A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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How is racism depicted in A Passage to India?

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Question 1: Explain the central theme of A Passage to India.

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The entire novel is basically a portrayal of the racist nature of the British Raj and the uncomfortable (to put it mildly) situation in which Indian people, including the most highly educated ones, found themselves in relation to the British colonials before the Subcontinent became independent. One crucial sequence of events in the book perhaps illustrates better than any other the (at the time) seemingly unsolvable racial conflict and the power dynamic that causes it.

Dr. Aziz has gone out of his way to be overly respectful and accommodating to the British people with whom he associates, in spite of the open mistrust of him shown in different instances. It is as if his ultimate aim is to prove himself "worthy" of the British. Yet in spite of this, the expedition with Miss Quested to the Marabar Caves goes horribly wrong and Aziz is falsely accused of sexually assaulting her.

Though he is acquitted, and though Dr. Aziz's friend Fielding has supported him during the trial, he sees that Fielding nevertheless seems to stand in solidarity with Miss Quested after it is over. It is as if race has trumped everything else, including Fielding's realization that Miss Quested has nearly destroyed Aziz's life with her false charges.

In David Lean's film version, Dr. Aziz's reaction to Fielding is especially striking. Fielding approaches him in friendship and puts his hands on Aziz's shoulders, but Aziz now looks askance at him, with disgust even. It is as if Dr. Aziz now believes a white man can never genuinely befriend him.

The story, however, leaves this an open question. Is there actually a true reconciliation between Aziz and Fielding? We cannot tell. A recurrent theme in fiction dealing with colonial India—seen also in George Orwell's Burmese Days and Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown—is that individual friendships may seem to exist between Europeans and Indians but are often disrupted or destroyed by latent or unconscious racism on the part of even liberal white men.

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