When A Passage to India was published in 1924, many readers thought it was a political novel. This was largely due to the author's portrayal of the tensions in India caused by British colonialism. The story is set in the early twentieth century when the British Empire was beginning to crumble.
E.M. Forster, however, insisted that in writing A Passage to India, his "main purpose was not political, was not even sociological." While the background of A Passage to India is political, the author's main focus is in the personal relationships between individual characters. Forster believed that the forging of meaningful relationships with others is a goal that all humans should strive for. This belief is summed up by the phrase "only connect," which Forster used in his earlier novel Howards End (1910).
In A Passage to India, Forster shows that imperialism has caused mistrust and conflict in relationships between the Indians and the British. At the beginning of the novel, Dr. Aziz and his group of Indian friends debate "whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman," and the question recurs as a motif throughout the story.
Right from the start, Forster's main characters try to overcome their racial and cultural differences. Adela, Cyril Fielding, and Mrs. Moore all disapprove of racist British attitudes towards Indians. Dr. Aziz, meanwhile, is a Western-educated Muslim man who is disinterested in anti-British politics. Open and warm-hearted, he extends the hand of friendship to anyone who treats him respectfully. When Dr. Aziz meets Mrs. Moore at the mosque, for example, he instinctively feels that she is receptive to meaningful human connection: "You understand me, you know what others feel." Aziz also goes on to develop a close friendship with Cyril Fielding, coming to think of him as a "brother."
The three sections of the novel—"Mosque," "Caves," and "Temple"—trace the development of the personal relationships between the characters. In "Mosque," their friendships are established. In "Caves," those relationships are destroyed when Adela accuses Aziz of sexual assault. Adela's misreading of the situation is brought on by the alien atmosphere of the Marabar Caves. Although claiming to want to see the "real India," she is unable to cope when she does so. Her catastrophic mistake suggests that the personal limitations of the characters will always prevent them from truly connecting with one another. When Aziz is wrongfully arrested, his hopes of maintaining harmonious relationships with the British are shattered. Feeling betrayed by Fielding, who sides with Adela, he states that he wishes "no Englishman or Englishwoman to be my friend".
Just as all seems lost, in "Temple" Forster shows a tentative rebuilding of relationships. Aziz and Fielding resume their friendship, even though they know that they will not be able to meet again. Their final reunion acknowledges that while things have not worked out as they hoped, they still respect and value each other.
The novel's closing sentence—"No, not yet... No, not there"—gives a glimmer of hope for the future. While Forster's characters fail to achieve harmony, the author implies that we must continue to strive for real connection with others. The answer to solving human conflict, he suggests, lies not in politics, but in how we relate to one another as individuals.