A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Part I, Chapter VII: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 768

New Character:
Professor Narayan Godbole: an elderly Hindu of the Brahmin caste

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Aziz is the first to arrive at Fielding’s tea party. When Fielding can’t find his collar stud, Aziz removes his and loans it to him. Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested arrive. Professor Godbole arrives and has his tea apart from the others. Aziz asks Miss Quested why she doesn’t settle in India. Miss Quested replies that she couldn’t do that, and is then surprised and taken aback at her reply. Aziz invites the party to visit the Marabar Caves with him. He has never been there; Professor Godbole describes them vaguely.

Ronny Heaslop arrives and wants to take Adela to see a polo game. He ignores Aziz and Professor Godbole, criticizes Fielding for leaving Miss Quested alone with Aziz and Professor Godbole, and makes disparaging remarks about Aziz. Aziz mentions that Miss Quested will not stay in India. They all say good-bye, feeling uneasy. As Heaslop, Miss Quested, and Mrs. Moore start to leave, Professor Godbole begins to sing a religious song to Shri Krishna. The chapter ends in silence.

This chapter depends on rapid alterations of tone and mood, like a piece of music. It ends with a musical composition, a song that is unfamiliar to European ears. Although some outward forms of civility are maintained, the mood shifts rapidly throughout the chapter.

It begins with a growing intimacy between Aziz and Fielding. This provides further development of both these characters. Fielding treats Aziz with easy informality. Aziz is pleased to find that Fielding’s home does not fit the Muslim’s stereotype of English order, “everything ranged so coldly on the shelves.” Privately, he thinks of the English as “cold and odd and circulating like an ice stream.” This emphasis on cold is in contrast to his own warm nature. He is excitable and changeable, carried away by his impulsiveness. When Aziz offers Fielding his own collar stud, he demonstrates his generosity. However, his uncontrollable chatter and his use of English slang make him seem faintly ridiculous.

The keynote to this chapter, and to much of the novel, is revealed in Mrs. Moore’s remark about muddle and mystery. These terms serve to describe most of the social intercourse at Fielding’s party. Even the first scene between Fielding and Aziz contains false notes.

Muddles are easy to spot. The greatest of them, the pivotal event upon which the unfolding of the entire novel rests, is Aziz’s invitation to the Marabar Caves. Forster’s irony is evident; Aziz invites the women only in order to distract them from the possibility of coming to his house. He has never been to the caves and knows nothing about them.

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While Professor Godbole offers to describe them, the description consists mostly of negatives. No one seems to know why they are of any interest at all.

Although the members of different groups are face-to-face and in conversation at this tea party, there are still layers within a culture that outsiders find very difficult to penetrate. This is illustrated by the conversation between Aziz and Professor Godbole about the caves. Realizing that Professor Godbole is concealing information about the caves, and attempting to lead him into revealing more, Aziz begins to play a sort of mental game with him. The narrator informs us that Miss Quested is entirely unaware of the underdrift of this conversation, even though the talk goes on for some time.

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Latest answer posted March 21, 2016, 9:42 pm (UTC)

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The most extreme shift in mood occurs when Heaslop enters. He is annoyed to find Miss Quested alone with two Indian men and addresses himself only to her, ignoring Aziz and Professor Godbole. Oblivious to his own rudeness, Heaslop later remarks that he couldn’t have upset the Indians because he hadn’t even spoken to them. Forster’s irony underscores this example of the Anglo-Indian refusal to recognize that their Indian subjects have human feelings.

The mood of general irritation ushered in by Heaslop shifts entirely once again, this time due to Professor Godbole’s song, a song full of yearning for the absent Beloved, the mystery of the absent God. His song reveals another side of Professor Godbole. Although he has previously seemed only polite and enigmatic, he now appears in the character of a spiritual devotee. The song that he sings is a revelation of the Spirit of India, which dedicates itself to the worship of the invisible presence that is behind and beyond all forms. It affects the listeners deeply, and its consequences reach far beyond the scene in which it is sung.

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Part I, Chapters IV – VI: Summary and Analysis


Part I, Chapter VIII: Summary and Analysis