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A Passage to India

By vandanaagarwala Feb 07, 2014 1382 Words
A Passage to India, written by E. M. Forster in 1924, is a novel exploring the widespread and uncontrolled tension and prejudice that existed in India in the 1920s. This tension was caused by animosity between the native Indians and the British officials who were ruling India at the time - in this novel, Dr. Aziz and the City Magistrate. Most of the conflict takes place between Dr. Aziz and the City Magistrate’s family and friends, who were visiting India at the time. Forster describes in detail what one realistic example of this conflict may have looked like: the question of what really happened in the Marabar Caves between an Englishwoman, Miss Adela Quested, and an Indian man, Dr. Aziz. Forster has written a compelling and engaging story that mostly accurately describes the racial tension that developed in India during British colonial rule.

The author, E. M. Forster, was British, and he often wrote about two main subjects: class difference and hypocrisy. These two themes appear in many of his books, including A Passage to India. Class difference is illustrated mostly in the constant arrogance of the British, who felt greatly superior to the Indians. Hypocrisy is also an issue in the book closer to the end, when Dr. Aziz feels that his friend, Fielding, betrayed him by also befriending the person who nearly ruined his life. A Passage to India brought Forster the greatest success and fame out of all his books, by far. It was based on and inspired by his two trips to India. He went once in 1914 and then again in the 1920s for a lengthier period of time. It was upon returning to London after his second visit that he finished A Passage to India. After experiencing both the “Eastern” and “Western” worlds, he wrote A Passage to India about the relationship between these two worlds, which seemed so different to him.

The book, set in the fictional town of Chandrapore, India, begins with Dr. Aziz, an Indian, making friends with three visiting Britishers: Mr. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Miss Adela Quested. First, he meets and makes friends with Mrs. Moore in a mosque, when he sees that she does indeed have respect for Indian traditions, and she is following their customs. Mrs. Moore takes a liking to the “native”, and relates her experience to other Britishers, arousing the interest of Adela. Soon, Mr. Fielding holds a tea party, to which the British and a few Indians, including Dr. Aziz, are invited. Dr. Aziz becomes great friends with Mr. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Adela, and soon promises to take Mrs. Moore and Adela to see the Marabar Caves. He brings both women to the caves, but Mrs. Moore quickly becomes claustrophobic and cannot go on, so Adela and Aziz continue without her. At the end, after they have exited the caves on the other side, Adela asks Aziz a very blunt question: does he have more than one wife? Aziz goes back into the caves for a moment to compose himself after being asked that, but when he re-emerges, Adela is gone, leaving only her field glasses, which he picks up to return to her later.

When he returns to the train station in Chandrapore with Mrs. Moore upon their return from the caves, Aziz is arrested -- and charged with sexually assaulting Adela Quested! This is where the tension between the British and the Indians is at its highest and most pronounced until the trial. Adela accuses Aziz of trying to touch and grab her, and that he accidentally seized her glasses, which allowed her to escape. The only concrete evidence to that effect is that Aziz still has the field glasses; yet most of the Britishers firmly believe that Aziz is guilty. Fielding and Mrs. Moore are the only Britishers who actually believe in Aziz’s innocence. However, Mrs. Moore is sent back to England before she can express this at the trial and unfortunately, she dies during the voyage.

At the trial, Adela becomes very confused. At one point, she is asked whether Aziz assaulted her or not -- a very simple, straightforward question. However, she takes a moment to think, and then realizes that Aziz did not really do anything. She had simply gotten a bit shocked and disconcerted by the echo in the caves, and misinterpreted her shock as an assault. She then admits she was mistaken, and the case is dismissed. She stays with Fielding for a while, and then returns to England. Aziz, even though he is now a free man, is angry that his friend, Fielding, befriended and supported Adela after the trial in which she nearly destroyed his life. Fielding then returns to England as well, and Aziz vows to never again befriend a white person. A few years later, Fielding returns to India, and meets Aziz again. Although Aziz comes to respect Fielding again, he still maintains that they cannot be friends, at least not as long as India is under British rule.

The book is certainly credible and well-written. Forster based his writing on a great amount of time and effort spent, and finished the book after spending several years in India. The descriptions of the conflict, and the prejudice, and the tension between the British and the Indians throughout the book, especially directly before and after the trial, were very compelling and captivating. One of the most thought-provoking and intriguing sections was at the end of the novel, when Fielding has come back to India and sees Aziz again. Aziz tells Fielding, “We shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then ... and then ... you and I shall be friends,” (Forster 361). The Englishman proceeds to ask him, “Why can't we be friends now? It's what I want. It's what you want,” (Forster 362). However, the question goes unanswered by either man because their horses swerve apart, and all of their surroundings appear to respond, “Not yet,”. There can be multiple interpretations of this paragraph as to when the Indians and British can be friends with each other. “One interpretation of this closing paragraph is that Fielding and Aziz cannot be friends until India becomes a nation, but another interpretation, a far more chilling one, is that they can never be friends,” (Hawkins 5).

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the use of irony. Forster is not biased towards the British; rather, he turns the racism displayed by the British against them. “Forster's most obvious target is the unfriendly bigotry of the English [...] [The English] act on emotional preconceptions rather than rational and open-minded examination of facts. They therefore fall into logical inconsistencies which the author exposes with his favorite weapon: irony,” (Hawkins 1).

However, this book, although not biased between either race (if anything, it shows the Indians in a more positive light), is somewhat biased towards men. It is entirely patriarchal in the sense that women are often excluded in important issues and relationships. For example, Mrs. Moore is sent back to England before she is able to play a role in the trial! We meet Mrs. Moore at the very beginning in the mosque, but then she is not important again until she is sent back to England, simply because she thinks Aziz is innocent, and she then passes away. In fact, Fielding agrees with her, and he is actually much more outspoken about Aziz’s innocence, but he is not sent back to England so that he cannot testify -- Mrs. Moore is. However, this may simply have been true of Indian society at the time.

A Passage to India, one of E. M. Forster’s most successful novels, examines the rampant racism that had spread across India before its independence -- specifically, in the 1920s. Forster creates an example, based on real life, of what could have taken place at the time, between Dr. Aziz, an Indian, Adela Quested, an Englishwoman, and Mr. Fielding, an Englishman. All the relationships in the book are very patriarchal, and women are often excluded; however, Forster has crafted a fascinating story that accurately describes the racial tension that developed in India during British colonial rule, perfect for any interested in that period of India’s history or in Forster’s theme of class and race differences.

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