“E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India” is set at the beginning of the twentieth century, while India is still under British control. Many English officers, aristocrats, and thier upper-class families have transplanted their way of life, somewhat unsuccessfully, to the tropical Indian territory. There is a sharp divide along racial lines, with Christian-Muslim-Hindu clashes and differences in etiquette and culture adding to the tension.
The protagonist is the widowed Dr. Aziz, an idealistic, youngish Indian man who has befriended some of the occupying English. When Adele Quested, a naive and homely British woman, arrives in India to visit her fiance, Dr. Aziz feels compelled to be hospitable. He takes Adele and several other British visitors on a tour of the Marabar Caves. The caves are dark and stifling; some of the guests become disoriented. Dr. Aziz comes out of one cave to see Adele running away down the cliffs and afterward learns that she has accused him of assaulting her in the cave’s darkness.
“The ensuing trial of Dr. Aziz galvanizes the British and Indian populations and does terrible damage to the already strained relations between the groups. ”
Many critics believe that without A Passage To India, E M Forster wouldn’t have perhaps been the author of eminence he is today. This novel, based in India during the British rule, is easily one of the most definitive works written in that period and rightfully, happens to be Forster’s best work.
I savoured the book -loving how Forster creates the mood and setting. A certain mysticism pervades the novel, as each character battles with their two worlds – internal and external. The incident of the Caves is the culmination point where things come to a head.
When Adela Quested and her would-be-mother-in-law Mrs Moore come to India, they express their wish to see ‘the real India’. Compared to the snobbery around – among the British class about the natives (Indians) – Adela and Mrs Moore seem much more open and courteous towards their Indian acquaintances. Dr Aziz, one of the major characters in the novel appears in many ways an embodiment of Forster’s impression of India —a kind of ‘muddle’ yet affectionate and emotional. His judgments are not always based on facts, as he tends to follow his heart too much. He overreacts and his feelings swing in extremes – from childlike joy to undiluted anger and hate.
The other character, Mr Fielding is portrayed as the rationalist – a friend to both Aziz and the two women. All four of them are happy with each others acquaintance and it’s one of these days that Aziz proposes a trip to the Marabar caves. When they agree, Aziz makes a lot of preparations for the journey. But things turn disastrous. When Mrs Moore comes out of the Cave, she feels dizzy and disturbed. But Adela’s reaction is extreme. She comes out shouting and later accuses Dr Aziz of sexually molesting her. The British stand by Adela, using the opportunity to tighten the screw on the natives.
However, as days progress, Adela isn’t sure anymore whether she was really molested or whether she just imagined it. Mrs Moore is convinced that it was all in Adela’s mind. Dr Aziz is let off by the court to loud cheers by fellow Indians. The British community feels humiliated and targets Adela for ‘changing her mind’
The third act, mostly constitutes the central characters drifting away and then crossing each other’s paths after many years. This part does not flow seamlessly with the rest of the story but if seen like an epilogue, it works in portraying how the British-Indian equation was written with misunderstanding, mistrust and miscommunication.
So, what exactly happened in the caves? Forster never tells you and even when he was asked about it in interviews, he only said, “I don’t know!”
But the author’s rich setting and characters do reveal a lot, in terms of what could have possibly happened. One of the central clues is Mrs Moore’s character, who is going through a period of disenchantment with humanity itself. She has intuitive powers and feels a certain spiritual decay that disturbs her. She possibly expected to find peace in the caves but instead is horrified at the feeling of ‘nothingness’ it suggests.
Adela, on the other hand, only has a certain superficial rationality to her and her sexual feelings are also repressed (in Jungian terms, her animus is more pronounced), which is why the caves probably brought her at the end of her conscious state -ie towards the unconscious (mind you, the cave can also be viewed as a primal womb – a darkness before existence as much as nothingness after existence) and that makes her unstable.
In general two of these characters, in particular move in an out of their consciousness and unconsciousness.
Adela’s fear could have also emerged out her distrust for Aziz and all Indians, a feeling which may not seem obvious on the surface.
So essentially, Forster starts off by creating a rich period drama about British India and the relationships that crumble under the weight of their cultural phobia.
For this reason and more, A Passage To India is an illuminating read and opens up a treasure of meanings.
Loved, Loved, loved the book… I don’t know why I kept the book so long in my shelf without reading??????
This book is part of my ” 2009 Read-Your-Own-Books Challenge”
Still continuing with the “Pillars Of The Earth”…it’s like never ending…..lol…