A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Part II, Chapters XII – XIV: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 898

New Character:
Antony: Mrs. Moore’s and Miss Quested’s servant

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The Marabar Hills, one of the oldest geographical phenomena in the world, stand at a border where newer lands are advancing to cover the old. The repetitive layout of the caves is easily described, but there is something extraordinary and inhuman, or extra-human, about them that escapes description. They are dark inside, yet if a visitor strikes a match an answering flame is mirrored on the exquisitely polished walls of the circular chamber.

From the upper verandah of the Club, the hills look distant and romantic. Here Miss Quested is overheard remarking that she would like to have visited the caves. This report, magnified by rumor, travels to Aziz and forces him to begin planning an expedition. He asks Fielding and Godbole, and requests Fielding to invite the women. Everyone accepts, although no one is enthusiastic about this picnic.

Aziz makes elaborate arrangements, including borrowing servants from his friends. Miss Quested, Mrs. Moore, and their servant arrive early in the morning, but Aziz persuades them to leave their servant behind. Fielding and Godbole have been delayed by Godbole’s pujah, and when the train starts up, they are still on the other side of the level crossing. Aziz jumps onto the footboard, and in response to his howls, Fielding attempts to jump on, but misses his friend’s outstretched hand and falls back onto the line. Mrs. Moore reassures Aziz that the expedition has not been ruined, after all.

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In the purdah carriage, Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested chat about Adela’s forthcoming marriage. When they look out, the hills are still dark. Adela remarks that they must be near the place where her “hyena” was. She is thinking about her entry into Anglo-Indian life. An elephant is waiting to take the women to the caves. They climb up the ladder to the howdah as the train moves off.

Aziz insists on feeding his guests. He discourses on the Moghul Emperors Babur, Alamgir, and Akbar. Adela voices her fear of becoming like the other Anglo-Indians when she marries Heaslop.

They enter the cave, vanishing down a hole. Inside, Mrs. Moore nearly faints. She becomes separated from Aziz and Adela and is temporarily disoriented and maddened. The echo in the cave contributes to this. Though she conceals her true feelings from the others, when Aziz and Adela set off for the other caves, Mrs. Moore makes an excuse to stay behind. In their absence, she is invaded by feelings of despair.

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Latest answer posted May 25, 2010, 10:53 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

In this section, A Passage to India leads its readers deeper into territory that lies beyond the scope of a traditional bourgeois novel. The question of marriage is revealed as a subplot rather than a central issue. The central issue is the encounter between people raised in bourgeois England and a wild, primal country.

The technique of subordinating human characters to a larger backdrop is repeated in the first chapter of Part II. This time Forster evokes the ancient land of India, the one that has seen the Himalayas rise from the ocean and an adjoining continent sink into the sea. The Marabar Hills belong to the original, primal land of India and stand at the juncture between the ancient land and the newer one that is encroaching on it. This Nature symbolism informs us that the ancient and the modern are about to come into contact.

The symbol of the two flames occurs in the description of the caves. These two flames could be interpreted as the spirits of India and of England. They could also suggest physical and material reality, or the rational mind and the spiritual self. In any case, one is a beautiful reflection of the other. The overall theme of the novel, the longing for union and the impossibility of union, is depicted in this image.

We are approaching the indefinable caves. Adela is reminded of the car accident, where she first saw “her” hyena. On the way to the caves, she mistakes a stump of toddy-palm for a snake. The animal motif, and mistaken identity, underline the possibility of sinister misinterpretations. This is an ominous foreshadowing of a deeper mystery to come.

Spiritual journeys, we are reminded, are not always filled with joy and light. It is a sense of utter negation, when everything seems meaningless and hopeless, that overcomes Mrs. Moore in the caves. The spiritual pilgrim must pass through this stage of despair in order to reach ultimate truth.

For Mrs. Moore, it is the monotonous echo that undermines “her hold on life.” The narrator describes it as overlapping into a howling that generates “a snake composed of small snakes.” Since in Christian imagery, the snake is a symbol of Satan, this suggests the presence of evil. Yet evil does not consist of cruelty or depravity, but of the absence of all ethical values, the absence of even the possibility of values. Mrs. Moore has reached an outer limit where her Christianity cannot comfort her. Her senses are deranged.

After Mrs. Moore’s experience in the caves, the echo is first mentioned. It will be referred to over again during the rest of the novel. The echo drives Mrs. Moore mad and continues to haunt Miss Quested. Like the caves themselves, it is described as monotonous and undistinguished, yet its power continues to resonate throughout the novel.

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Part I, Chapters IX – XI: Summary and Analysis


Part II, Chapters XV – XVII: Summary and Analysis