A Passage to India Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Chandrapore

Chandrapore Old, remote Hindu city with filthy alleyways and mean streets that is divided into three parts: old Chandrapore on the Ganges River; inland Maidan on higher ground, and the Civil Station on the second hill. Although it is located on the river, Chandrapore has no riverfront and no bathing steps. Nothing distinguishes Chandrapore except for its proximity to the Marabar Caves. It is home for the Indians.

Maidan

Maidan. Central section of Chandrapore that contains the hospital in which Dr. Aziz practices medicine and which is the section in which most Europeans live, in houses near the railway station. Maidan has an oval parade field on which polo is played and where soldiers practice.

Civil Station

Civil Station. Section of Chandrapore made up of British civil offices and residences. It is a city of gardens, forests, birds, and streets laid out and named for generals. If not charming, it is functional, with houses for the officials, a grocery store, a cemetery, the Chandrapore Club, Government College, and the official offices. The police station and courthouse are located in the Civil Station. The police station is where Aziz is incarcerated after he is accused of an attack on Adela. The court is the formal courtroom for legal proceedings and is composed of several platforms for various service persons and magistrates who function in the courtroom.

The Civil Station is more formal than some of the other settings of the novel. Mr. Fielding’s residence is located near the Government College. Social interaction among Aziz, the British officials, and visitors before and after Aziz’s trial occurs here. It is also the only place for Adela to stay after the trial ends. The residence of the superintendent of police is where Mrs. McBryde provides nursing care and sanctuary for Adela after the attack and before the trial. However, because of cultural and religious prejudices, the home is closed to Adela when she recants her accusation of Aziz.

Mosque

Mosque. Islamic place of prayer that is a peaceful, gracious, but crumbling holy place. It is enclosed with a low wall around the courtyard, with a stream that runs through the garden and a three-sided covered part. Aziz frequents this mosque and one night is disturbed to see an Englishwoman there. After admonishing her for entering the mosque and wearing her shoes inside, he learns of her knowledge and genuine appreciation for the Islamic religion and for India.

Chandrapore Club

Chandrapore Club. Social center for British government officials from which Indians are denied admittance. Instead of bridging the gap between the colonizers and their subjects, this club makes the gap wider.

Marabar Caves

Marabar Caves. Complex of caverns in the rough Marabar Hills overlooking Chandrapore. The caves are not sacred, contain no sculptures or drawings, and are not tourist attractions. They are all just alike. The entrance is a long human-made tunnel that leads to a circular center room. It is believed that the caves were opened in the seventeenth century by the orders of Shivaji, perhaps for the Hindu military to flee to the hills from Muslim invasions. The ruined water tank near one is probably the remains of the elaborate cistern system that was built to supply water for those who sought refuge in the caves. Kawa Dol is the only cave mentioned by name, but it is not accessible.

The most important scene in A Passage to India is Aziz’s visit to the caves with the British women. Puzzling and terrifying to both Muslims and Anglo-Indians, the caves form the center of the novel. The caves are elemental. They have been there from the beginning of the earth. They are not Hindu holy places, but Godbole can respect them without fear. Cave worship is the cult of the female principle, the Sacred Womb, Mother Earth. The Marabar Caves, both womb and grave, demand total effacing of ego. The individual loses identity, and whatever is said returns as Ommm, the holy word. The caves are terrifying and chaotic to those who rely on the intellect. The outing itself emphasizes the chaos that is India. Once in the caves, the party encounters the Nothingness that terrifies.

Aziz’s home

Aziz’s home. Small hut, simply furnished with minimal furniture, that is the meeting place of Aziz’s friends. The only thing of value that Aziz owns is a picture of his deceased wife.

Mau Palace

Mau Palace. Beautiful white stucco palace with a courtyard and expensive, exotic furnishings. Inside is a small shrine that serves as the setting of a British ceremony. The streets near the palace provide the setting for the Procession of the Chief God, an evening torchlight procession.

A Passage to India Background

The political structure of the India that Forster visited and depicted in A Passage to India over 70 years ago was fundamentally different from that of India today. In Forster’s day, India was ruled by the British. It had not yet won its independence, nor had it endured the partition and savage rioting that followed it. Forster’s India was one country, not yet separated into India and Pakistan. The caste system, a strict social categorization that would later be attacked and weakened by Mahatma Gandhi and others, still ruled Hindu life and culture.

The India of Forster’s novel is still recognizable as a huge, hot, sprawling country, home to a multitude of ethnic groups and religions. Some 200 languages are spoken there. Religious and spiritual life seem to play a different, more open and imposing role in India than in the West. The major religions are Hindu and Muslim, with important minorities such as Sikhs and Parsis. The overall impression is one of diversity, sometimes accompanied by tolerance and sometimes by riots and massacres, during which one group attacks another or destroys sacred sites associated with another tradition.

A Passage to India is set in India under what was known as the British Raj, a system of colonial administration that began in a few coastal states as an outgrowth of the British East India Company. It grew to include almost all of India. The British East India Company’s major trade was in cotton goods, silks, spices, and saltpeter. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, aided by the British army and its Indian contingents, the Company extended its power and profits in India. In 1858, after the Indian Mutiny, the Company came under the direct rule of the British crown.

Although the mutiny is mentioned occasionally in Forster’s novel, it remains a ghostly presence and a reminder of a time when the subjects rose up against the representatives of the foreign power in their midst. The shock of the uprisings that took place in various parts of India, during which people were shot or hacked to death, reverberated in the memory of the English colonialists, while Indians never forgot the revolting punishments imposed when the mutiny was put down and the British Army took its revenge. Another and more recent massacre had occurred in the Punjab in 1919, between Forster’s first and second trip to India, when hundreds of peaceful Sikh demonstrators were shot down by the British Army at Amritsar.

Deeply shocked by the reports from Amritsar, Forster condemned the massacre as an example of “public infamy.” It was the slaughter of the nationalist demonstrators at Amritsar, as well as Britain’s hostility toward the Khilafat, an Islamic movement, which led Hindus and Muslims to join in a non-cooperation movement. Although Forster lived in the Hindu state of Dewas during his second visit to India, he was aware that this movement was growing rapidly in British India, and was producing marked changes in the Indian social and political scene. Besides protesting against imperialism, social discrimination, and repression, the native inhabitants of the country were attempting to regain control of their own destinies. A Passage to India depicts the conditions under which Indians were deprived of opportunities for advancement and were continually overlooked or insulted by the Anglo-Indian ruling class.

A specific historical situation that Forster probably employed in constructing the central incident in A Passage to India had occurred in Amritsar in 1919, around the time of the massacre. It was written by “an Englishwoman” who was new to India and had lived in Amritsar at the time of the nationalist demonstrations. In her article, published in Blackwood’s Magazine in April 1920, she describes an occasion on which an English girl had been brutally assaulted by a group of Indians. In the aftermath, the Anglo-Indians gathered at the Fort and special trains took the women to the hills, just as in the novel. Forster may well have read this Englishwoman’s account and based parts of A Passage to India on it. Various other features of the historical events, including the conciliatory tactics adopted by the British authorities after the crisis, seem to be reflected or referred to in the novel.

When seen against the historical background of British rule in India, the events of the novel take on greater resonance. For example, in the context of punishments that had actually been inflicted on Indians—such as the “crawling order” that forced them to crawl on all fours through a particular lane after the Amritsar assault—the bitter vengefulness expressed by some Anglo-Indian characters in the novel cannot be attributed simply to individual aberrations. Revenge had become an instrument of government policy. Similarly, the Indians’ deep distrust of their British rulers, which at times seems to border on paranoia, can be understood as a reaction to the system of apartheid instituted by the British Raj.

A Passage to India Historical Context

Forster's England
Although the action of A Passage to India takes place entirely in India, it should be remembered that...

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A Passage to India Literary Style

Point of View
A Passage to India is written in the third person, with an impersonal narrative voice. This technique makes...

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A Passage to India Literary Techniques

Forster may have been the first (only, perhaps) novelist to treat mysterious India realistically—to uncover it, as it were—simply...

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A Passage to India Ideas for Group Discussions

Although some literary critics regard A Passage to India as dated, the novel continues to present current ideas of clashes between...

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A Passage to India Social Concerns

There exists no doubt that one of E.M. Forster's primary concerns in A Passage to India focuses upon the realistic depiction of the...

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A Passage to India Compare and Contrast

1910s-1920s: The British Empire stretches around the world. British-ruled territory in Asia includes present-day India, Pakistan,...

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A Passage to India Glossary: Anglo-Indian Terminology

Glossary of Anglo-Indian Terminology
Anglo-Indian: An English person living in India, particularly one there for a considerable...

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A Passage to India Topics for Further Study

Research a specific aspect of life in British India in the early twentieth century. Possible aspects for study include, the British colonial...

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A Passage to India Literary Precedents

If one must, for whatever reasons, discuss the literary precedents of Forster's A Passage to India, one needs, quite frankly, to...

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A Passage to India Related Titles

Although A Passage to India stands far and above Forster's earlier novels, echoes and reverberations from those works, although not...

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A Passage to India Adaptations

Santha Rama Rau adapted A Passage to India for the stage, and that piece premiered in London on January 18, 1960, with Forster in...

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A Passage to India Media Adaptations

A Passage to India was adapted as a film by David Lean, starring Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, and Alec...

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A Passage to India What Do I Read Next?

E. M. Forster's first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, was published in 1905. Set it Italy, it concerns the tragic relations between...

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A Passage to India Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Bradbury, Malcolm, ed. E. M. Forster, “A Passage to India”: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1970. Nineteen essays about every aspect of the novel. Particularly interesting are an interview with Forster in which he discusses his writing of A Passage to India and a selection of early reviews and reactions to his novel.

Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Provides many details about Forster’s travels in India. Explains Forster’s struggles to write his masterpiece and how he coped with its critical and financial success.

Godfrey, Denis. E. M. Forster’s Other Kingdom. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968. Focuses on the mystical themes in the novel. Shows how Mrs. Moore—a symbol of good—influences the other characters and the plot even after her death.

Herz, Judith Scherer. “A Passage to India”: Nation and Narration. New York: Twayne, 1993. Overview of the novel with a section explaining the historical background of the British Raj. Detailed discussion of Forster’s style and use of symbolism; also addresses the problem of narrative voice.

Shahane, V. A., ed. Perspectives on E. M. Forster’s “A Passage to India”: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968. Fourteen essays about A Passage to India, many of which discuss its symbolic qualities. Insights include those from Indian literary critics.

A Passage to India Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Parminder, Bakshi. "The Politics of Desire: E.M. Forster's Encounters with India in A Passage to India": Theory and...

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