Friendship is a central theme of the novel. Forster uses it to highlight the problems caused by society and in particular, society in a colonised country. The three major friendships of the novel all involve the main Indian character, Aziz. He attempts to forge connections with the English trio of Mrs Moore, Adela, and Fielding. In each case, even if the friendship begins promisingly, it is soon beset by difficulties which are never wholly surmounted.
To look first at Aziz and Fielding, they seem to get on very well indeed for a time, but sadly their mutual friendship and respect is damaged by Aziz’s trial. Aziz comes to harbour a general hatred of the English as a result, or at least he tries to, and to this end readily believes the worst of even Fielding.
Even though the two men are reconciled by the end, they never quite regain the same esteem for each other as before. Aziz now really wants to have nothing to do with the English, while Fielding too has changed somewhat, after marrying an English girl. He is actually surprised to recall how much he tried to do for Aziz in the past:
Would he today defy all his own people for the sake of a stray Indian? (chapter 37)
Fielding, then, has become more conservative, more narrow in outlook by the end of the novel.
Aziz also tries to reach out to Adela, the young Englishwoman who shows a genuine interest in mingling with Indians, unlike nearly all her fellow countrywomen. However, this relationship turns out to be the most disastrous in the novel. Aziz’s well-intentioned attempt to arrange an expedition for her and Mrs Moore leads to general confusion and Adela’s hallucination that Aziz tried to attack her. Even though she suddenly retracts her accusation at the trial, it is far too late. Aziz comes to detest her while she is repentant and wholly ashamed and leaves the country altogether.
Finally, there is Aziz’s friendship with Mrs Moore. They form an instant bond in their first meeting in the mosque, despite all the differences of race, age, gender, religion and culture between them. Of all the major characters, Mrs Moore is the one who seems to connect most naturally and simply with other people; she does not care about social and cultural distinctions, she does not try to intellectualise and rationalise friendship, as do other characters (most notably Adela).
However, even Mrs Moore cannot cope with the barriers imposed on her friendship with Aziz by others, for instance her own son Ronny. The novel suggests that inter-racial friendship can flourish only when far from society, as exemplified by Mrs Moore’s and Aziz’s first meeting alone in the mosque at night; a romantic place, far removed from the usual social routines and conventions. In society, though, there are simply too many barriers to overcome. Mrs Moore ends up becoming deeply depressed, and like Adela, she too leaves India, to die at sea. Aziz never forgets her friendship, however.