''The weakness of all Forster's novels lies in a failure to dramatize quite convincingly of the positive values which he has to set against the destroyers of the morality of the heart.'' Discuss with reference to A Passage to India.
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Forster was of a liberal and humanist disposition, and placed utmost emphasis on the importance of personal human relationships, yet he constantly shows that personal relations cannot withstand the strains of external forces. To quote the epigraph to his novel Howard’s End: 'only connect'. But his characters often prove themselves unequal to the task. A Passage to India is an outstanding example of this. The novel shows the constraints placed on friendships by differences of race, culture, creed, and gender, and ultimately none of the characters can surmount these differences. The situation is particularly piquant in that it is set in Anglo-India at a time of growing tension between the Indians and their self-imposed British overlords. Colonisers and colonized alike are adversely affected by the political realities of empire. There is great mutual distrust between the British and the Indians. The British generally remain aloof and haughty, the Indians are alternately servile and resentful.
However there is a select group of characters who attempt to go beyond social, cultural and political divisions. They exhibit the positive values of humanism - of kindliness, consideration and interest towards one’s fellow human beings. These characters make a genuine attempt to reach out to each other across the racial, cultural and gender divide. However, the English who genuinely try to reach out to the Indians – Fielding, Mrs Moore and Adela Quested - are finally unable to do so. On the Indian side, Aziz, who is most eager to accept inter-racial friendship, arranging a convivial picnic with the two ladies and Fielding, is literally put on trial for his efforts when falsely accused of attempted rape by Adela.
However, Adela does not lay the rape charge out of malice but out of genuine confusion, as she is subject to an hallucination. This is the chaos which is seen to result when English and Indians attempt to meet on a informal level. Mrs Moore, who to begin with is the most natural and unconstrained character in the entire novel, ends up having a mental breakdown and dies on the way back to England. After his disastrous attempt at inter-racial friendships, Aziz, although acquitted, determines to have nothing more to do with the British, and becomes consumed with bitterness – only partly in the end regaining his original strong friendship with Fielding. Fielding was the only Englishman to staunchly stick up for Aziz at the trial, losing all respect from his countrymen in the process, but subsequently he too becomes rather more conservative, less open-minded in his outlook:
He …. felt surprise at his own past heroism. Would he today defy all his own people for the sake of a stray Indian? (chapter 37)
There is no character, then, who is seen to altogether retain his or her most positive virtues in the face of external difficulties. Some do make a gallant attempt, but ultimately they are all seen to succumb to outer pressures, in one way or another. This rather dishearteningly suggests that no amount of personal goodness and integrity is quite enough to fully overcome social barriers. Forster argues that true friendship must be able to override social and cultural considerations while at the same time showing this to be virtually impossible. However, maybe this is not so much a weakness of the novel as a soberly realistic assessment of the state of affairs in a colonized country.
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