A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Discuss A Passage to India as a modern novel.

A Passage to India may seem backward-looking in its sensational plot, but includes several modern elements, including the use of symbolism and stream of consciousness. Most important, however, are the social attitudes, and the placing of Indian characters, such as the complex and thoughtful Dr. Aziz, at the center of the narrative.

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A Passage to India is often pigeon-holed as a modern novel because it was written in the early twentieth century by a member of the Bloomsbury Group. However, the novel does not make significant stylistic innovations and is not obviously Modernist in the same way as the works of Joyce, Eliot, or Woolf. The sensational plot, with its focus on social justice and sexual purity, might even strike the reader as somewhat Victorian.

The modern elements in A Passage to India are not to be found in the plot, or primarily in the style, though there are some experiments with stream of consciousness as a technique, particularly in examining Adela's thoughts. There is also a limited use of symbolism—for instance, in the way the Marabar Caves are described as synecdoche for India itself.

Forster's work, however, is modern primarily in its social attitudes. Instead of reducing the Indian characters to bit-parts and caricatures, Forster places Aziz at the center of the novel as a complex character who frequently puts the British colonists to shame with his intelligence and generosity. Aside from the relatively obscure work of Philip Meadows Taylor and Kipling's Kim, Victorian portrayals of Indians tended to be one-dimensional. Forster makes the Indian characters more heroic and interesting than the British ones, with the partial exceptions of Fielding and Mrs. Moore, both of whom are redeemed by their respect for India and Indians.

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