Discuss the theme of friendship in A Passage to India

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A principal focus of A Passage to India is the relationship between colonialism, race, and friendship.

The nature of Dr. Aziz's association with both Fielding and Miss Quested is central to the story. Aziz considers himself a friend to both of them, genuinely is a friend, and feels his positive...

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A principal focus of A Passage to India is the relationship between colonialism, race, and friendship.

The nature of Dr. Aziz's association with both Fielding and Miss Quested is central to the story. Aziz considers himself a friend to both of them, genuinely is a friend, and feels his positive feelings reciprocated. Yet Miss Quested turns the friendship into something else by imagining that Aziz has sexually assaulted her inside the mysterious Marabar Caves.

Until this point, Aziz has gone out of his way to make himself accepted to the Europeans. Unfortunately, this striving for acceptance was an inevitable factor in the colonial system, but the result was often a betrayal of friendship, or at least a perception of such betrayal by the injured person. Aziz is betrayed not only by Miss Quested but by Fielding as well. Although Fielding has believed him innocent, and although Aziz is acquitted of the charges, Fielding's continued friendship with Miss Quested in the aftermath of the trial undercuts whatever solidarity he had had with Aziz. It's as if the bond between the Europeans is something inviolable which trumps the friendship two men have had with each other.

Forster is not alone in showing this dynamic for what it is. The same kind of thing occurs in Orwell's Burmese Days when Flory, though the only real friend he has is Dr. Veraswami, signs his name to a bigoted letter posted on a notice board at the European Club, declaring that "natives" are not welcome as members. Flory does so while knowing that Veraswami will hear about it, even though as a "native" he isn't supposed to set foot in the Club. Both Forster and Orwell depict a dysfunctional arrangement in colonial India and Burma that inevitably affects and even destroys friendships that are, at least initially, genuine.

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Friendship is presented by Forster as forming the most important emotional and spiritual bond between two people other than love. It is this very power that allows people from very different cultural backgrounds to form lasting connections. And yet, despite this power, cross-cultural friendship must often struggle against prevailing prejudice which sees the relationship between the British and their colonial Indian subjects as that between superiors and subordinates.

At every stage in the story, it seems that friendships are under attack, undermined by differences in race, class, religion, and gender. Aziz develops a friendship with Mrs. Moore and Fielding. And yet everything goes awry when Mrs. Moore starts losing her mind. As for Fielding, he may appear, on the surface, to be an enlightened colonial administrator, but even he's unable to break free from prejudice to form a genuine friendship of equals with Aziz.

In that sense, one could argue that Forster is putting forward the notions that colonialism distorts the normal patterns of human intercourse and that friendship, that most natural of connections between one human being and another, can never properly develop, let alone thrive, in an environment where distinctions of race, gender, and religion govern people's lives to a considerable extent.

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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.

 

 

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