A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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How many types of "muddles" are depicted in A Passage to India?

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In A Passage to India, the term "muddle" applies to the overall situation of British colonial rule in India. Other muddles include the unresolved question of what happened in the Malabar caves. This specific instance represents two broader muddles of gender and race relations. The elusive nature of the truth also points to a spiritual muddle.

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In A Passage to India, E. M. Forster presents a situation in which there are no easy answers. The novel raises a number of questions that pertain to individual relationships, but the author always locates these within the national, cultural, and religious dimensions of the long-term British colonial domination of the Indian sub-continent. In trying to explain India for the new arrivals, Fielding asserts both his opinion of India’s impenetrable confusion and his authority to speak for Aziz, thus asserting British domination. He declares,

Aziz and I know well that India’s a muddle.

Forster deliberately refuses to offer a definitive account of what happened between Adela Quested and Dr. Aziz in the Malabar caves. By resolutely keeping this incident as a muddle, he expands from a single encounter out to the broader repercussions of a temporary relationship between a young Englishwoman and a young Indian man.

The interactions between gender and race are thus exposed as another kind of muddle that pervades the colonial relationship. Although Aziz had acquired a level of respect within the colonial environment, the British authorities automatically labeled him a sexual predator. They believed Adela’s story—even though she did not provide specific details—simply because she was English. The fact that they blamed her confusion on the abstract concept of India suggests culture shock as another kind of muddle.

By making Adela’s story central, Forster emphasizes the difficulty of finding the truth. Through the character of Mrs. Moore, who tries valiantly to consider different points of view. The caves themselves strongly affect her deeply, making her consider the universe as both horrible and small. She experiences a “spiritual muddledom” that cannot be adequately explained in words. Through this character, Forster associates the nebulous quality of truth with a spiritual crisis.

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