Mrs Moore is the most enigmatic of all the characters in A Passage to India. An elderly Englishwoman, she, like Aziz, has her precursors in Forster’s work, most particularly in Mrs Wilcox of Howards End (1910).
We see Mrs Moore at her best in the scene in the mosque with Aziz. There she is considerate and sympathetic, light-hearted and completely frank. Despite his initial roughness, she treats Aziz with easy friendship and as an equal. Her understanding and tolerance are apparent in her acceptance of God’s presence in the mosque. The words ‘God is here’ are a significant indication of her spirituality; when, later, she argues with Ronny about the duties of the English in India she returns to the subject of God’s omnipresence, emphasising her belief that God’s will is that man shall love his neighbour.
Her visit to India brings about a crisis in Mrs Moore’s spiritual life. Ronny believes that her religious bouts are always a sign of ill-health; certainly she is tired and dispirited for most of the, time and we do not often see the side of her character which so endears her to Aziz. Her second meeting with Aziz at Fielding’s tea party is the last time we see her in a carefree mood. Her problems begin at that party: first, Adela indiscreetly tells Aziz that she does not intend to settle in India; this remark indicates to Mrs Moore that her mission has resulted in failure and Fielding observes that she ‘looked flustered and put out’; secondly, Ronny rudely breaks up the party and she realises that the English have no intention of being pleasant to the Indians, whether God is watching them or not; and thirdly, Professor Godbole’s song suggests the possibility of the absence of God, that He is perhaps not, after all, omnipresent: ‘I say to Him, Come, come, come, come, come, come. He neglects to come’. The song with its negative conclusion is followed by an almost mystic moment of silence: “Ronny’s steps had died away, and there was a moment of absolute silence. No ripple disturbed the water, no leaf stirred”. The absence of God is suggested by the reference to the water, for it recalls the biblical story of the troubling of the waters of Bethesda in which the movement of the water indicated the presence of an angel (St John 5. 1—9).
From this time Mrs Moore is a changed person; on the way back from Fielding’s she is querulous and refuses to go to watch the polo; she appears to be both physically and spiritually sick, out of tune with the life around her. Though the day ends with Adela and Ronny’s engagement, she does not recover her enthusiasm for life. During the fortnight between the tea party and the Marabar expedition little happens to revive her spirits and on the journey to the caves there is again a palpable silence which seems to deny all purpose in life. It is inside the first cave, however, that Mrs Moore’s breakdown occurs, when the silence becomes filled with meaningless echoes; she gives way to despair, rejecting ‘poor, little talkative Christianity’, finding her life empty of understanding, of affection, of all interest. An elderly woman, she is fatigued with the journey, has probably had too much sun and is suffering from the strains and stresses ‘of her Indian visit; she is, of course, physically ill and this manifests itself in mental and spiritual sickness. Before the trial she tries to free herself of the burdens of duty and responsibility but she is too distraught to do more than assert Aziz’s innocence and thus sow the seeds of doubt in Adela’s mind.
Though she becomes a cantankerous old woman, Mrs Moore never entirely loses the reader’s sympathy. That she does not bear witness in the court for Aziz can hardly be held against her, for by that point she is a dying woman. It may also be said that she does, in fact, bear more powerful witness than her bodily presence could have done; she had no evidence on his behalf, only her acute knowledge of human character, but in spirit she is...
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