A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Part I, Chapters IV – VI: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1092

New Characters:
Nawab Bahadur: wealthy Muslim landowner

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Mr. Ram Chand: Hindu associate of Dr. Panna Lal

Mr. Graysford and Mr. Sorley: Anglo-Indian missionaries

Miss Nancy Derek: Anglo-Indian companion to a Maharani

The McBrydes: Anglo-Indian District Superintendent of Police and his wife

Mr. and Mrs. Bhattacharya: Hindus of some wealth and status

Mrs. Das: a relation

Dr. Panna Lal: Hindu doctor, Aziz’s fellow assistant

A subaltern: Anglo-Indian army officer of lower rank

Some of the Muslims discuss whether or not they should accept Turton’s invitation to the gardens of the Club. The Nawab Bahadur believes that they should go, and his influence prevails. The narrator refers to all of those Indians who are so poor and considered so insignificant that they have not been invited, and to the missionaries Mr. Graysford and Mr. Sorley, who minister to this stratum of society and never come to the Club.

Chapter V takes us to the bridge-party. Heaslop and Mrs. Turton are condescending to the Indian women, who are uneasy and uncertain about how to behave. Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested try to open a conversation with them. Mrs. Moore asks if they may visit Mrs. Battacharya and Mrs. Das in return. Mr. Turton is perfunctory in his greetings. Only Mr. Fielding comes in and talks to everyone. Speaking to Miss Quested afterwards, he invites her and Mrs. Moore to tea. Adela is angry and miserable at the way the Indians have been treated.

Later, Mrs. Moore and her son, Ronny Heaslop, talk. Heaslop speaks of the difficulties he encounters as a magistrate. Mother and son disagree about the way the English should behave in India. The question of whether Heaslop and Miss Quested will marry is on Mrs. Moore’s mind.

The first scene of Chapter VI takes place earlier in time, before the party. Aziz is shown at his work as a surgeon. Major Callendar scolds him for not having arrived in time at the bungalow the previous night. Aziz thinks of his wife and her death and is saddened. He receives a note from Fielding inviting him to tea and is overjoyed. Instead of going to the party in the Club gardens, he goes to the maidan and plays polo with an unidentified subaltern. Later, in the presence of the Hindu Dr. Panna Lal, Aziz hits a Brahminy bull with his polo mallet.

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In this section Forster quietly introduces the idea of the Spirit of India. It is this spirit that Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore sense, without comprehending it. The spirit is beyond forms of government or codes of social behavior. It can be seen as the essence of the country.

A sensitivity to the Spirit of India is indicated by an interest in meeting and mixing with Indians. This interest, shared by Fielding, Miss Quested, and Mrs. Moore, is in itself enough to marginalize them in Anglo-Indian society. Fielding’s status as an outsider is emphasized when he says he seldom goes to the Club. Miss Quested’s sense that she too is an outsider, leads her to think in terms of allies. This introduces a theme that will define the sometimes shifting alliances that they and other characters form in the course of the book. Within the main groupings there are the subgroups of Hindu and Muslim, and pukka and non-pukka Anglo-Indians. Within those large groups, there are alliances that depend on individual qualities and on social attitudes.

The “bridge-party” takes place, and raises the question of how and to what degree the gulf between different cultures can be bridged. There are differing social codes that cause misunderstandings between members of the different groups. Mrs. Moore’s idea of visiting the Indian women gives them pleasure, but there is a certain confusion about the timing and a sense of miscommunication. There is also miscommunication between Dr. Panna Lal and Aziz. Aziz and the Anglo-Indian subaltern succeed in bridging the gap between the races during their polo match, but the glow rapidly fades when it is over.

This section begins to penetrate more deeply into the private thoughts and feelings that lie behind the facade that people maintain to control others or protect themselves. There is a contrast between what people are outwardly saying and doing and what they are actually thinking and feeling. Adela Quested is silently preoccupied by visions of what her life will be like if she marries Heaslop. And although Heaslop seems outwardly like the model of brutish conformity, his conversation with his mother reveals that he has inner conflicts, and a desire to do good in India. Still, his mother detects the lack of a “true regret from the heart.” This suggests that Heaslop will continue to be dominated by the need to keep up appearances.

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Aziz’s character is further developed. His innermost feelings center around memories of his dead wife, yet he soon forgets her and is in the mood for a game of polo. He is impulsive, yielding to the unfortunate desire to make an enemy of Dr. Panna Lal by galloping his pony and causing the Hindu’s pony to bolt, a scene that also strikes the note of latent enmity between Hindus and Muslims. These traits will later determine Aziz’s behavior in the crisis that is the high point of the plot.

The word “god” and the question of religion enter this section. The missionaries, Mr. Sorley and Mr. Graysford, are mentioned. They are perhaps the ultimate outsiders, ministering to the Indians and playing no part in Anglo-Indian social life. Their doors are open to all, regardless of race. This might seem admirable, but Forster belittles them by including a farcical discussion on the acceptability of monkeys, jackals, and wasps.

The tone deepens during Mrs. Moore’s conversation with her son. She begins by accusing the Anglo-Indians of posing as gods. These little gods are implicitly criticized as she goes on to speak of God’s purposes for India. She is aware of her son’s dislike of this theme. Like much else in Heaslop, his religion is limited to outward observance; he regards his mother’s references to God as a sign of ill health. However, Mrs. Moore has found herself constantly thinking of God since she arrived in India. This God is love, she says hesitantly, and is omnipresent. The difference is between an outer observance of Christianity and an approach to a deeper sense of it. The chapter ends with the suggestion of an emptiness beyond even God, something beyond the remotest echo.

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Part I, Chapters I – III: Summary and Analysis


Part I, Chapter VII: Summary and Analysis