A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Part I, Chapter VIII: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 925

New Characters:
Mr. Harris: the Eurasian chauffeur

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Krishna: an attendant in Heaslop’s office

Nureddin: the Nawab’s grandson

After leaving the party, Ronny Heaslop picks out Aziz’s missing collar stud as a clue to the forgetful character of all Indians. Mrs. Moore does not want to go to the polo game, and Adela also declines, so Heaslop decides to drop the polo. Losing his temper, he orders his mother and Adela to have nothing to do with Indians in the future. He and Adela leave Mrs. Moore at the bungalow and go to the polo game after all. While they are at the polo grounds, Adela requests a “thorough talk,” and she says she will not marry him. They see a bird that no one seems able to describe.

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The Nawab Bahadur arrives at the maidan and offers them a ride in his car. The Nawab gets into the front seat next to his chauffeur and falls asleep. Heaslop tells the chauffeur to take a different road. Suddenly, there is an accident and the car runs into a tree on the embankment. Miss Quested says that they hit an animal, which caused the car to go off the road, but no one seems to be able to determine what kind of animal it was.

Miss Derek drives by in “her” Maharani’s car and picks up everyone but the chauffeur. Nawab Bahadur praises the orderliness of British India, contrasting it to the superstition of the Indians. Heaslop and Adela, who have grown closer during the ride, decide to marry after all. Heaslop apologizes for his remarks. After the Nawab leaves the car, they go back to the bungalow, and before they go in, Miss Quested retracts her earlier refusal to marry Heaslop. They go into the bungalow and announce their engagement.

Mrs. Moore begins to think about going back to England. When they tell her of the accident, she says: “A ghost!” Heaslop carries on about “the native.” He begins to call to Krishna, the worker who was supposed to bring his files to the office, despite Heaslop’s shouting, he does not appear. Adela and Mrs. Moore play a game of Patience and discuss marriage and honesty.

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

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Surrounded by several others, the Nawab Bahadur is waiting for his car. He remembers an incident nine years before in which he had driven over a drunken man and killed him. He also speaks of the accident that had just happened and how horrified he is at risking the lives of his guests. Aziz whispers to Nureddin that it is necessary for Muslims to rid themselves of superstitions.

To the previous examples of muddle, mystery, and misunderstanding, this chapter adds misidentification. It is introduced when Adela notices a bird at the polo grounds. She asks Heaslop its name; he guesses wrong, and the bird remains just “some Indian wild bird.” The narrator explicitly tells us that “Nothing in India is identifiable.”

The climax of the chapter, the car accident, also involves a beast that cannot be identified. Adela believes that some dark and hairy animal caused the accident. Although the chauffeur locates the mark on the car, no one is sure if the animal was a goat, a hyena, or a buffalo; it is all conjecture.

Another kind of mystery surrounds this accident. When Mrs. Moore is told of it, she gasps, “A ghost!” This underlines Mrs. Moore’s role in the novel. She is unconsciously aware of things, and thus stirs up buried truths without realizing it. She scarcely knows what she has said or why, but afterwards, we learn that the Nawab Bahadur once drove over a drunken man and killed him. Although he has made reparation in every way he can, he still finds that the man’s spirit lies in wait for him. In his mind, that is what caused the accident. The Nawab’s earlier criticism of superstition is shown to be superficial—that is, to the rational mind that does not believe in ghosts.

A lighter, more ironic muddle is contained in Heaslop’s references to Aziz’s missing collar stud, a motif that recurs in this chapter. Heaslop’s use of the generic term “the native” has already indicated that he is unable to differentiate between one Indian and another. To him, the missing collar stud is an example of Indians’ lack of attention to detail; they always let you down, he warns Adela. As readers, we have seen Aziz lend his collar stud to Fielding and therefore understand that the missing collar stud is a sign of generosity, not negligence. Similarly, we are aware of the Nawab’s deep concern about the accident, and possible injury to his guests, while Heaslop believes he was indifferent. This type of muddle, of course, is due to prejudice, not innocent confusion.

Another recurring motif is the idea of god and the name of Krishna. An insignificant worker in Heaslop’s office bears the name of the Hindu deity. Heaslop shouts and bellows for him, in an unconscious parody of Professor Godbole’s call to the god. In both cases, the result is the same. Krishna does not come.

Again, there are ominous foreshadowings. The accident itself occurs on the Marabar Road, hinting that the expedition to the caves may not be a happy one. Heaslop speaks of the coming festival of Mohurram, when Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Mohammed’s sons. It has often been the occasion for Hindu/Muslim strife, and the Anglo-Indians are anticipating more trouble.

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Part I, Chapter VII: Summary and Analysis


Part I, Chapters IX – XI: Summary and Analysis