A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

The representation of separation in Forster's A Passage to India

Summary:

In A Passage to India, Forster represents separation through the cultural, racial, and social divides between the British colonizers and Indian natives. These separations are evident in the strained relationships and misunderstandings between characters, highlighting the broader theme of colonial tension and the difficulty of true connection in a divided society.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does separation represent in Forster's A Passage to India?

Separation is a powerful theme in Forster's work.  The reality is that Forster creates a vision of colonialism that is, by definition, one of separation.  The British who settled in India were separated from their own homeland.  The Indians who were forced to live under British rule felt separated from their own notion of personal identity, as they were Anglicized in many ways.  On a personal level between characters, separation is present between Adela and Ronny, as well as between Mrs. Moore and almost everyone else.  Aziz feels that level of separation between first his own sense of self and his culture, and then, as the work progresses, with  Fielding.  There is a natural separation element present given the fact that India is so far removed from much of the British world, and this only goes to enhance the idea of what it means to be estranged from culture, land, loves, and self.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does separation represent in Forster's A Passage to India?

The element of separation takes on different forms in Forster's work.  There is the separation of Indians from the British in terms of treatment and opportunity.  At the same time, there is a theme of separation within the British, themselves.  Specifically, there are those British like Fielding, who believe in working with the Indians in making a better life for many, and those like most of the other Indians, Rony or McBride or any of the British who regularly attend "the club," that seek to control the Indians and strive for dominance in the establishment of personal superiority as "little gods."  The theme of emotional separation can be seen in the withering relationship of Adela and Rony, as well as Fielding and Aziz.  This theme is enhanced in a more mortal sense with Mrs. Moore and Professor Godbole, who seem to be separated from the temporal realm and entering one of greater eternity.  I would think that the Marabar Caves themselves, an area where only the equality of "Boum" can be experienced, is separated from the rest of the world, itself.  At some level, each character in the work endures some type of separation, which can be a statement in its own right about the nature of Colonial rule and life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does separation represent in Forster's A Passage to India?

The most obvious element of separation in Forster's A Passage To India is that of the separation between the races, Indian from English, dark-skinned from white-skinned,Indian-speakers from English-speakers. Under the apartheid system in various places, of course this separation was harshly enforced by physical barriers as it was also in ghettos such as those endured by Jews. Separation can be through prohibition (buses,schools,hospitals) or physical (walls,fences,water.) Perhaps the most bloody and painful split of all is when a nation is torn into two nations.Even in the higher ranks of Indian society, aristocratic Indians could still suffer from exclusion-never quite being totally accepted by the imperialist colonial white race - for example being banned from joining an exclusive country club. It seems that even when acting relaxed and friendly while for example being hospitable to higher ranking Indians during a card game, the dominant English are still an elite and exclusive club underneath. The cordiality and hospitality is a fake, and is patronising to the extreme. The true separation still exists underneath and makes a hypocrisy of the rest.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is the theme of separation represented in A Passage to India?

There are several ways to read the theme of separation in Forster's work.  In my mind, the most evident theme of separation is that of cultural distance between the Indians and the British.  Due to colonization and the notion that Indian was occupied by the British, there is a natural separation between both cultures.  Forster spends a great deal of time and text explaining that there is a fundamental difference or chasm between both cultures.  It is not Kipling's "East vs. West" idea as much as it is that there is a separation of worlds between them.  There are individuals who try to bridge this gulf, but it is a separation of worlds.

Another level of separation is the spiritual distance that exists between characters in the novel.  One of the most complex elements in the novel is the idea of being spiritually separated from a temporal view of the universe.  Certainly, Godbole, representing the Hindu faith, would speak to this.  There is an idea that Indian spirituality and its notions represent a separation from this particular realm of existence.  Forster does not really depict this in a stereotypical way as much as showing its impact on his characters.  The cave represents this.  When Adela and Aziz enter the cave recall how he describes the moment:  "A match is struck and the sound creates two flames that for a moment touch and then are separated forever." This description connotes the idea that in the cave, where darkness and imperceptibility reign, there is a separation from the world and the temporal nature of it.  Mrs. Moore also embodies the idea of separation, as towards the end of the work her life and eventual death indicate a distance between what is in our temporal space and what lies outside of it.

The final theme of separation is the one that exists between the ones we love.  Part of what makes Forster's work so interesting and powerful is the idea that human beings possess a level of distance even in situations where they don't detect it.  For example, Ronny and Adela do have feelings for one another.  Yet, there is a separation between them.  They share the same culture, and are immersed in the same situation as Anglos living in India, yet there is some gap, some separation between them.  Aziz and Fielding, as friends, also experience a separation of sorts.  Part of this is cultural, part is misunderstanding, and there is a part that seems intrinsic to their relationship.  Even at the end, when the figments and fragments of their challenges have been set aside, one detects a certain level of separation that will always be a part of their dialectic  Finally, Aziz and Godbole, both Indians, both a part of the same cultural fabric, have a level of separation between them.  It is not that there is animosity between one another, but there is a separation where both cannot fully embrace the ideas of the other.

These are broad strokes, and you will probably have to go back to the text and find exact evidence to support it, but these applications of the separation theme are evident in Forster's work.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on