A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

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Possible Interpretations of Forster's Novel

(Novels for Students)

A Passage to India is E. M. Forster's final and perhaps finest novel. Forster visited India twice and wrote another novel, the posthumously published Maurice, before finally completing A Passage to India in 1924—more than ten years after it was begun. Although Forster has stated that the novel is not really about politics and that it is less concerned with the incompatibility of East and West than it is with the difficulty of living in the universe, the novel does address issues such as colonialism, racism, nationalism, and rape. As a result, much of the critical analysis has focused on political and social themes. One of the major issues the novel attempts to address is introduced in the second chapter through a conversation in which Dr. Aziz, Mahmoud Ali, and Hamidullah discuss "whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman." Shortly after this discussion, Dr. Aziz is befriended by two Englishwomen and the Anglo-Indian Principal at the College, Mr. Fielding. But most critics tend to look beyond the relationships between individuals and discuss the novel in terms of its depiction of Anglo-Indian colonial society. Debate over whether or not A Passage to India is critical of colonialism is ongoing. Many critics agree that the novel does attack the traditional justifications for British domination, but convincing arguments can also be made that Forster's attempt to represent India implicates him in the "muddle" of imperial power.

At the centre of the novel is the visit to the Marabar Caves. All the connections and friendships established in the first section of the novel lead to this expedition. Much has been written about what actually happens in the caves but the mystery remains unsolved. One might read Mrs. Moore's and Miss Quested's experiences in the caves as a breakdown of established values resulting from the exposure to "other" conceptions of culture and being. Adela's experience in particular is often read as a hallucination or hysterical reaction brought about by sexual repression. But the mystery remains a mystery because the pivotal scene involving Adela and Aziz is never told. Mrs. Moore has a "horrifying" experience inside one of the caves and sinks into a state of apathy and cynicism. All that is known of Adela's misadventure is that she suffers a maybe-real, maybe-imagined sexual assault and that Aziz is charged with the crime. Whether or not there even was a crime committed, either by Aziz or by someone else, is never revealed.

After witnessing the unsuccessful Bridge Party, Adela vows that she will never succumb to Anglo-Indian ideology. Yet, as Jenny Sharpe has noted in her article "The Unspeakable Limits of Rape: Colonial Violence and Counter-Insurgency in Genders," the accusations Adela makes against Dr. Aziz seemingly confirm the fears and racist assumptions used to justify imperialism—that the "native" world is chaotic, uncontrollable, and evil and thus in need of English domination. Following Aziz's arrest, many of these hateful and unfounded fears are openly manifested. The District Superintendent of Police, Mr. McBryde, is not surprised by Aziz's downfall because he believes that "all unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30." At the Club, people begin to voice their concern for the safety of the "women and children" and one young woman even refuses to "return to her bungalow in case the 'niggers attacked.'" The prevailing attitude is best represented by McBryde's words at Aziz's trial. He delivers his opening statement almost indifferently because he believes that Aziz's guilt is already accepted as fact. The possibility that Aziz may in fact be innocent is never even considered because, as McBryde tells the court, it is a "general truth" that the "darker races are physically attracted by the fairer, but not vice versa."

But passages such as these do not lend authority to Adela's allegations against Dr. Aziz. On the contrary, the

(The entire section is 6,125 words.)