on shepherding universal goodness through mutually kind behavior--just as Mrs. Moore urges Ronny to do.


  1. What are some of the psychological causes the novel posits for intolerance and racial hatred? How can they be overcome?

The main cause of intolerance, obviously, is misunderstanding, which is reinforced throughout the novel by a kind of close-minded peer pressure--i.e., the English arrive at Chandrapore with open minds, but are not sure how to understand India, and when the other English people exhibit casual racism and snobbish superiority, it is easy for the newcomers to mask their misunderstanding by aping those behaviors, which eventually become second nature. (This process is illustrated throughout the novel by the behavior of the well-meaning but hopelessly impressionable Ronny Heaslop.) The other important cause for intolerance posited by the novel is represented by Adela, and is a consequence of living life at "half pressure"--that is, of remaining disconnected from one's surroundings and environment. Living at half pressure makes Adela particularly vulnerable to the moral nullity represented by the echo of the Marabar Caves.
4. How does Forster use symbolism throughout A Passage to India? What are some of the novel's important symbols?

5. Compare and contrast the characters of Aziz and Fielding. How are they alike? How are they different? What qualities enable them to be friends? What qualities besides cultural difference make their friendship difficult? Or is cultural difference the only difficulty?

6. Dr. Aziz splits his time between practicing medicine and writing poetry. What might these two pursuits represent? How do they represent two different sides of Aziz's personality? How do they represent two different possibilities for India?

7. Does A Passage to India have a protagonist? Does it have a hero or heroine? If so, who, and why? If not, why not?

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