This lesson explores E.M. Forster’s masterpiece, ‘A Passage to India.
‘ The lesson also examines and analyzes key themes within the novel and discusses the novel’s significance in relation to modern English literature.
A Passage to India
There’s a reason why A Passage to India, by E.M.
Forster, is considered by many to be the best novel written during the author’s illustrious career. It captures all of the complexities of the modern era and casts a critical eye on the dynamics of political oppression and the very real toll that it takes. In this story of British-controlled India in the years just prior to its independence in 1947, Forster shows us the human face of oppression – the people, places, and relationships ravaged in the name of political power.
Summary of the Plot
The novel begins with two English women, Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, traveling to India, where Adela is to become engaged to Mrs.
Moore’s son, Ronny Moore, a magistrate for the city of Chandrapore. There, they befriend Cyril Fielding, the principal of Chandrapore’s government college, and Dr. Aziz, an Indian physician.During a picnic given by Dr. Aziz at the fictional Marabar Caves, Adela admits that she doesn’t love Ronny.
Impulsively, she asks Aziz, a Muslim, if he has more than one wife. Offended, Aziz stalks off and when he returns, he finds that Adela has taken the car back to the city alone. Back in Chandrapore, the friends learn that Adela has accused Dr. Aziz of attempted rape, and he is quickly arrested.The nation divides along racial and ethnic lines. Mrs. Moore doubts Adela’s claims but can’t bring herself to publicly oppose the young woman; she decides to return to England, but dies on the sea voyage home.
Fielding is one of the sole Britons to support Dr. Aziz.Ultimately, Adela admits her lie and Dr. Aziz is freed.
Fielding admires Adela’s courage in telling the truth and befriends her, which disgusts Aziz and threatens his friendship with Fielding. When Adela returns to England and Fielding follows shortly thereafter, Aziz assumes that their friendship is pretty well dead. When he learns that Fielding has married, he also assumes Adela is the new bride and bids good riddance to them both.
Two years later, Dr. Aziz runs into Fielding and Fielding’s brother-in-law, Ralph, visiting an ancient temple. Fielding has not married Adela, but Mrs.
Moore’s daughter, Ralph’s sister. Ralph and Dr. Aziz hit it off, but Aziz’s feelings toward Fielding are still pretty raw. Ultimately, Aziz realizes that he and Fielding can never truly be friends until the British leave India once and for all.
Themes & Analysis
Some of the themes in ‘A Passage to India’ include the impact of colonization, search for the ‘real’ India, and sexual stereotypes.Let’s start with the impact of colonization. Forster’s novel is set in the final years of British colonial rule over India, and we can see this unequal power dynamic infecting every level of the novel.
It contaminates every relationship, not just relations between the English and the Indians, but even among those of the same race, religion, and nationality.In the novel, Adela and Mrs. Moore are torn apart, Fielding and Aziz can never cultivate their friendship, and Aziz’s suspicion that an Indian and an Englishman can never be friends is proven right. There is simply too much inequality, too much abuse, and too much distrust.
Forster’s novel shows that the fissures of political oppression run deep, tearing apart not only the oppressor and the oppressed, but also friends and families alike.Early on, Mrs. Moore declares that she wants to find the ‘real India,’ but ultimately abandons her project in despair. There is no such thing, she concludes, only an irreconcilable multitude of ‘Indias.’ That’s really what Forster’s novel as a whole boils down to: English imperialism.
The imperialists view the ‘real India‘ as exotic, alluring, and primitive and in need of rescue, or civilizing, by the English.The truth is that India is not one thing, and it is certainly not the primordial paradise in need of English salvation. Instead, India is as varied, complex, and contradictory as the individuals who live there, from the Muslim Aziz to the Christian Fielding to the Hindu majority that they serve. To insist upon a single story of the ‘real India’ is to create a lie, one so often used to justify hatred, exploitation, and oppression. The imperialists need this fiction of the ‘real India,’ a primitive India, to legitimize their conquest by calling it the advancement of ‘civilization.’Adela’s claims of attempted rape play on imperialist sexual stereotypes related to the sensuality and the promiscuity of the racial and ethnic ‘Other.
‘ According to this stereotype, English women are under constant threat of sexual attack at the hands of non-European males. The English woman’s beauty and purity prove too much for the over-inflated sex drive of the colonized male to resist. Rape is nearly inevitable for an English woman in the colonies, unless her European protectors remain ever-vigilant, which again, is nothing more than a fiction designed to legitimize English conquest.
Analyzing the Marabar Caves
One of the weirdest scenes in all of English literature is this novel’s scene in Marabar Caves, where Adela and Aziz have the confrontation that leads to the rape accusation. When Mrs. Moore first enters the cave, she is so overwhelmed and disoriented by an uncanny or creepily familiar echo that she can’t go on.
Aziz and Adela go ahead alone and the weirdness of the place seems to prompt all the chaos that follows.But what the caves really symbolize are the forces of empire, the ideas and the prejudices that penetrate to the very core of those involved. Theoretically, women like Adela and Mrs. Moore should have very little to do with imperialism. After all, they hold no political offices and they have no say in the way that the colonies run.Forster’s novel shows us that political oppression is a force far, far bigger than each individual player.
It is as mammoth, disorienting, and all-consuming as the Marabar Caves. Once you are inside it, it is also inside of you, echoing in the mind, infiltrating your conscious and subconscious minds. It inflects your actions, beliefs, and perceptions. The rapidity with which Adela jumps to the charge of rape when Aziz displeases her, her countrymen’s readiness to believe the charges, and the impossibility of Fielding’s and Aziz’s friendship all testify to the destructive pervasiveness of political oppression, especially in the form of British imperialism.
A Passage to India by E.
M. Forster is a masterful meditation on the destructive forces of political oppression, especially in the form of British imperialism. The novel tells the story of two English women, Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, and their relationship with Dr.
Aziz, a Muslim Indian, and Cyril Fielding, the principal of the government college in Chandrapore.When Adela falsely accuses Aziz of attempted rape, the burgeoning friendship between the quartet is fractured. But what the accusations, trial, and aftermath ultimately reveal is how all-encompassing political oppression truly is.
These forces of conquest and subjugation, the novel shows, are far bigger than the individual players. They infect the beliefs, behaviors, and the perceptions of all involved, contaminating relationships and making friendship, love, and trust impossible. Once you are inside such an unjust system, the novel suggests, that system is also inside of you.