How is Whitman’s “passage” complicated by Forster?
Whitman’s poem, “A Passage to India,” emphasizes those spiritual and mystical aspects of India that other countries apparently lack. India is this other. It is something that is not like the rest, but something that everyone should discover through a journey. Through this journey, one can be complete both in material and soul, for it is a “[p]assage to more than India!” (sec.9, ln.1, Whitman). In Forster’s novel A Passage to India, several characters attempt to complete this journey during their time to India, but their spiritual odyssey is severely complicated by the racial tensions that encompass India in the early 20th century. This colonial power struggle alters the identity of India, making it much more difficult to discover the exotic, spiritual Eden that Whitman describes. Other characters, who have been in India for some time, are unable to attain the peace and harmony between worlds due to the strained relationship caused by colonialism. Forster makes it almost impossible for his characters to achieve this passage that Whitman describes, and as a result, he tears apart the potential peaceful union of the two countries at hand.
Mrs. Moore and Ms. Adela Quested, make the physical passage to India and are looking for the spiritual passage as well. Both ladies come to India with an ignorant idea of the relationship that exists between the Indians and British. Believing that everyone is equal and treated as such, both Englishwomen desire to “see the real India” by meeting native Indians (pg.23, Forster). This conception of the “real” India, however, differs between the two Englishwomen. Adela, an educated and independent woman, yearns to see the intellectual side of India. On the other hand, Mrs. Moore longs to discover the otherworldly and exotic India that is often exaggerated. This “real” India, in their minds, is the equivalent to the India that Whitman describes in his poem. It is an India that represents nature, religion, creation, spirituality and the past. It is the India that will complete the journey of one’s soul to a higher place, if one is prepared.
Forster complicates their attempt to find this “real” India by creating a tumultuous social environment. In their ignorance of the social dynamics, Mrs. Moore and Adela befriend Aziz. The response that they receive the local colonials is very harsh. The common sentiment of the British is that they are above any Indian. Adela is warned that “[she] is superior to them,” them being the Indians as a whole (pg.42, Forster). Mrs. Moore is reprimanded by her own son for wandering outside of the confines of the club, a British-only gathering place. Forster makes the tension between the two groups almost tangible, even when certain characters attempt to overcome the social prejudice. For instance, Adela asks Aziz a clueless question regarding his marriage. Aziz is greatly angered that she would make such judgments, but Adela was simply unaware that the question would be taken as offensive. Even in a simple endeavor to create conversation, tension is inherent. Whitman emphasizes the idea that “God’s purpose” is for “[t]he races, neighbors, to marry” and for “the lands to be welded together,” (sec.2, ln.16, 18, 20, Whitman). This harmony between races and lands is something that never happens in Forster’s novel. Despite their strongest efforts, Mr. Fielding, Dr. Aziz, Mrs. Moore, and Ms. Quested never fully breach the gap to defy the intense racial divide in India. Not only does Forster create a disapproving and stagnant society, but also he creates an environment that isn’t welcoming of cross-racial friendships. Forster emphasizes the fact that the companionship between Aziz and Mr. Fielding will not work through personification of the environment, for he says the “earth didn’t want it” and “the sky said… ‘No, not yet,’” (pg.362, Forster). Forster refuses to allow unity between the two races, which critically...
Bibliography: Forster, E. M. (1924). A passage to India. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, [c1900]; Bartleby.com, 1999.
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