A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Aziz, a Moslem doctor, shows off one of few sights of the region, the Marabar caves, to two visiting Englishwomen: Adela Quested, who has come out to marry an English official, and Mrs. Moore, the fiance’s mother. Something happens to Adela at the caves, but both the alleged assault and the philosophical meaning of the Caves, with which Adela’s experience is associated, remain mysterious. The philosophy is centered in Mrs. Moore, an old woman who is merely bored by the fuss being made over Aziz, and in the Hindu Professor Godbole, who also finds questions of individual guilt and innocence irrelevant. The critique of colonialism is centered in Fielding, who becomes friends with Aziz and breaks ranks with the English in order to support him.

The case is won when Adela collapses and retracts her accusation, but the friendship between Aziz and Fielding cannot hold out against the harsh fact of Empire. And the largest issue, Forster suggests, may not be the relation of East and West at all.

In a sense it is the alien, inhuman landscape, throwing the values and certainties by which both Fielding and Aziz live into question, which is Forster’s hero. Like the birds who circle the events of the novel from above, Forster retreats from the comedy of manners and the social plot into a nihilistic detachment, which has as much to do with the Mediterranean pastorals of his earlier novels as with Hinduism. Although the Hindu festival of the novel’s last section introduces an affirmative note, its affirmation is impersonal. The belief in “personal relations” that had inspired Forster’s novels is gone.

Bibliography:

Bradbury, Malcolm, ed. E. M. Forster, “A Passage to India”: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1970. Nineteen essays about every aspect of the novel. Particularly interesting are an interview with Forster in which he discusses his writing of A Passage to India and a selection of early reviews and reactions to his novel.

Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life ....

(The entire section is 496 words.)