Why are the Marabar caves so important in Forster's A Passage to India?
The Marabar Caves are one of the central locations in E. M. Forster's A Passage to India. Indeed, the second section of the novel, "The Caves," is named in reference to them. In this section, Dr. Aziz, a Muslim Indian Man, invites a party of British colonizers he is attempting to befriend on a tour through the caves, which are described as labyrinthine and extremely echo-y. Among the party is Miss Adela Quested, who, when Aziz briefly leaves her alone, falls down a hill. Later she accuses Aziz of attacking/sexually assaulting her (euphemistically referred to as an "insult" by the characters) and claims this caused her fall. This accusation brings simmering racial tensions to the surface as Aziz is arrested and denied bail.
The caves themselves reflect back the ambiguous and sinister nature of these plot developments. The otherness of the landscape and the distortion caused by the echo serve as a mirror to the characters' experiences.
On a simple level, the Marabar Caves are the setting of the crucial event in A Passage to India: Adela's accusation that Dr. Aziz has sexually assaulted her. Adela's charge against Aziz makes racial tensions hidden under the hypocritical coat of respectability of imperial institutions come out in the open. In the trial that follows, the characters' allegiances are severely tested. Yet, on a more complex level, the Marabar Caves are not a mere setting, but have symbolic overtones. With their echo, they can be taken as a symbol of distortion. It is in the Marabar Caves that Adela distorts reality; it is their echo that makes Mrs. Moore aware that her image of India and the image of the Empire is a distorted one. The caves are also a symbol of the unconscious in the human psyche, as they release in Adela all her repressed fears.