A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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What is the significance of the characters' names in A Passage to India?

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The significance of the characters' names in A Passage to India is that they tell us a lot about the characters themselves. Mr. Aziz, for example, has a name that means “loved” or “dear”, and which is perfectly in keeping with his character. We also have “Fielding” and “Moore,” whose evocations of a pastoral landscape suggest a certain openness, which is reflected in the openness of manner that Mr. Fielding and Mrs. Moore display towards other people.

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One of the most remarkable aspects of Forster's A Passage to India is the way that the author uses names for the purposes of characterization. Like other great writers such as Dickens and Dostoevsky, Forster doesn't just choose names for his characters at random; he does so carefully to tell us something about them.

A less obvious example of this technique—to a native English speaker, at any rate—is that of Mr. Aziz. In Arabic, Aziz means “loved” or “dear,” and that's certainly how Mr. Aziz comes across in the story. For instance, Mr. Fielding—of whom we'll see more in a moment—develops a friend with Aziz despite their differences in culture, religion, and nationality. It's notable that the Urdu word for “friendship” is Azizdari, as Forster himself would surely have known.

Talking of Mr. Fielding, his name has obvious connotations with the natural landscape in all its openness. And Mr. Fielding, in his friendship with Mr. Aziz, certainly displays openness, albeit of a different kind. However, there are limits as to how deep the friendship between the two men can go; and these limits are also suggested by Mr. Fielding's name. After all, fields, even large open ones, have boundaries.

Mrs. Moore's name suggests a moor, another feature of the natural landscape. The difference between a moor and a field, however, is that the former conjures up images of wildness, desolation, and unbounded openness. This is entirely appropriate for Mrs. Moore, who's a good deal less restrained than Mr. Fielding in her attitude towards new people and new experiences.

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Analyze the significance of the names for the three sections of A Passage to India.

In many ways, I think that Forster might be suggesting that there is division present in parts one and three.  This helps to bring out the idea that India is going to be a divided land internally and indigenous based on its partitions established through religion and culture.  The "Mosque" to open the book and the "Temple" to close it is reflective of this in its references to Muslims and Hindus.  It is also enhanced by the cool, dry season to open it and the monsoon rains to close it.  In this bookending structure, there is collision and there is difference.  There is a lack of convergence and rather much in way of divergence, seeming as if the Earth is opening up its natural divisions.  Interestingly enough, the middle section is where there is the most amount of separation and antagonism between English and Indians.  Yet, it is this section where I think that Forster might be suggesting that there is the most unity.  The presence of the caves, themselves, is part of this calculus.  When Forster describes the internal nature of the cave, he focuses on their darkness as well as their sense of overwhelming all differences.  All sounds in the cave, whether it is a call to Allah, a call to the Queen, or a call to any of the Hindu deities, results in a "Boum" sound.  This helps to construct reality as one where there is no difference between anyone or anything.  If Aziz and Adela kissed in the cave, no one could tell the difference whether an Anglo or an Indian touched one another.  The merging of identity is where the cave stands, and it might be a stylistic and thematic technique on Forster's part to place this in the middle, a statement that there can be a realm where antagonistic difference goes away in the face of homogeneity.  Yet, I think that this is fleeting, like the match struck in the cave, racing towards its own extinction with life outside of it as being defined by "Temple" and "Mosque." 

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