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A Passage to India (1924) was the last completed novel by influential English novelist E.M. Forster. It is set during the British Raj in India and explores the complex relations between Indians and English at this time.
The British Raj refers to the period of British occupation in India. It lasted from 1858 to 1947. During this time, India was under the British Crown and Britain dictated their system of governance.
Many British people travelled to India to work in some form of government position throughout this period. E.M. Forster travelled to India in the early 1920s to work as a private secretary to a government official.
A Passage to India begins in Chandrapore, a city in India. Two Englishwomen are visiting: Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore. They are there to see Ronny Heaslop, a magistrate in Chandrapore. Ronny is Adela's fiancé and Mrs. Moore's son. The two women dream of experiencing the real India during their journey.
Forster also introduces readers to Aziz, a Muslim Indian doctor. He is having dinner with his friends and complaining about the treatment Indians receive from the English community in India. The men speculate over whether an Englishman and Indian can ever be friends. Later that evening, Aziz encounters Mrs. Moore in a mosque. The two speak, and Mrs. Moore treats Aziz kindly. He is taken aback that an Englishwoman could be so kind to him.
The English community in Chandrapore host a party to help Adela and Mrs. Moore become more acquainted with the area and its people. The event is quite awkward, with the Indians and English rarely mixing. Adela does meet Cyril Fielding at the party. He is the English principal of a local college and is very much in favour of mixing with the Indian population of Chandrapore. Fielding organises a dinner to which he invites Adela, Mrs. Moore, and Aziz. A Hindu professor named Godbole is also in attendance.
Fielding's dinner goes much more smoothly than the previous party. Aziz and Fielding get along very well and quickly form a close bond. The dinner is soured by the arrival of Ronny, who acts arrogantly. This behaviour almost pushes Adela to break off her engagement with him.
Aziz organises an expedition to the Marabar Caves. Adela, Mrs. Moore, Fielding, and Godbole are all invited. Fielding and Godbole miss their train and are late as a result. Aziz, Adela, and Mrs. Moore begin to explore the caves by themselves. The caves unsettle Mrs. Moore, and she becomes unwell. She decides to remain where she is as the others continue to explore. Adela and Aziz have a moment of privacy in which Adela asks Aziz if he has multiple wives. This is because she is reconsidering her relationship with Ronny. Aziz takes great offence to this and sees it as representative of her prejudices about India. He is a widower.
Aziz then leaves in anger. He eventually returns to find Adela gone. At the bottom of the caves, he finds Fielding, who informs him that Adela left abruptly. Not long after, Aziz is arrested on a charge of rape that Adela has made against him. This turns the entire English community in Chandrapore against Aziz. Only Fielding and Mrs. Moore believe in his innocence. Before Aziz's trial, Ronny pushes Mrs. Moore to return to England. She does so but passes away during the journey.
The trial commences. During it, Adela is questioned under oath about what transpired between her and Aziz in the caves. She goes back on her accusation and declares Aziz innocent. The case falls apart and Aziz is free.
Following the trial, Adela stays with Fielding at the local college, as the English community has shunned her. Fielding warms to her because she was brave enough to declare Aziz innocent. Ronny then breaks off his engagement with Adela. Both Adela and Fielding return to England separately. Aziz is upset that Fielding, a man he considered a close friend, has become so close to the woman who almost falsely imprisoned him. He declares that he will no longer interact with the English.
The final section of A Passage to India takes place two years later. Aziz is now a chief doctor in a Hindu region far from Chandrapore. One day, he discovers that Fielding and his brother-in-law, Ralph Moore, are in the area. Aziz is deeply upset by Fielding's presence as he believes Fielding to have married Adela. He later discovers that Fielding really married Stella Moore, Mrs. Moore's daughter from her second marriage.
At the end of Forster's novel, Aziz and Fielding reconcile. They take a ride on a rowboat together before Fielding returns to England. The two men conclude that they can be friends, but not yet. It will only be fully possible once India and England's colonial relationship significantly alters.
When analysing a novel, it is important to consider what genres it fits under. A Passage to India falls under the genre of modernism.
Modernism as a genre began in the early twentieth century. It is characterised by its effort to break with traditional literary forms. Modernist texts are often experimental and focus on the individual. They also frequently explore the chaotic nature of life. Some famous examples of modernist texts include Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and Ulysses (1920) by James Joyce.
A Passage to India contains complex and intertwining plots with many characters. This is a common feature in modernist texts. Forster's novel also includes many passages with a stream of consciousness narrative.
A stream of consciousness narrative is when a story follows a character's inner thoughts. They attempt to realistically portray the way people's thoughts naturally jump from one topic to another. This is another modernist technique.
When Adela and Aziz are in the caves, Adela hears an echo that confuses and distresses her. The echo is the same one that caused Mrs. Moore to feel unwell and stay behind on the group's exploration of the caves. Forster remains vague about the echo and what caused it. This ambiguity encourages readers to decide their own meaning. We can also see this as a modernist element of A Passage to India.
Now let's look at some key themes in A Passage to India.
Forster's novel deals extensively with prejudice. The English community in India hold many biases about India and its people, and A Passage to India shows the complicated dynamic between the two groups. The English are in Chandrapore because their country is occupying India. They oversee a country that is not their own. Many of the English characters see Indians as inferior.
Ronny Heaslop represents the English attitude towards the Indians. He is arrogant and snobby. Ronny also judges the Indians, referring to them as the 'natives'. This language carries a derogatory tone.
Even the more liberal English characters in A Passage to India are not lacking in prejudice. Adela wishes to understand the real India and is open to friendships with Indians. However, an uncomfortable situation pushes her to accuse an innocent Aziz of assault. She falls back into old stereotypes when she feels threatened. A man of colour being a threat to an English woman was a prevalent stereotype at Forster's time of writing.
The tone of A Passage to India makes it clear that Forster is criticising English prejudice against Indians and the way in which Britain runs institutions in India. Forster does not portray characters like Ronny in a positive light, whereas the victims of prejudice, like Aziz, are shown very sympathetically.
Despite the differences between the two communities, friendships form between English and Indian characters in A Passage to India. One of the most significant friendships in the text is between Aziz and Fielding.
The two men become quick friends once they meet. Fielding is much more liberal and open-minded than many of his countrymen. Aziz and his friends regard many in the English community in Chandrapore as ignorant, foolish, and uneducated about India. Forster shows this to be true for many English characters in his novel, but Aziz's friendship with Fielding convinces him to be less wary of the English. Fielding is one of the few people that believes wholeheartedly in Aziz's innocence during the trial against him.
However, things change after the trial. Both men spend more time around their own communities again. Aziz turns against Fielding when he begins to become closer to Adela. This breaks the two friends apart. Aziz's disgruntlement lasts for two years until Fielding returns to India and clarifies that he did not marry Adela.
Aziz and Fielding do reconcile, but Forster points out to readers that the dynamic between their two races will always prevent them from achieving a full friendship. It appears that a changed India is the only way that similar people from the two respective countries will ever be able to truly maintain a friendship.
We will now look at some symbols that are present in A Passage to India.
The mosque is an important symbol in A Passage to India. This is where Mrs. Moore and Aziz first meet in the early section of the novel. Their meeting is the first positive interaction between an English character and an Indian character in the text. Aziz is surprised that Mrs. Moore knows to take her shoes off before entering the mosque. He is also pleasantly surprised that an English woman is treating him in such a kindly manner. This is not Aziz's typical experience with the English community in Chandrapore.
[Aziz] was partly excited by his wrongs, but much more by the knowledge that someone sympathised with them…[Mrs. Moore] had proved her sympathy by criticising her fellow countrywoman to him. (Chp. 1)
The mosque symbolises friendship and understanding. It is a place in which two people from two very different backgrounds are capable of getting along and respecting each other. The mosque also symbolises peace and serenity. Forster shows it as a place that Aziz goes to find quiet and calm in his busy life.
The Marabar Caves play a key role in A Passage to India. Aziz invites the other central characters in the text to visit them. Through his use of language, Forster emphasises the vast and unsettling nature of the caves. They are difficult to comprehend and neither group of people in the text has control over them, Indian or English. The echo that the Marabar Caves contain impacts many of the novel's characters.
The echo in a Marabar cave is...entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. "Boum" is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or "bou-oum," or "ou-boum" – utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeal of a boot, all produce "boum." (Chp. 14)
The caves symbolise a significant moment of change in A Passage to India. They are so overwhelming that, while in the caves, characters are forced to contend with issues they may have been repressing. Mrs. Moore has no choice but to deal with her doubts about her religious faith, which deeply affects her mental state. Adela also comes to terms with the fact that she is no longer attracted to Ronny. Her realisation pushes her to ask Aziz if he has multiple wives, which upsets him deeply. A series of events are then set in motion that push the English and Indian communities in Chandrapore even further apart.
E.M. Forster was born on 1st January 1879 in London. His father passed away from tuberculosis when Forster was very young. Forster and his mother were left a great deal of money and so Forster had a privileged childhood. He attended Cambridge University, studying history, literature, and philosophy. This is where Forster found a passion for writing.
Forster travelled around Europe often as a young man. He spent time in Italy, Austria, and Germany. These travels would prove to be a significant inspiration in Forster's work. He published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, in 1905. This was a successful novel with critics.
As Forster continued to publish, he gained popularity and became a well-known writer. Some of his other works include A Room with a View (1908), Howard's End (1910), and A Passage to India (1924). Forster received some criticism from contemporary critics as he tended to question accepted social norms.
As the twentieth century progressed, E.M. Forster began to take on broadcasting jobs. He came known as a public figure and a liberal intellectual. Forster moved back to Cambridge under an honorary fellowship in his old age, remaining there until his death in 1970 at the age of 91. Today, Forster is regarded as a key early twentieth-century writer who captured the world he lived in and often challenged it too.
Prejudice is a key theme in this novel.
The message of A Passage to India is that true friendship between Indians and English is impossible while Britain still occupies India.
The ending of this novel insinuates that Aziz and Fielding may be good friends one day but not yet, not until India is free from British rule.
It is about the difficulty of relations between the English and Indian communities in India during the British Raj.
When was A Passage to India published?
What are two key themes in A Passage to India?
Prejudice and friendship.
What are two important symbols in A Passage to India?
The Marabar Caves and the mosque.
What genre does A Passage to India fit under?
Why does Forster come to the conclusion that Fielding and Aziz cannot be friends yet?
Because India is still under British rule.
Which character can be said to represent the prejudiced English attitude towards Indians?
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