Forster tries to shift the theme of the novel from history to philosophy. Do you agree? Give a reasoned answer.  

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E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India is historical in that it depicts conditions that existed in a particular period of time and in a particular place. It is also, of course, a novel. As with most novels that occur against a backdrop of historical relevance, A Passage to...

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E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India is historical in that it depicts conditions that existed in a particular period of time and in a particular place. It is also, of course, a novel. As with most novels that occur against a backdrop of historical relevance, A Passage to India is much more than a recitation or description of history. In fact, Forster’s classic is about a topic of continuing sociological and political relevance: colonialism and the confrontations that existed between the powerful and the oppressed.

At the heart of A Passage to India is the relationship between an English schoolteacher, Adela Quested, and a young Indian physician, Dr. Aziz, who takes it upon himself to show his native country to Adela and her travel companion, Mrs. Moore. The story’s main conflict revolves around a mysterious development in the darkened caves to which Dr. Aziz takes these proper Englishwomen on a tour. Forster takes great pains to illuminate the contrasts between civilizations with imperial power, like Great Britain, dominating far-away lands while seeking to replace native cultures with their own culture and customs. Because this clash between cultures comes to dominate Forster’s narrative, the novel itself can be considered more a philosophical treatment than a mere recitation of history.

Any good novelist recognizes the importance of context as well as subtext. In a novel like A Passage to India, which depicts the contrasts between enslaved and master, it is clear that the history the author provides serves to buttress the theme he considered most central to his story. The British sought to administer colonial holdings by imposing their own systems and values on those they vanquished through superior military and economic might. To the vanquished, such impositions were the cause of resentment and, in many cases, rebellion. Forster did not shift the theme of his novel so much as use history to depict the struggle inherent in the relationship between colonial power and colony. When Dr. Aziz thinks to himself near the novel’s conclusion that “I am an Indian at last,” he is asserting his final liberation, if only emotionally, from the yoke of British imperialism. That is both a historical and a philosophical notion.

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I think that there are many elements at play in the novel.  I think that there is a narrative story being told from a literary standpoint that integrates aspect of history and philosophy into one forum.  The idea of exploring the different cultural valences is one that spans both history and philosophy.  The English culture and Indian culture, as both presented in the novel, are ones that have differences in historical and philosophical narratives.  To a great extent, Forster attempts to discuss both differences from the cultural standpoints.  I am not entirely certain that there is a conscious shift of literary voice or paradigm in the novel to the extent that the statement presumes.  I believe that there is a discussion of historical differences and consciousness and a philosophical set of differences and expression of consciousness within the literary story being told.

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I am assuming that you are referring to A Passage to India by E. M. Forster? If so, I would have to disagree with this statement. I think this is a multi-layered novel and that history and philosophy are but two of the layers. The historical layer is necessary to the plot and setting. It takes place in India during British colonial rule. The history is an important part of the theme, or the philosophy, because it focuses on the relationship that the British had with their colonies. The historical relationship between these two cultures illustrates the challenges to establishing friendships when the two cultures involved are so very different in terms of language, religion, food, physicality, philosophies.

The novel also has a symbolic level in which history and philosophy go hand in hand. The India of the novel is a country of three religious philosophies: Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. The Christian Europeans, with a few exceptions, are presented as being very ethnocentric with regard to other religions and in their ignorance, wind up offending Muslims and Hindus. The Muslims in the novel are cultural Muslims and do not really practice Islam (Dr. Aziz) other than on a superficial level. The only true man of faith is the Hindu, Professor Godbole. His Hindu philosophy totally accepts things as they are. Forster seems to suggest that this philosophy is the best approach to life. It also seems to represent the "real" India.

So history and philosophy are both different levels of the themes in this novel, and they work together to illustrate them. You can read about the themes here on enotes (click on the link below and then choose "themes") to expand this theory further if you agree.

Another teacher may give you a different viewpoint and then you can decide what YOU think.

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