Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 781
Chandrapore Old, remote Hindu city with filthy alleyways and mean streets that is divided into three parts: old Chandrapore on the Ganges River; inland Maidan on higher ground, and the Civil Station on the second hill. Although it is located on the river, Chandrapore has no riverfront and no bathing steps. Nothing distinguishes Chandrapore except for its proximity to the Marabar Caves. It is home for the Indians.
Maidan. Central section of Chandrapore that contains the hospital in which Dr. Aziz practices medicine and which is the section in which most Europeans live, in houses near the railway station. Maidan has an oval parade field on which polo is played and where soldiers practice.
Civil Station. Section of Chandrapore made up of British civil offices and residences. It is a city of gardens, forests, birds, and streets laid out and named for generals. If not charming, it is functional, with houses for the officials, a grocery store, a cemetery, the Chandrapore Club, Government College, and the official offices. The police station and courthouse are located in the Civil Station. The police station is where Aziz is incarcerated after he is accused of an attack on Adela. The court is the formal courtroom for legal proceedings and is composed of several platforms for various service persons and magistrates who function in the courtroom.
The Civil Station is more formal than some of the other settings of the novel. Mr. Fielding’s residence is located near the Government College. Social interaction among Aziz, the British officials, and visitors before and after Aziz’s trial occurs here. It is also the only place for Adela to stay after the trial ends. The residence of the superintendent of police is where Mrs. McBryde provides nursing care and sanctuary for Adela after the attack and before the trial. However, because of cultural and religious prejudices, the home is closed to Adela when she recants her accusation of Aziz.
Mosque. Islamic place of prayer that is a peaceful, gracious, but crumbling holy place. It is enclosed with a low wall around the courtyard, with a stream that runs through the garden and a three-sided covered part. Aziz frequents this mosque and one night is disturbed to see an Englishwoman there. After admonishing her for entering the mosque and wearing her shoes inside, he learns of her knowledge and genuine appreciation for the Islamic religion and for India.
Chandrapore Club. Social center for British government officials from which Indians are denied admittance. Instead of bridging the gap between the colonizers and their subjects, this club makes the gap wider.
Marabar Caves. Complex of caverns in the rough Marabar Hills overlooking Chandrapore. The caves are not sacred, contain no sculptures or drawings, and are not tourist attractions. They are all just alike. The entrance is a long human-made tunnel that leads to a circular center room. It is believed that the caves were opened in the seventeenth century by the orders of Shivaji, perhaps for the Hindu military to flee to the hills from Muslim invasions. The ruined water tank near one is probably the remains of the elaborate cistern system that was built to supply water for those who sought refuge in the caves. Kawa Dol is the only cave mentioned by name, but it is not accessible.
The most important scene in A Passage to India is Aziz’s visit to the caves with the British women. Puzzling and terrifying to both Muslims and Anglo-Indians, the caves form the center of the novel. The caves are elemental. They have been there from the beginning of the earth. They are not Hindu holy places, but Godbole can respect them without fear. Cave worship is the cult of the female principle, the Sacred Womb, Mother Earth. The Marabar Caves, both womb and grave, demand total effacing of ego. The individual loses identity, and whatever is said returns as Ommm, the holy word. The caves are terrifying and chaotic to those who rely on the intellect. The outing itself emphasizes the chaos that is India. Once in the caves, the party encounters the Nothingness that terrifies.
Aziz’s home. Small hut, simply furnished with minimal furniture, that is the meeting place of Aziz’s friends. The only thing of value that Aziz owns is a picture of his deceased wife.
Mau Palace. Beautiful white stucco palace with a courtyard and expensive, exotic furnishings. Inside is a small shrine that serves as the setting of a British ceremony. The streets near the palace provide the setting for the Procession of the Chief God, an evening torchlight procession.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 816
The political structure of the India that Forster visited and depicted in A Passage to India over 70 years ago was fundamentally different from that of India today. In Forster’s day, India was ruled by the British. It had not yet won its independence, nor had it endured the partition and savage rioting that followed it. Forster’s India was one country, not yet separated into India and Pakistan. The caste system, a strict social categorization that would later be attacked and weakened by Mahatma Gandhi and others, still ruled Hindu life and culture.
The India of Forster’s novel is still recognizable as a huge, hot, sprawling country, home to a multitude of ethnic groups and religions. Some 200 languages are spoken there. Religious and spiritual life seem to play a different, more open and imposing role in India than in the West. The major religions are Hindu and Muslim, with important minorities such as Sikhs and Parsis. The overall impression is one of diversity, sometimes accompanied by tolerance and sometimes by riots and massacres, during which one group attacks another or destroys sacred sites associated with another tradition.
A Passage to India is set in India under what was known as the British Raj, a system of colonial administration that began in a few coastal states as an outgrowth of the British East India Company. It grew to include almost all of India. The British East India Company’s major trade was in cotton goods, silks, spices, and saltpeter. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, aided by the British army and its Indian contingents, the Company extended its power and profits in India. In 1858, after the Indian Mutiny, the Company came under the direct rule of the British crown.
Although the mutiny is mentioned occasionally in Forster’s novel, it remains a ghostly presence and a reminder of a time when the subjects rose up against the representatives of the foreign power in their midst. The shock of the uprisings that took place in various parts of India, during which people were shot or hacked to death, reverberated in the memory of the English colonialists, while Indians never forgot the revolting punishments imposed when the mutiny was put down and the British Army took its revenge. Another and more recent massacre had occurred in the Punjab in 1919, between Forster’s first and second trip to India, when hundreds of peaceful Sikh demonstrators were shot down by the British Army at Amritsar.
Deeply shocked by the reports from Amritsar, Forster condemned the massacre as an example of “public infamy.” It was the slaughter of the nationalist demonstrators at Amritsar, as well as Britain’s hostility toward the Khilafat, an Islamic movement, which led Hindus and Muslims to join in a non-cooperation movement. Although Forster lived in the Hindu state of Dewas during his second visit to India, he was aware that this movement was growing rapidly in British India, and was producing marked changes in the Indian social and political scene. Besides protesting against imperialism, social discrimination, and repression, the native inhabitants of the country were attempting to regain control of their own destinies. A Passage to India depicts the conditions under which Indians were deprived of opportunities for advancement and were continually overlooked or insulted by the Anglo-Indian ruling class.
A specific historical situation that Forster probably employed in constructing the central incident in A Passage to India had occurred in Amritsar in 1919, around the time of the massacre. It was written by “an Englishwoman” who was new to India and had lived in Amritsar at the time of the nationalist demonstrations. In her article, published in Blackwood’s Magazine in April 1920, she describes an occasion on which an English girl had been brutally assaulted by a group of Indians. In the aftermath, the Anglo-Indians gathered at the Fort and special trains took the women to the hills, just as in the novel. Forster may well have read this Englishwoman’s account and based parts of A Passage to India on it. Various other features of the historical events, including the conciliatory tactics adopted by the British authorities after the crisis, seem to be reflected or referred to in the novel.
When seen against the historical background of British rule in India, the events of the novel take on greater resonance. For example, in the context of punishments that had actually been inflicted on Indians—such as the “crawling order” that forced them to crawl on all fours through a particular lane after the Amritsar assault—the bitter vengefulness expressed by some Anglo-Indian characters in the novel cannot be attributed simply to individual aberrations. Revenge had become an instrument of government policy. Similarly, the Indians’ deep distrust of their British rulers, which at times seems to border on paranoia, can be understood as a reaction to the system of apartheid instituted by the British Raj.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1196
Although the action of A Passage to India takes place entirely in India, it should be remembered that Forster was a British writer, and that most of his readers were British. Thus, the work reflects not only the contemporary India, which is its overt subject, but also England and the milieu in which Forster lived and wrote. Moreover, although Forster published the book in 1924 during the reign of King George V (r. 1910-36), he is commonly regarded as an Edwardian novelist. Forster's first four novels were written in the first decade of the twentieth century, during the reign of King Edward VII (r. 1901-10), and his values and outlook were developed during this period, before World War I. Thus, like Forster's earlier books, A Passage to India is commonly regarded as an Edwardian book (an Edwardian novel of manners, at that), even though it was not written during the Edwardian period.
Between the time Forster first visited India and began writing this novel (1912-13) and the time he finished it (1924). Britain had undergone the traumatic experience of World War I. Britain and her allies won the war, but more than 750,000 British soldiers were killed, along with another quarter of a million soldiers from other parts of the British Empire; another two million British and Empire soldiers were wounded, many of them severely. These losses affected people's attitudes toward tradition and authority. The self-confidence that earlier had marked Britain's attitude about its empire and its place in the world was replaced with doubt and uncertainty. Nonetheless, although there was some sympathy for the Indian cause, most British people at the time would have supported the British presence in India.
Between 1912 and 1924, the British political landscape had also changed. At the beginning of this period, the Liberal Party had been one of the two major parties in Britain. (The other major party was, and remains, the Conservative Party.) The Liberals had won the majority of votes in the election of 1908, and were in power from that time until 1915. However, during this decade the Liberals lost much of their support to the newer and more radical Labour Party, which favored a socialist program. The Labour Party had its first election victory in 1924: by this time, the Liberal Party had dwindled to a third-party status, and it never won another general election. (Forster and most of his circle, including the members of the Bloomsbury Group, were Labour supporters.) Although Labour remained in power for only ten months in 1924, the party had become the main alternative to the Conservatives.
During this period the British Empire was beginning to change. This change was most evident in Ireland, the only region of the British Empire that was right on Britain's doorstep. On Easter Sunday, 1916, a group of Irish rebels declared Irish independence from Britain and attempted to seize control of Dublin. Although the British army quickly crushed the rebellion, a more widespread Irish independence movement soon arose, and in 1921 the British government signed a treaty recognizing self-rule for the twenty-six southern counties of Ireland.
The Indian Context
Although the Irish rebellion had no direct effect on British rule of India, the fact that Ireland had gained limited independence helped to strengthen the idea of possible Indian independence in the minds of many Indians. Forster's novel is set during a time of increased tension between the British and their Indian subjects. The British presence in India had begun in the 1600s, when a British trading company, the East India Company, gained a strong foothold in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. At this time, much of India was nominally governed by a royal Moslem dynasty, the Moguls. (It was the Mogul emperors and their court that Dr. Aziz in the novel idealized.) However, the Mogul government was weakened by fighting and was unable to control all of India. The Indian population consisted of a number of different ethnic and religious groups, with little sense of an overall Indian identity. The British were thus able to increase their power in India.
In 1773, the English Parliament created the post of Governor General for India. Under Governor-General Cornwallis (1786-93), the British established a sophisticated colonial administration in India. (Cornwallis was also the British general who had surrendered to George Washington at the end of the American Revolutionary War.) Cornwallis instituted a system of British rule that was still mostly intact at the time of A Passage to India. Indians were forbidden to hold high government office and were subject to other laws that kept them in a subservient position, both legally and economically. A number of areas of the country— known as Native States or Independent States— were not under direct British rule, but were governed by local Indian princes or maharajahs. However, the British authorities kept close watch on these states, which had friendly policies toward the British.
The British suppressed an Indian rebellion (known as the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion) in 1857. By the time of A Passage to India, there was a significant organized movement for Indian equality and eventual independence, in the form of the Indian National Congress. In 1919, nearly 400 Indians were shot to death and another 1,200 wounded when soldiers under British command opened fire on a crowd that had gathered illegally in the northeast Indian town of Amritsar. The Amritsar Massacre, as it became known, caused a public outcry both in India and Britain. India stood poised on the edge of widespread violence. In this tense atmosphere, a British-educated Indian lawyer named Mohandas K. Gandhi began a long nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience against British rule. Gandhi advocated Indian equality as well as peaceful cooperation between the country's Hindu and Moslem populations. Forster does not mention Gandhi or the Amritsar Massacre, but the division between India's Hindus and Moslems is a major concern in the novel.
There is some critical dispute over the time period during which Forster's novel is set. One Indian who admired the book believed that it was representative of India at the time of Forster's first visit, 1912. One American critic has claimed that the action occurs "out of time." Most cntics and readers feel that the action takes place in the early 1920s, contemporary with the time that the book was finished and published.
In any case, Forster's novel is not only concerned with its own time but also looks forward to the future. The novel hints that the two groups may be able to put aside their traditional differences and live in harmony as Indians. However, this did not turn out to be the case. As independence grew nearer, Moslems demanded the creation of a separate Moslem nation. Pakistan Indian independence in 1947 was accompanied by violent clashes between Hindus and Moslems, with tens of thousands of deaths on both sides. The next year, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic who believed that Gandhi was making too many compromises with the Moslems. Ironically, today both India and Pakistan have relatively good relations with Britain and the British. So it is likely that Dr. Aziz and Mr. Fielding would today be able to have the sort of uninhibited friendship that is mentioned at the end of the book.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1885
Point of View
A Passage to India is written in the third person, with an impersonal narrative voice. This technique makes the narrative seem traditional and straightforward, especially when compared to the more obviously experimental narrative techniques that were being used at the time by such novelists as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. The narrator here is apparently omniscient, telling the reader much about India at the same time as describing the situations in which the various characters find themselves. At the same time, however, the narrative withholds a full explanation of certain events, most notably the misadventures that befall Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested at the Marabar Caves. Indeed, in recounting these details, the narrator is ambiguous rather than omniscient. A degree of ambiguity also surrounds the depiction of certain characters. Often, relatively minor characters (such as Mr. Turton, Mrs. Callendar, Mahmoud Ali, and the Nawab Bahadur) will appear in a scene without much introduction Forster seems to take their presence for granted. This technique mimics the way that people might come and go in real life. Forster also assumes that the reader will have some knowledge of the social nuances of British India.
At times, the narrative focus shifts from a depiction of external events and enters the consciousness of one character or another, almost without the reader noticing that such a shift has occurred. This stream-of-consciousness effect is evident when Forster writes about Mrs. Moore's experiences at the caves and when he reports Adela's perceptions during the trial. It is also used several times when the narrative records Aziz's thoughts about his Islamic heritage and about his place in India.
The action of the first two sections of the book takes place in the town of Chandrapore and at the Marabar Caves, located outside the town. Within the town itself, which is fairly nondescript, Forster identifies several localized settings. When we see the Anglo-Indian officials such as Major Callendar and Mr. Turton and their wives, it is almost invariably at the Civil Station, the area where the Anglo-Indians live and work. Often they are at the Chandrapore Club, which is exclusively for the Anglo-Indians and their British guests such as Mrs. Moore, and which Indians cannot enter. Although this setting emphasizes the Anglo-Indian's superior social status, it also shows their isolation from the mass of Indians who live around them. By contrast, the Indians are often shown at their own homes or in public places. The third section is set in Mau, a Hindu state several hundred miles from Chandrapore. (The book's three section headings—"Mosque," "Caves," and "Temple"—indicate the symbolic settings; see "Structure" and "Symbolism," below.)
Apart from these specific settings, India itself is the larger setting of the book. Indeed, some critics have remarked that India is not only the setting: it is also the subject and might even be considered a "character."
Critics have argued about the extent to which A Passage to India reflects actual historical and political conditions of the time in which it is set. Indeed, there is some critical dispute over exactly when the novel takes place; Forster gives no dates in the narrative. One Indian who admired the book believed that it was more representative of India at the time of Forster's first visit, 1912. Several Western critics have agreed with this analysis, and one has claimed that the action of the novel occurs "out of time." It may be safe to assume that the time setting is an amalgamation of the early 1910s and the early 1920s.
A Passage to India is divided into three parts or sections. Each part has its own particular symbols, correspondences, and associations. Each is set in a different season and opens with a chapter that describes a particular aspect of India. Part I, titled "Mosque," takes place during the cool, dry season. The Mosque where Dr. Aziz meets Mrs Moore corresponds to Islam and the Islamic or Moslem aspect of India, as represented by Dr. Aziz and his family and friends. Despite some hints of possible trouble, the prevailing mood is one of harmony. The main events of this part of the book are Aziz's meeting with Mrs. Moore and Mr. Fielding's tea party.
Part II, "Caves," takes place during the hot season. The focus shifts to the British domination of India and to a contemporary British Christian perspective. Adela Quested becomes the center of attention. This part of the novel is marked by misunderstanding and conflict (or mystery and muddle, to use Mrs Moore's earlier terms). Mrs. Moore gives in to despair after she hears the echo while she is in the cave, and Adela becomes completely confused. The incident at the Marabar Caves and the trial of Dr. Aziz make up the main dramatic action.
Part III, "Temple," takes place during the rainy season several years after the action of Parts I and II Dr. Aziz has settled in a Hindu state, Mau. Professor Godbole becomes a more prominent character. This part of the novel concentrates on the themes of rebirth and reconciliation. The primary events are the Hindu festival celebrating the rebirth of Krishna and Fielding's return to India. Part III is the shortest of the three sections of the novel and might be considered as an epilogue.
Just as the three-part structure gives the novel dramatic shape, the use of certain motifs helps to give the book dramatic unity. A motif is a recurring image or incident that has a suggestive and even a symbolic quality. One prominent motif in A Passage to India is the interrupted or delayed journey. This first occurs in chapter two, when Dr. Aziz is riding his bicycle to Major Callendar's bungalow at the English civil station and gets a flat tire. He has to find a tonga, or carriage, to take him the rest of the way. By the time he finally arrives, the major has left. Aziz's failure to arrive on time suggests the wide gulf that separates the Indians and the British. (To make matters worse, two English ladies appear and take Aziz's carriage, leaving him without transportation.)
Another interrupted journey is the ride that Adela and Ronny take in the Nawab Bahadur's car. There is a minor accident—in the darkness the car runs off the road, stranding the passengers until Miss Derek comes along and offers to take them back to Chandrapore in her car. (But she leaves the Nawab's chauffeur behind) During this episode, Adela and Ronny decide that they will marry after all; but their engagement will prove to be temporary. This interrupted journey suggests their failure to marry.
In Part II of the novel, Cyril Fielding and Professor Godbole miss the train that they are intending to take on the trip to the Marabar Caves. This failure separates them from Aziz, Mrs. Moore, and Adela, who go on without them. The reader is left to imagine that if Fielding and Godbole had been able to accompany Aziz and the women as they had planned, the terrible and confusing incidents that befall the members of the party at the Marabar Caves might never have occurred. Later, Mrs. Moore dies on her voyage back to England.
In the final section, as they travel to the native state of Mau where Aziz and Godbole are living, Fielding, Stella, and Ralph are delayed by floods caused by the monsoons. Just before the end of the book, Aziz takes Ralph out on the river in a boat ("a rudderless dingy"); the oars had been "hidden to deter the visitors from going out." Fielding and his wife have already gone out in another boat, using long poles to push themselves. Aziz fears that the couple "might get into difficulties, for the wind was rising." The two boats collide and the passengers spill into the river. Despite the accident, this time the journey ends safely. The four characters have witnessed the Hindu celebrations, and their immersion in the water suggests not drowning but rebirth and renewal.
E.M. Forster has been called an ironic writer, and A Passage to India is perhaps the most ironic of all his works. Several layers of irony are evident. For example, it is ironic that Aziz has organized the trip to the Marabar Caves in order to entertain his English guests. Rather than being the pleasant outing that Aziz intended, the excursion ends in disaster for everyone concerned. Something happens to Adela while she is in one of the caves: she believes that she has been attacked by Aziz. Aziz, who had prided himself on his hospitality, instead finds himself punished for a crime he did not commit. (There is also a minor irony in that Aziz finds Adela physically unattractive and is offended that anyone could think that he would want to rape her.) Mrs. Moore too suffers a fate more terrible than Adela's. While she is in the cave she hears an echo that is simply a meaningless noise—"ou-boum." She takes this to mean that everything is meaningless, and thus she loses her faith. It is also ironic that, although the caves are reputed to be famous, there is really nothing remarkable about them except their effect on the visitors.
A further irony occurs later in the book when Dr. Aziz assumes that his friend Cyril Fielding has married Adela Quested. In fact, Fielding has married Stella Moore, the daughter of the late Mrs. Moore, whom Aziz greatly liked and admired. Also ironic is the suggestion that Stella, who has just arrived from England, may have a greater understanding of the mystery of India than does Aziz himself.
Although A Passage to India is a realistic novel, it also contains many symbolic elements. The most obvious symbols are those that give the titles of the book's three sections—mosque, cave, and temple. Both for Aziz and Mrs. Moore, the mosque is a symbol of refuge and peace, a place of sanctuary. The first meeting of Aziz and Mrs. Moore takes place in the mosque at night, under the moonlight. Mrs. Moore has gone to the mosque because she is bored with the play she has been attending at the Chandrapore club. The English play, Cousin Kate, seems artificial and out of place in India. The mosque, by contrast, is one symbol of the "real" India.
The cave bears some resemblance to the mosque, in that both are enclosed spaces. Here, however, the resemblance ends. The cave is dark, featureless, and menacing. Although there are many caves at Marabar, it is impossible to tell one from another; they are all alike. Critics have argued about the symbolic meaning of the cave. It is at least certain that whatever else they might suggest, they stand for misunderstanding and meaninglessness, or what Mrs. Moore calls "muddle."
Prominent among other symbols is the wasp. When Mrs. Moore goes to hang up her cloak at the end of chapter three, she sees a wasp. The symbolic significance of the wasp is not spelled out. However, it suggests the natural life of India, and also carries a hint of uncertainty. Much later, in Part II, Professor Godbole recalls "an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days." He then remembers "a wasp seen he forgot where... He loved the wasp equally..."
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 802
Forster may have been the first (only, perhaps) novelist to treat mysterious India realistically—to uncover it, as it were—simply because he possessed a more than adequate degree of knowledge about the land and its people, and he nurtured a commitment toward what it represented. The key to understanding his technique in A Passage to India hinges on the understanding that Forster began the work after he returned from India in 1913, could (or would) not finish it, and set it aside for ten years until after he had returned from his second visit in 1922. Part of the problem, of course, may have been his preoccupation with the manuscript of Maurice, which he completed in 1913 (see separate entry), and the secondrate play, The Heart of Bosnia, which he finished in 1914. At any rate, during that interval, World War I had come and gone, and Forster, himself, had undergone significant personal experiences in India. Thus, in resuming the writing of A Passage to India, the writer does not emerge as the same Forster who, within the space of five years (1905-1910), wrote four major novels. Later, Forster would claim that in reworking and finishing A Passage to India, he would share "the desire on the part of writers—generally the most distinguished writers—to create something better than the bloodshed and the dullness which have been creeping together over the world." That statement, a fragment from a lecture delivered at Glasgow, echoes the language of the novel itself: "Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it and the books and talk, that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence."
To rise above the bloodshed and the dullness, above the ignorance and redundant romanticism, Forster evoked the tone and the language of ceremony and fused description with formal, serious commentary. He reacted to the mystery of India by embracing a series of moods that differ drastically from his earlier novels. English wit and English comedy (even in the midst of tragedy) have been replaced with seriousness and depth, sadness, poetic description, and pure beauty. Contemplation and meditation pervade almost every chapter, fused with the moist heaviness that comprises the atmosphere of India. He contrived his plot only for the purpose of developing his characters, and no matter what the cost to probability or even chronology, the plot serves those characters. At all costs, Dr. Aziz must get out of Chandrapore and back to his homeland, there to study, to write poetry, and to receive Cyril Fielding. If it means enduring humiliation from his superior and from an English woman, rebutting the fanciful accusations of a young, unattractive English woman, and enduring additional humiliation through trial, so be it. Through pattern and rhythm, Forster forces the reader to see connections between plot and character. In addition, Forster refined the art of clues and chains that he had developed as early as 1905 with Where Angels Fear to Tread. He worked hard to plant hints that function as preparation for events that will follow much later in the novel. He introduced those so casually that the reader may have hardly noticed them, and thus careful criticism of the piece demands, in all fairness to his art, a second reading. As but one example, earlier remarks on the state of Mrs. Moore's health and her own reflections upon the meaninglessness of life prepare the reader for her death when Ronald Heaslop dismisses her and sends her off to England—a land she will never manage to see again before she dies.
Finally, Forster achieves unity by relating passages clearly to each other, no matter how far they may be separated by time or page or chapter. Mrs. Moore returns home to bed one evening; she stands alone, prepared to hang her cloak on a hook: "she found that the tip of the peg was occupied by a small wasp . . . 'Pretty dear,' said Mrs. Moore to the wasp. He did not wake, but her voice floated out, to swell the night's uneasiness." The incident immediately captures the reader's attention, much like the fragment from a strain of music, for its sheer beauty and total tenderness. However, it seemingly has absolutely no connection, in the novel, to anything preceding or immediately following it. Nevertheless, years later, after Mrs. Moore's death, Professor Godbole, in developing the life of his spirit, recalls the memory of that lovely lady, reflecting that "it made no difference whether she was a trick of memory or a telepathic appeal . . . 'One old English-woman and one little wasp,' he thought, as he stepped out of the temple into the grey of a pouring wet morning. 'It does not seem much, still it is more than I am myself.'"
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572
Although some literary critics regard A Passage to India as dated, the novel continues to present current ideas of clashes between cultures, with their attendant ethnic and racial prejudices. Further, the novel demonstrates how people of one race observe and react to other races. The discussions between Fielding and Aziz about the future of India transcend the problems of outdated colonialism and point directly to the concern about international relations at the turn of the twenty-first century—about the ability of nations to co-exist with one another and the need for major world powers to recognize the existence and the independence of underdeveloped nations. Whether, three-quarters of a century later, the Fieldings and the Azizes of the world can become friends is a contemporary topic.
1. Why, specifically, do Dr. Aziz and Professor Godbole develop an affinity for Mrs. Moore? Does that triangular relationship at all suggest the possibility for a solution to the conflict within British India? Why or why not? Does the initial meeting between Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore suggest a beginning, an end, or both?
2. Why is the memory of Mrs. Moore more important, more significant, than her actual presence? How is her memory related to the religious aspects of A Passage to India?
3. Discuss the mood of resentful despair that hovers over and throughout A Passage to India. How do the principal characters react to it? Which characters try to escape from it, and which attempt to confront it? For whom does the mood of despair prove fatal?
4. The trial of Dr. Aziz proves, perhaps, not only the most powerful scene of the novel, but the most uncomfortable for its principal characters. Discuss the techniques by which Forster emphasizes various degrees of discomfort. Is the state of discomfort a significant quality of A Passage to India? Why or why not?
5. Two years elapse until Cyril Fielding and Dr. Aziz meet again. Identify the changes in character and personality that have occurred during that period. How do those changes affect the relationship between the two? How do those changes contribute to the substance of the third part of the novel?
6. Identify Professor Godbole's importance to the novel. Is he a principal character? Why or why not?
7. Certain critical commentators have concluded that the novel ends upon a note of reconciliation? Do you agree? Why or why not? If you do agree, then what or who actually has been reconciled?
8. Of all the English characters in A Passage to India, Cyril Fielding appears to be the only one who has survived. What has contributed to his survival? Would he be Forster's "hero"? If one would label Fielding "heroic," what qualities make him so?
9. Adela Quested has been identified as the tragic figure in A Passage to India. If that assumption holds, what are her "tragic flaws"? Why is she so different from Margaret Schlegel (with whom she has often been compared) in Howards End? What prevents her from achieving at least a degree of Margaret's success?
10. One quality that marks A Passage to India proves to be the lack of autobiographical material so prevalent in the earlier novels. Instead, Forster seeks to reach the emotions of the reader and to control them. By what specific means does he attempt that? Does he succeed? Why or why not?
11. Does A Passage to India hold any real meaning for its twenty-first-century reader? Is its colonial setting too dated? Why or why not?
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 387
1910s-1920s: The British Empire stretches around the world. British-ruled territory in Asia includes present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia, and Singapore. Such present-day African countries as Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa are also part of the Empire, as are many Caribbean islands.
Today: Virtually all the former British colonies are independent nations. Many retain loose trade and cultural ties with Britain in an association called the Commonwealth of Nations. Hong Kong, one of the last remaining British crown colonies, returned to Chinese rule at midnight on June 30, 1997.
1910s-1920s: Britain is a major world power with a large industrial base and dominates international trade. Much of the raw material for Britain's manufacturers comes from India and other British colonies.
Today: Britain is a small nation with a largely service-based economy. It is a member of the European Union (formerly the European Economic Community), a close economic association of European nations. Britain trades widely with other European nations in the EU. After a period of economic change that saw the decline of traditional industries such as mining, manufacturing, and shipbuilding, Britain is now one of the most prosperous nations in Europe. Foreign-owned businesses operate successfully in Britain.
1910s-1920s: The population of Britain is comprised almost entirely of English, Scottish, and Welsh people. A small number of elite students from India and other parts of the Empire are educated at British universities.
Today: Immigrants from former colonies, and their descendants, make up approximately five percent of the British population. Some large British cities, including London, have substantial Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities.
1910s-1920s: Mohandas K. Gandhi, an Indian lawyer educated in Britain, develops his philosophy of passive resistance to British rule. By 1920 he has become a leading figure in the Indian National Congress, a political and cultural organization that works for fair treatment and increased civil rights for Indians. Support for independence grows.
Today: India (predominantly Hindu) and Pakistan (Moslem), formed out of former British India, have been independent since 1947. The two nations have fought several wars against each other, and relations are peaceful but uneasy. There is also ethnic and political violence within both countries. In India, the Congress Party (the successor to the Indian National Congress) was the dominant political party until the 1990s. Among Hindus, Gandhi remains a revered historical figure.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 874
Glossary of Anglo-Indian Terminology
Anglo-Indian: An English person living in India, particularly one there for a considerable time.
Aryan Brother: Aryan originally referred to the eastern part of ancient Persia; also to the family of Indo-European languages and anyone descended from the ancient people who spoke one of them. The term “Aryan Brother” was an ironic and disparaging term Anglo-Indians applied to Indians.
babu, babuism: Originally a Hindu title of respect; among Anglo-Indians, used to refer to a native clerk or official who could write English; sometimes applied disparagingly to a Hindu with a superficial English education.
badmash: Delinquent, rogue.
bazaar: Originally, a market place consisting of ranges of shops or stalls where merchandise is offered for sale.
begum: A queen, princess, or lady of high rank in India.
bhang: Native name for a highly intoxicating Indian variety of common hemp, sometimes extended to refer to hashish.
Brahmin: Member of the highest or priestly cast.
Brahminy bull: A bull dedicated to Shiva and then set loose; a humped Indian ox.
caaba (more often Kaaba): Sacred edifice at Mecca containing the venerated “black stone,” the most sacred place in Islam.
chhatri (more often chatra): Silk umbrella like a little tent roof on a cane handle.
chit: Letter or note; order for a drink.
chunam: Cement or plaster made of shell-lime or sea-sand, used in India.
chuprassie (also chaprassy): Messenger, orderly, servant.
dak bungalow: resthouse for travelers, maintained by the government, with primitive accomodations.
dhoti: Loin cloth worn by Hindus; a long narrow cloth wound around the body, passed between the thighs, and tucked in under the waistband behind.
Eurasian: Of mixed European and Asiatic (usually Indian) parentage.
fez: A skullcap of felt, of a dull crimson color in the form of a truncated cone, ornamented with a long black tassel; the national headdress of the Turks.
hakim: A judge, ruler, or governor in Mohammedan countries; in India, the administrative authority in a district. Also, Muslim doctor.
hammam: “Turkish bath.” Oriental bathing establishment.
Huzoor (from Arabic huzor, presence): title of respect; Your Honor.
izzat: Honor, prestige, self-esteem.
maidan: An open space in or near a town, parade-ground.
maharajah: Title of certain Indian princes.
maharani: Wife of a maharajah, sometimes shortened to rani.
mahatma: Great soul.
memsahib: European married woman. A compound word based on Ma’am and Sahib.
Mohurram: Islamic festival of fasting and mourning for the martyred Hassan and Hussein.
monsoon: Seasonal wind prevailing in southern India; accompanied by heavy and continuous rainfall.
mosque: Muslim place of worship.
nautch: An East Indian exhibition of dancing, performed by professional dancing girls. It is clear from Aziz’s references that they were also a higher class of prostitute.
nawab: (cf. nabob): A native governor or nobleman in India, or a wealthy, retired Anglo-Indian.
nullah: A river or stream; riverbed, ravine.
pargana (also pergunnah): A division of territory in India, comprising a number of villages, subdivision of a zillah.
peon: In India, a foot soldier, a native constable, an attendant or orderly; a footman or messenger.
pie: A small copper coin.
pujah (also puja): Ceremony of worship, an offering to the gods.
pukka: (from Hindi pakka) Cooked, ripe, mature; hence substantial, Permanent. Also: larger of two weights, hence of full weight, genuine, good, permanent, solid.
punkah: A portable fan generally made from the leaf of a palmyra palm; or a large swinging fan made of cloth stretched on a rectangular frame, suspended from the ceiling or rafters and worked by a cord.
punkah-wallah: Native Indian servant who works a punkah.
purdah: A curtain serving to screen women from the sight of men or strangers; the custom of secluding Indian women of rank.
raga: Musical composition, composed to be played at a certain hour and a certain season.
Raj: Sovereignty, rule, kingdom. Applied to British rule in India.
Rajah: Originally title given in India to kings or princes, later applied to petty chiefs.
rupee: The monetary unit of India.
saddhu: Indian holy man.
sahib: Originally: master, friend. Later, a respectful title used by natives of India in addressing an Englishman or other European.
sais (also syce): A servant who tends horses; a groom.
salaam: From the Muslim salutation “as-salaam alaikum”—Peace be upon you. Hence applied, in India, to a low bowing of head and body with the palm of the right hand placed on the forehead.
Sanskrit: Ancient and sacred language of India. Oldest known of the Indo-European languages.
sari: Long wrapping garment of cotton or silk, usually bright, worn by Hindu women.
shikars: Hunting, sport, shooting.
Shri: (usually Sri): Lord, a title given a deity.
Sweepers: Harijan, or Untouchables, the lowest caste Hindus, often cleaners of latrines, hence the name.
tank: Artifical pond or lake.
tazia: Applied to a taboot; replica of Hussein and Hassan carried in the Mohurram procession, afterwards thrown into the water.
tiffin: A light midday meal, luncheon.
tonga: A light and small two-wheeled carriage or cart used in India.
topi: Stiff helmet-shaped hat to protect the head from the sun.
tum-tum: (Anglo-Indian) a dog cart.
Urdu: Most common Hindustani dialect in India.
Viceroy: One who acts as governor of a country, in this case, India.
wallah: Hindu suffix indicating pertaining or connected to. Rather like the suffix “-er” in English. Anglo-Indian: Man, fellow.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 611
If one must, for whatever reasons, discuss the literary precedents of Forster's A Passage to India, one needs, quite frankly, to forget about India, for Forster's consideration of that land really rises above and beyond precedent. For example, there arises the immediate temptation to place A Passage to India beside the novel Kim (1901), by Forster's contemporary Rudyard Kipling (the two never met), but little will be gained from the exercise, other than the realization that both writers look at the same India through different colored glasses. Essentially, Kipling carries the flag, and Forster would have it hauled down. If not Kipling, why not Forster's closer contemporary, William Somerset Maugham, and one of that prolific writer's better productions, The Razor's Edge (1944; see separate entry)—or even one of his lesser by-products, the novel (1907) turned into play (1908), The Explorer? Within this context, Maugham will not do, simply because for him and his virtually all-male hero cast, India (or Tahiti or China or Africa or Burma or Samoa or Egypt) functions only as a backdrop against which his characters will act and talk. As an instinctive playwright, Maugham paints his scenery with bright colors, but rarely bothers to comment upon its significance. It has none.
At the same time, however, one cannot be too quick to withdraw Forster and A Passage to India from the company of Kipling and Maugham. There do exist common denominators to connect the three, as well as others, to a common, widely practiced theme: the spiritual search on the part of one or more persons for something better. Kipling's Irish orphan, Kimball O'Hara, rushes through the exotic grandeur and sordidness of India and its native inhabitants, striving hard to bridge the gap between the world of the spirit (the lama) and the world of action (himself). The answer lies in love. Having taken his title from the mystical KathaUpanishad, Maugham sends his American hero Lawrence Darrell off to India to search for and discover (through learning) the value of nonattachment. Once Forster removes Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore from the stage and sends Ronald Heaslop and Cyril Fielding (the latter only temporarily) away from Chandrapore, he allows his principal Muslims, Professor Godbole and Dr. Aziz, the freedom to consider the issue of spiritual betterment. Then, when Cyril Fielding returns to the scene and to Dr. Aziz, the socio-political issues of A Passage to India become of far more significant value because of their newly acquired spiritual context.
Another of Forster's contemporaries, Joseph Conrad, seeks the same ends in his Heart of Darkness (1902; see separate entry), only in a different part of the world. However, Conrad's Belgian Congo contains no less mystery than does Forster's India; as with Forster, Conrad takes considerable pain to step back from the tapestry and survey his landscape through a serious and even poetic eye. He sends his professional wanderer, seafarer, and storyteller, Charles Marlow, down the river and into the heart of darkness and on a physical and psychological search toward the essential meaning of life. After discovering and then conversing with Kurz, Marlow identifies himself with the evil-stricken trading manager; Marlow can then see deeply into his own being. Again, two decades later, Forster sends his characters on a similar passage, and their journey becomes equally dark. The principal difference between Forster and his three colleagues appears to be that at the end of their passages, Kimball O'Hara, Lawrence Darrell, and Charles Marlow may well have found answers. Cyril Fielding and Dr. Aziz may have to wait a while to finalize that which they seek, both politically and spiritually—a fact that Forster and his readers know and must prepare themselves to accept.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 266
Santha Rama Rau adapted A Passage to India for the stage, and that piece premiered in London on January 18, 1960, with Forster in attendance. After the performance, Forster came on stage for a short address, stating, "How good the actors were. And how pleased I was that there were so many of them. I am so used to seeing the sort of play which deals with one man and two women. They do not leave me with the feeling I have made a full theatrical meal." In its review of the play, the Times of London commented that Forster had written about the incompatibility of East and West. Forster thought that reaction to be absurd, since his focus in the novel had been upon the difficulty of living in the universe.
In 1962 the stage version came to Broadway. John Maynard produced a television version for BBC-TV in 1968, and David Lean directed the 163-minute color motion picture adaptation of the novel for Columbia Pictures in 1984—the cast including Judy Davis as Adela Quested, Alec Guiness as Professor Godbole, Victor Bannerjee as Dr. Aziz, Peggy Ashcroft as Mrs. Moore, James Fox as Cyril Fielding, Nigel Havers as Ronny Heaslop, Richard Wilson as Turton, Antonia Pemberton as Mrs. Turton, Michael Culver as McBryde, and Art Malik as Mahoud Ali. The screenplay emphasizes the legal and racial aspects of the novel, with the supposed rape of Adela as the focal point.
Charles Mauron, with Forster's help, began a French translation of A Passage to India in 1925, while a Mrs. Myslakowska (who twice proposed marriage to Forster), published a Polish translation in 1938.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 221
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. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Provides many details about Forster’s travels in India. Explains Forster’s struggles to write his masterpiece and how he coped with its critical and financial success.
Godfrey, Denis. E. M. Forster’s Other Kingdom. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968. Focuses on the mystical themes in the novel. Shows how Mrs. Moore—a symbol of good—influences the other characters and the plot even after her death.
Herz, Judith Scherer. “A Passage to India”: Nation and Narration. New York: Twayne, 1993. Overview of the novel with a section explaining the historical background of the British Raj. Detailed discussion of Forster’s style and use of symbolism; also addresses the problem of narrative voice.
Shahane, V. A., ed. Perspectives on E. M. Forster’s “A Passage to India”: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968. Fourteen essays about A Passage to India, many of which discuss its symbolic qualities. Insights include those from Indian literary critics.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1070
Parminder, Bakshi. "The Politics of Desire: E.M. Forster's Encounters with India in A Passage to India": Theory and Practice Series, edited by Tony Davies and Nigel Wood, Open University Press, 1994, pp. 23-64.
Beer, J.B. The Achievement of E.M. Forster. London: Chatto & Windus, 1962.
Beer, J.B. and G.K. Das. E.M. Forster: A Human Exploration. London: The Macmillan Press, 1979.
Bemta, Parry, "The Politics of Representation in A Passage to India," in E.M. Forster: Contemporary Critical Essays, edited by Jeremy Tambling, MacMillan (London), 1994, pp. 133-50.
Crews, F.C. E.M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962.
Danièlou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India. Rochester: Inner Traditions International, Ltd., 1985. (Originally published as Hindu Polytheism. New York: The Bollingen Foundation, 1964.)
Das, G.K. “A Passage to India: A Socio-Historical Study.” In A Passage to India: Essays in Interpretation. ed. John Beer. London: The Macmillan Press, 1985.
Das, G.K. E.M. Forster’s India. London: The Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1977.
Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1927.
— — A Passage to India. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
McDonell, Frederick P. E.M. Forster. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. (Twayne’s English Authors Series).
Review of A Passage to India, in Times Literary Supplement, June 12, 1924, p. 37.
Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.
Shaipe, Jenny. "The Unspeakable Limits of Rape: Colonial Violence and Counter-Insurgency," in Genders, No. 10, Spring, 1991, pp. 25-46.
Singer, Milton, ed. Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1966. (Originally published by The University of Chicago Press.)
Stallybrass, Oliver, ed. Aspects of E.M. Forster: Essays and Recollections for his Ninetieth Birthday. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969.
Stone, Wilfred. The Cave and the Mountain. California: Stanford University Press, 1966.
Yeats-Brown, Francis. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. New York: The Viking Press, 1930.
Yule, Col. Henry and A. C. Burrell. Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. New edition edited by William Crooke. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharial, 1968.
For Further Study
Malcolm Bradbury, "Two Passages to India. Forster as Victorian and Modern," in Aspects of E.M. Forster, edited by Oliver Stallybrass, London, 1969, pp. 124-25.
Bradbury sees Forster as "a central figure of the transition into modernism."
Tony Davies, "Introduction," in A Passage to India: Theory and Practice Series, edited by Tony Davies and Nigel Wood, Open University Press, 1994, pp. 1-22.
Davies discusses critical commentary on A Passage to India, from early reviews to contemporary analysis.
Philip Gardner, "E.M. Forster" in British Writers, Vol. VI.: Thomas Hardy to Wilfred Owen, General Editor Ina Scott-Kilvert, The British Council and Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983, pp. 397-413.
Gardner identifies and analyzes several levels on which the action in the novel moves, with special attention to the symbolic element.
Philip Gardner, E.M. Forster: The Critical Heritage, Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1973.
A good survey of critical interpretations of and reactions to the works of Forster up to the early 1970s.
Francis King, E.M. Forster, Thames & Hudson, 1988.
This copiously illustrated biography in Thames and Hudson's popular "Literary Lives" series provides an engaging introduction to Forster's life and work King discusses Forster's writing of A Passage to India in the context of the author's travels and concerns. For general readers.
Stephen K. Land, "A Passage to India," in Challenge and Conventionality in the Fiction of E.M. Forster, AMS Press, 1990, pp. 189-217.
Land's chapter on A Passage to India touches on many of the major issues in the novel and makes frequent comparisons to Forster's other works.
F.R. Leavis, "E.M. Forster," in Scrutiny, No. 7, September, 1938, pp 188-202.
An essay by the influential British critic that helped to canonize Forster as a major twentieth-century novelist.
Rose Macaulay, The Writings of E.M., Forster, London, 1938
James McConkey, The Novels of E.M. Forster, Cornell University Press, 1957.
McConkey's book remains valuable both for its close study of Forster's novels in general and for its perceptive and useful discussion of A Passage to India.
Frederick P.W. McDowell, "E.M. Forster," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 34, British Novelists, 1890-1929, Traditionalists, edited by Thomas F. Staley, Gale Research Company, 1985, pp. 121-51.
A survey of Forster's life and works, with a thorough synopsis of A Passage to India and a discussion of the book's symbolism.
Jeffrey Meyers, "The Politics of A Passage to India," in Journal of Modem Literature, Vol. 1, No. 3, March, 1971, pp. 329-38.
Meyers calls attention to the political and historical references of A Passage to India, which he believes have been ignored or underestimated by previous critics.
Leland Monk, "Apropos of Nothing: Chance and Narrative in Forster's A Passage to India," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 26, No. 4, 1994, pp. 392-403.
Monk examines the narrative techniques of each of the novel's three sections and contends that the third is concerned with the importance of chance.
Judith Ruderman, "E.M. Forster" in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, revised edition, Vol. 2, General Editor Leonard S. Klem, Continuum Publishing Company/Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1982, pp. 121-25.
Ruderman notes that Forster's novels move from speech into silence, and that in A Passage to India Forster "recognizes the limits of the humanistic creed" and suggests that "human intercourse may be impossible and language in vain."
Chaman L. Sahm, E M Forster's Passages to India, The Religious Dimension, Hememann, 1981.
A study of Moslem-Hindu relations in the novel and the book's representation of religion and religious symbolism.
Wilfred Stone, The Cave and the Mountain: A Study of E.M. Forster, Stanford University Press, 1966.
A book-length analysis of all Forster's novels. Stone regards Forster as not only a liberal humanist but also a visionary prophet akin to D.H. Lawrence. In Stone's interpretation, the cave in A Passage to India is a symbol of the "underworld of human experience."
Virginia Woolf, "The Novels of E.M. Forster," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 115, No. 5, November, 1927; reprinted in Woolf's The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, London, 1942, and in E.M., Forster; The Critical Heritage, edited by Philip Gardner, Boston and London, 1973, pp. 321-24.
An early assessment of Forster's output by one of his leading contemporaries, novelist Woolf, notes Forster's similarity to Jane Austen in the way he captures "the shades and shadows of the social comedy," but she finds that in A Passage to India the realistic and symbolic aspects of Forster's narrative technique do not mesh succesfully.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 80
A Passage to India was adapted as a film by David Lean, starring Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, and Alec Guinness (Columbia, 1984). It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture; Ashcroft was named Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mrs. Moore. Available from Columbia Tristar Home Video.
A Passage to India was adapted for the stage by Santha Rama Ran, produced in London, 1960; produced on Broadway, 1962; and adapted for television by John Maynard, BBC-TV, 1968.
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