Meaning and Muddle in the Marabar Caves: A Look at E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India
In E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, the Marabar Caves occupy an important part of the plot. The purpose of this deserves exploration considering Forster entitles the entire second part of his novel to them. Are these caves symbolic of an exploration into one’s own subconscious? Could they be a physical representation of freedom from societal constraint? Perhaps they are meant to embody the enigma that India and the East present to the West? An exploration of these possibilities hopefully shall reveal which meaning, if not all of them, Forster intended the Marabar Caves to possess. On a metaphysical level, the Caves can be seen as a representation of the subconscious. By entering the caves one penetrates the dark, cavernous realm of one’s own psyche. Several characters experience a revelation within their walls. Mrs. Moore’s revelation is that of immense hopelessness. Her experience in the cave creates a sense of chaos and the sense that despite what is said or known in the world, it is all essentially meaningless. The echo she hears reinforces this revelation to her. The scary resounding “boum” reduces every individual sound or voice to a continuous and indistinct noise (Forster 163). She meditates that the sound, “had managed to murmur 'Pathos, piety, courage-they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value.' If one had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same-'ou-boum'” (165). It is here she realizes the whole of human history has sounded just like this and that her existence makes no impression upon it at all. That no matter what is done and said it is all in the end meaningless. For her, the caves symbolize the antiquity of existence and she has been reduced to being another nonsensical blurb in the annals of time. When she emerges from the cave, Adela asks Mrs. Moore if she saw the reflection of a match, calling it pretty. Mrs. Moore claims to have forgotten, but ultimately the only thing she saw in the cave was a reflection of her fears. For the young Adela, the caves invoke a different revelation. Perhaps their enormity and sense of removal from the world make her meditate on the decision she is going to make to marry Ronny. Looking upon the rock formations as if ripples in her own mind, she is reminded of her relationship with Ronny and asks, “What about love?” (168).Within these walls, she realizes that she is about to marry a man she does not love and ultimately by traversing the corridors of her own mind, she reaches a sense of inner awareness. Adela has a sudden epiphany in the caves and “vexed, rather than appalled, she stood still, her eyes on the sparkling rock” (168). Perhaps this sparkling rock that Adela focuses on represents a light that has been turned on inside of her. However, unlike Mrs. Moore who is reduced to an irritable depression, Adela has what appears be a mental breakdown. She has made a decision to escape the confines of societal pressures and not marry Ronny. This knowledge provokes such a state in her that she seems to be in a trance, unaware of the hysteria surrounding her until her inner echo stops during the trial. After renouncing all charges against Aziz; Adela confides that prior to her cave expedition, she experienced “a sort of sadness…that I could not detect at the time…no, nothing as solid as sadness: living at half pressure expresses it best. Half pressure” (266). Inside the caves is where she recognizes that so far she was not living her life “full steam”. Perhaps this revelation at a life led devoid of true experiences and satisfaction caused her possible “hallucination”. Up until this point in her life, she had seen life in only one direction; now there were many. In court, she conjures up this multi-directional view; describing it as a “double relation” (253). She tries to recount the day at the...
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