LECTURE 22 – 29
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
Analysis of Major Characters
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Summary & Analysis
Part I, Chapters I–III
Part I, Chapters IV–VI
Part I, Chapters VII–VIII
Part I, Chapters IX–XI
Part II, Chapters XII–XIV
Part II, Chapters XV–XIX
Part II, Chapters XX–XXIII
Part II, Chapters XXIV–XXV
Part II, Chapters XXVI–XXIX
Part II, Chapters XXX–XXXII
Part III, Chapters XXXIII–XXXV
Part III, Chapters XXXVI–XXXVII
Edward Morgan Forster was born into a comfortable London family in 1879. His father, an architect, died when Forster was very young, leaving the boy to be raised by his mother and great aunt. Forster proved to be a bright student, and he went on to attend Cambridge University, graduating in 1901. He spent much of the next decade traveling and living abroad, dividing his time between working as a journalist and writing short stories and novels.
Many of Forster’s observations and experiences from this time figure in his fiction, most notably A Room with a View (1908), which chronicles the experiences of a group of English people vacationing in Italy. Two years after A Room with a View, the novel Howards End (1910), in which Forster criticized the class divisions and prejudices of Edwardian England, solidified his reputation as a social critic and a master of incisively observational fiction.
Long before Forster first visited India, he had already gained a vivid picture of its people and places from a young Indian Muslim named Syed Ross Masood, whom Forster began tutoring in England starting in 1906. Forster and Masood became very close, and Masood introduced Forster to several of his Indian friends. Echoes of the friendship between the two can be seen in the characters of Fielding and Aziz in A Passage to India. By the time Forster first visited India, in 1912, the Englishman was well prepared for his travels throughout the country.
At the time of Forster’s visit, the British government had been officially ruling India since 1858, after the failed Sepoy Rebellion in 1857, in which Indians attempted to regain rule from the British East India Company. The East India Company, a privately owned trading concern, had been gaining financial and political power in India since the seventeenth century. By the time of Forster’s visit, Britain’s control over India was complete: English governors headed each province and were responsible to Parliament. Though England had promised the Indian people a role in government in exchange for their aid during World War I, India did not win independence until three decades later, in 1949.
Forster spent time with both Englishmen and Indians during his visit, and he quickly found he preferred the company of the latter. He was troubled by the racial oppression and deep cultural misunderstandings that divided the Indian people and the British colonists, or, as they are called in A Passage to India, Anglo-Indians. The prevailing attitude among the British in India was that the colonists were assuming the “white man’s burden”—novelist Rudyard Kipling’s phrase—of governing the country, because the Indians could not handle the responsibility themselves. Forster, a homosexual living in a society and era largely unsympathetic to his lifestyle, had long experienced prejudice and misunderstanding firsthand. It is no surprise, then, that Forster felt sympathetic toward the Indian side of the colonial argument. Indeed, Forster became a lifelong advocate for tolerance and understanding among people of different social classes, races, and backgrounds.
Forster began writing A Passage to India in 1913, just after his first visit to India. The novel was not revised and completed, however, until well after his second stay in India, in 1921, when he served as secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas State Senior. Published in 1924, A Passage to India examines the racial misunderstandings and cultural hypocrisies that characterized the complex interactions between Indians and the English toward the end of the British occupation of India.
Forster’s style is marked by his sympathy for his characters, his ability to see more than one side of an argument or story, and his fondness for simple, symbolic tales that neatly encapsulate large scale problems and conditions. These tendencies are all evident in A Passage to India, which was immediately acclaimed as Forster’s masterpiece upon its publication. It is a traditional social and political novel, unconcerned with the technical innovation of some of Forster’s modernist contemporaries such as Gertrude Stein or T.S. Eliot. A Passage to India is concerned, however, with representing the chaos of modern human experience through patterns of imagery and form. In this regard, Forster’s novel is similar to modernist works of the same time period, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925).
A Passage to India was the last in a string of Forster’s novels in which his craft improved markedly with each new work. After the novel’s publication, however, Forster never again attained the level of craft or the depth of observation that characterized his early work. In his later life, he contented himself primarily with writing critical essays and lectures, most notably Aspects of the Novel (1927). In 1946, Forster accepted a fellowship at Cambridge, where he remained until his death in 1970.
Two englishwomen, the young Miss Adela Quested and the elderly Mrs. Moore, travel to India. Adela expects to become engaged to Mrs. Moore’s son, Ronny, a British magistrate in the Indian city of Chandrapore. Adela and Mrs. Moore each hope to see the real India during their visit, rather than cultural institutions imported by the British.
At the same time, Aziz, a young Muslim doctor in India, is increasingly frustrated by the poor treatment he receives at the hands of the English. Aziz is especially annoyed with Major Callendar, the civil surgeon, who has a tendency to summon Aziz for frivolous reasons in the middle of dinner. Aziz and two of his educated friends, Hamidullah and Mahmoud Ali, hold a lively conversation about whether or not an Indian can be friends with an Englishman in India. That night, Mrs. Moore and Aziz happen to run into each other while exploring a local mosque, and the two become friendly. Aziz is moved and surprised that an English person would treat him like a friend.
Mr. Turton, the collector who governs Chandrapore, hosts a party so that Adela and Mrs. Moore may have the opportunity to meet some of the more prominent and wealthy Indians in the city. At the event, which proves to be rather awkward, Adela meets Cyril Fielding, the principal of the government college in Chandrapore. Fielding, impressed with Adela’s open friendliness to the Indians, invites her and Mrs. Moore to tea with him and the Hindu professor Godbole. At Adela’s request, Fielding invites Aziz to tea as well.
At the tea, Aziz and Fielding immediately become friendly, and the afternoon is overwhelmingly pleasant until Ronny Heaslop arrives and rudely interrupts the party. Later that evening, Adela tells Ronny that she has decided not to marry him. But that night, the two are in a car accident together, and the excitement of the event causes Adela to change her mind about the marriage.
Not long afterward, Aziz organizes an expedition to the nearby Marabar Caves for those who attended Fielding’s tea. Fielding and Professor Godbole miss the train to Marabar, so Aziz continues on alone with the two ladies, Adela and Mrs. Moore. Inside one of the caves, Mrs. Moore is unnerved by the enclosed space, which is crowded with Aziz’s retinue, and by the uncanny echo that seems to translate every sound she makes into the noise “boum.”
Aziz, Adela, and a guide go on to the higher caves while Mrs. Moore waits below. Adela, suddenly realizing that she does not love Ronny, asks Aziz whether he has more than one wife—a question he considers offensive. Aziz storms off into a cave, and when he returns, Adela is gone. Aziz scolds the guide for losing Adela, and the guide runs away. Aziz finds Adela’s broken field glasses and heads down the hill. Back at the picnic site, Aziz finds Fielding waiting for him. Aziz is unconcerned to learn that Adela has hastily taken a car back to Chandrapore, as he is overjoyed to see Fielding. Back in Chandrapore, however, Aziz is unexpectedly arrested. He is charged with attempting to rape Adela Quested while she was in the caves, a charge based on a claim Adela herself has made.
Fielding, believing Aziz to be innocent, angers all of British India by joining the Indians in Aziz’s defense. In the weeks before the trial, the racial tensions between the Indians and the English flare up considerably. Mrs. Moore is distracted and miserable because of her memory of the echo in the cave and because of her impatience with the upcoming trial. Adela is emotional and ill; she too seems to suffer from an echo in her mind. Ronny is fed up with Mrs. Moore’s lack of support for Adela, and it is agreed that Mrs. Moore will return to England earlier than planned. Mrs. Moore dies on the voyage back to England, but not before she realizes that there is no “real India”—but rather a complex multitude of different Indias.
At Aziz’s trial, Adela, under oath, is questioned about what happened in the caves. Shockingly, she declares that she has made a mistake: Aziz is not the person or thing that attacked her in the cave. Aziz is set free, and Fielding escorts Adela to the Government College, where she spends the next several weeks. Fielding begins to respect Adela, recognizing her bravery in standing against her peers to pronounce Aziz innocent. Ronny breaks off his engagement to Adela, and she returns to England.
Aziz, however, is angry that Fielding would befriend Adela after she nearly ruined Aziz’s life, and the friendship between the two men suffers as a consequence. Then Fielding sails for a visit to England. Aziz declares that he is done with the English and that he intends to move to a place where he will not have to encounter them.
Two years later, Aziz has become the chief doctor to the Rajah of Mau, a Hindu region several hundred miles from Chandrapore. He has heard that Fielding married Adela shortly after returning to England. Aziz now virulently hates all English people. One day, walking through an old temple with his three children, he encounters Fielding and his brother in law. Aziz is surprised to learn that the brother-in-law’s name is Ralph Moore; it turns out that Fielding married not Adela Quested, but Stella Moore, Mrs. Moore’s daughter from her second marriage.
Aziz befriends Ralph. After he accidentally runs his rowboat into Fielding’s, Aziz renews his friendship with Fielding as well. The two men go for a final ride together before Fielding leaves, during which Aziz tells Fielding that once the English are out of India, the two will be able to be friends. Fielding asks why they cannot be friends now, when they both want to be, but the sky and the earth seem to say “No, not yet. . . . No, not there.”
Dr. Aziz - An intelligent, emotional Indian doctor in Chandrapore. Aziz attempts to make friends with Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore, and Cyril Fielding. Later, Adela falsely accuses Aziz of attempted rape after an expedition to the Marabar Caves, but the charges are dropped after Adela’s testimony at the trial. Aziz enjoys writing and reciting poetry. He has three children; his wife died several years before the beginning of the novel.
Cyril Fielding - The principal of the government college near Chandrapore. Fielding is an independent man who believes in educating the Indians to be individuals—a much more sympathetic attitude toward the native population than that held by most English in India. Fielding befriends Dr. Aziz, taking the doctor’s side against the rest of the English in Chandrapore when Aziz is accused of attempting to rape Adela Quested.
Miss Adela Quested - A young, intelligent, inquisitive, but somewhat repressed Englishwoman. Adela travels to India with Mrs. Moore in order to decide whether or not to marry Mrs. Moore’s son Ronny. Miss Quested begins with an openminded desire to get to know Indians and see the real India. Later, she falsely accuses Aziz of attempting to rape her in the Marabar Caves.
Mrs. Moore - An elderly Englishwoman who voyages to India with Adela Quested. Mrs. Moore wishes to see the country and hopes that Adela will marry her son Ronny. Mrs. Moore befriends Dr. Aziz, as she feels some spiritual connection with him. She has an unsettling experience with the bizarre echoes in the Marabar Caves, which cause her to feel a sense of dread, especially about human relationships. Mrs. Moore hurries back to England, and she dies at sea during the journey.
Ronny Heaslop - Mrs. Moore’s son, the magistrate at Chandrapore. Ronny, though well educated and open-minded at heart, has become prejudiced and intolerant of Indians ever since he moved to India—as is standard for most Englishmen serving there. Ronny is briefly engaged to Adela Quested, though he does not appear particularly passionate about her.
Mr. Turton - The collector, the man who governs Chandrapore. Mr. Turton is officious and stern, though more tactful than his wife.
Mrs. Turton - Turton’s wife. In her interactions with Indians, Mrs. Turton embodies the novel’s stereotype of the snobby, rude, and prejudiced English colonial wife.
Mr. McBryde - The superintendent of police in Chandrapore, who has an elaborate theory that he claims explains the inferiority of dark skinned races to light skinned ones. McBryde, though condescending, actually shows more tolerance toward Indians than most English do. Not surprisingly, he and Fielding are friendly acquain-tances. McBryde himself stands up against the group mentality of the English at Chandrapore when he divorces his wife after having an affair with Miss Derek.
Major Callendar - The civil surgeon at Chandrapore, Dr. Aziz’s superior. Major Callendar is a boastful, cruel, intolerant, and ridiculous man.
Professor Godbole - A Brahman Hindu who teaches at Fielding’s college. Godbole is very spiritual and reluctant to become involved in human affairs.
Hamidullah - Dr. Aziz’s uncle and friend. Hamidullah, who was educated at Cambridge, believes that friendship between the English and Indians is more likely possible in England than in India. Hamidullah was a close friend of Fielding before Fielding and Aziz met.
Mahmoud Ali - A lawyer friend of Dr. Aziz who is deeply pessimistic about the English.
The Nawab Bahadur - The leading loyalist in Chandrapore. The Nawab Bahadur is wealthy, generous, and faithful to the English. After Aziz’s trial, however, he gives up his title in protest.
Dr. Panna Lal - A low born Hindu doctor and Aziz’s rival. Dr. Panna Lal intends to testify against Aziz at the trial, but he begs forgiveness after Aziz is set free.
Stella Moore - Mrs. Moore’s daughter from her second marriage. Stella marries Fielding toward the end of the novel.
Ralph Moore - Mrs. Moore’s son from her second marriage, a sensitive young man.
Miss Derek - A young Englishwoman who works for a wealthy Indian family and often steals their car. Miss Derek is easygoing and has a fine sense of humor, but many of the English at Chandrapore resent her, considering her presence unseemly.
Amritrao - The lawyer who defends Aziz at his trial. Amritrao is a highly anti British man.
Analysis of Major Characters
Aziz seems to be a mess of extremes and contradictions, an embodiment of Forster’s notion of the “muddle” of India. Aziz is impetuous and flighty, changing opinions and preoccupations quickly and without warning, from one moment to the next. His moods swing back and forth between extremes, from childlike elation one minute to utter despair the next. Aziz even seems capable of shifting careers and talents, serving as both physician and poet during the course of A Passage to India. Aziz’s somewhat youthful qualities, as evidenced by a sense of humor that leans toward practical joking, are offset by his attitude of irony toward his English superiors.
Forster, though not blatantly stereotyping, encourages us to see many of Aziz’s characteristics as characteristics of Indians in general. Aziz, like many of his friends, dislikes blunt honesty and directness, preferring to communicate through confidences, feelings underlying words, and indirect speech. Aziz has a sense that much of morality is really social code. He therefore feels no moral compunction about visiting prostitutes or reading Fielding’s private mail—both because his intentions are good and because he knows he will not be caught. Instead of living by merely social codes, Aziz guides his action through a code that is nearly religious, such as we see in his extreme hospitality. Moreover, Aziz, like many of the other Indians, struggles with the problem of the English in India. On the one hand, he appreciates some of the modernizing influences that the West has brought to India; on the other, he feels that the presence of the English degrades and oppresses his people.
Despite his contradictions, Aziz is a genuinely affectionate character, and his affection is often based on intuited connections, as with Mrs. Moore and Fielding. Though Forster holds up Aziz’s capacity for imaginative sympathy as a good trait, we see that this imaginativeness can also betray Aziz. The deep offense Aziz feels toward Fielding in the aftermath of his trial stems from fiction and misinterpreted intuition. Aziz does not stop to evaluate facts, but rather follows his heart to the exclusion of all other methods—an approach that is sometimes wrong.
Many critics have contended that Forster portrays Aziz and many of the other Indian characters unflatteringly. Indeed, though the author is certainly sympathetic to the Indians, he does sometimes present them as incompetent, subservient, or childish. These somewhat valid critiques call into question the realism of Forster’s novel, but they do not, on the whole, corrupt his exploration of the possibility of friendly relations between Indians and Englishmen—arguably the central concern of the novel.
Dr. Aziz Timeline and Summary
Aziz arrives at Hamidullah's for dinner. He's interrupted by a message from Major Callendar, who wants to see him right away. On the way to Callendar's, Aziz's bike breaks down, and Aziz takes a tonga the rest of the way.
When Aziz arrives at Callendar's, he's informed that Callendar has already left. Callendar's wife and another Englishwoman swipe his tonga. Miffed, Aziz walks home.
On the way, he stops by a mosque, where he meets Mrs. Moore. Charmed, he walks her back to the club.
A few days later, Aziz plans on going to the Bridge Party, but it's on the anniversary of his wife's death. After sending a telegram to his children, he stops by the maidan to ride Hamidullah's pony. He meets a soldier, and they play polo together.
When he arrives home, Dr. Lal chides him for skipping out on the Bridge Party. Aziz receives an invitation to Fielding's tea party.
On the day of the tea party, Aziz arrives at Fielding's early. He lends Fielding a collar stud, and they hit it off.
Aziz meets Mrs. Moore again, and Adela. On an impulse, he invites them to the Marabar Caves. While Aziz chats alone with Adela, Ronny Heaslop shows up to take Adela and Mrs. Moore home. Aziz and Ronny are rude to each other.
Later in town, Aziz is at a gathering where the Nawab Bahadur tells the story of his recent car accident with Ronny and Adela.
After the tea party, Aziz calls in sick for a few days. He is visited by a few of his friends, as well as Fielding. Lal pops in on Callendar's orders to see if Aziz is really ill, then leaves. After the rest of his friends leave, Aziz shows Fielding a photograph of his wife as a gesture of friendship.
After hearing a rumor that Adela is offended that Aziz has forgotten his invitation, Aziz invites Adela, Mrs. Moore, Fielding, and Godbole to a picnic at the Marabar Caves.
At the train station, Aziz meets up with Adela and Mrs. Moore, but Fielding and Godbole have missed the train.
At the caves, Aziz treats his guests to an elaborate picnic. After the first cave, Mrs. Moore doesn't want to sightsee anymore, so Aziz takes Adela up to a cave along with a guide.
Along the way, he is offended by Adela's questions and hides in a cave to smoke and recover his composure. When he leaves the cave, he has lost Adela, but then notices that she has run down to meet her friend in the car below. He finds her broken field glasses.
Back at the picnic, Aziz greets Fielding, and along with Mrs. Moore, and the rest of the party, they return to Chandrapore.
When they return to Chandrapore, Aziz is immediately arrested and taken into custody, much to his dismay.
Aziz is momentarily out on bail, but he is put back into prison after he gets into a car accident during Mohurram.
With the support of Fielding and his Indian friends, Aziz goes on trial. To his surprise, Adela retracts her charge and he is free.
Upon leaving the courthouse, Aziz and his friends arrive at the hospital with the idea of destroying it, but they are convinced not to by Dr. Lal.
Whisked away to Mr. Zulfiqar's estate for a victory celebration, Aziz rejects Fielding's request that he not pursue a lawsuit against Adela for damages. Later, he agrees not to pursue charges against Adela.
After the trial, Aziz hears a rumor that Fielding had an affair with Adela. When Fielding returns from a conference, Aziz obliquely confronts Fielding about the rumor. Although Fielding denies it, Aziz convinces himself that the rumor is true. He leaves town to return his children to their grandmother while Fielding leaves for England.
A few years later, Aziz is the royal doctor at Mau, a position that Professor Godbole helped him find.
At Mau, Fielding shows up again. Aziz's belief that Fielding married Adela is proven wrong when he discovers that Fielding has arrived at Mau with his wife, Stella Moore, (Mrs. Moore's daughter), and her brother Ralph.
Aziz shows up at the European Guest House thinking that everyone has left to see the Gokul Ashtami festival at the tank. But Ralph has stayed behind, and they become friends.
Aziz takes Ralph out on the tank to view the festival. While rowing in the tank, they collide with Fielding and Stella's boat, and collapse in the water.
Afterwards, Aziz goes on a horse ride with Fielding, where he discovers that both of them have grown more entrenched in their political positions.
Of all the characters in the novel, Fielding is clearly the most associated with Forster himself. Among the Englishmen in Chandrapore, Fielding is far and away most the successful at developing and sustaining relationships with native Indians. Though he is an educator, he is less comfortable in teacher-student interaction than he is in one-on-one conversation with another individual. This latter style serves as Forster’s model of liberal humanism—Forster and Fielding treat the world as a group of individuals who can connect through mutual respect, courtesy, and intelligence.
Fielding, in these viewpoints, presents the main threat to the mentality of the English in India. He educates Indians as individuals, engendering a movement of free thought that has the potential to destabilize English colonial power. Furthermore, Fielding has little patience for the racial categorization that is so central to the English grip on India. He honors his friendship with Aziz over any alliance with members of his own race—a reshuffling of allegiances that threatens the solidarity of the English. Finally, Fielding “travels light,” as he puts it: he does not believe in marriage, but favors friendship instead. As such, Fielding implicitly questions the domestic conventions upon which the Englishmen’s sense of “Englishness” is founded. Fielding refuses to sentimentalize domestic England or to venerate the role of the wife or mother—a far cry from the other Englishmen, who put Adela on a pedestal after the incident at the caves.
Fielding’s character changes in the aftermath of Aziz’s trial. He becomes jaded about the Indians as well as the English. His English sensibilities, such as his need for proportion and reason, become more prominent and begin to grate against Aziz’s Indian sensibilities. By the end of A Passage to India, Forster seems to identify with Fielding less. Whereas Aziz remains a likable, if flawed, character until the end of the novel, Fielding becomes less likable in his increasing identification and sameness with the English.
Cyril Fielding Timeline and Summary
At the Bridge Party, Fielding meets Adela and Mrs. Moore and invites them over for tea at the college. Informed that Mrs. Moore has met Dr. Aziz, Fielding agrees to invite him to tea as well.
Just before the tea party begins, Aziz arrives while Fielding is getting dressed and offers him a collar stud.
At the tea party, Fielding entertains Adela, Mrs. Moore, and Professor Godbole. He takes Mrs. Moore on a tour of the college grounds. He returns to find that Ronny Heaslop has arrived to take Adela and Mrs. Moore to a polo match.
A few days later, Fielding calls on Aziz because Aziz is reputed to be unwell. He finds that Aziz has company. When Aziz's guests leave, Aziz shows a photograph of his wife to Fielding, establishing their friendship.
Fielding arrives at the train station to attend Aziz's picnic to the Marabar Caves. But Godbole's prayers have made him late, and he misses the train. Fielding meets Miss Derek in town, who offers to drive him to the caves.
At the caves, Fielding meets up with Aziz, but finds that Adela has run off with Miss Derek. Suspicious, he accompanies Aziz and the rest of the party back to Chandrapore, where Aziz is promptly arrested.
Fielding is called away by Mr. Turton, but they part because Fielding insists on Aziz's innocence.
Fielding attempts to visit Aziz at the prison, but McBryde refuses to let him visit Aziz without a magistrate's order.
Outside the prison, Fielding meets Hamidullah, who tells him about plans for Aziz's defense.
Fielding heads back to the college, where Godbole makes some confusing comments that seem to have no relation to the day's events.
After getting a magistrate's order, Fielding visits Aziz, who is too miserable to talk coherently. Fielding decides to write a letter to Adela, asking her to reconsider her charge.
At the club, Fielding effectively resigns from the club when he refuses to stand when Ronny walks into the room. Fielding makes a brief statement in Aziz's defense and leaves the club.
Fielding joins up with Aziz's friends, who are making plans for Aziz's defense. He then returns back to the college, hoping to have a chat with Godbole to see what he thinks of things, but Godbole slips away before they get a chance to talk.
In the courtroom, Fielding sits with the rest of the Indians while the other British characters sit up front with Adela. In the tumult following Adela's withdrawing her charge, Fielding rescues Adela from the crowd and takes her back to the college.
At the college, Fielding and Adela chat about the events. Ronny shows up, and Fielding agrees to let Adela stay at the college.
Fielding leaves to celebrate with Aziz and his friends at Zulfiqar's estate. At the celebrations, Fielding tries to convince Aziz not to pursue a lawsuit against Adela for damages.
After the celebration, Aziz decides not to pursue charges, Adela leaves the college, and Fielding also leaves Chandrapore for a conference.
When he returns, he meets up with Aziz, who angers him with the insinuation that he had an affair with Adela when she was staying at the club. Fielding later sails for England.
A few years later, Fielding arrives in Mau with Stella Moore, his wife, and Ralph Moore, his wife's brother. At Mau, he meets Aziz again, and realizes that Aziz's attitude toward him is explained by Aziz's mistaken belief that he has married Adela.
Fielding takes a boat out on the Mau tank with Stella to view the festival. On the tank, they collide with Aziz's boat, which also happens to be carrying Ralph. They all fall into the tank.
Later, Fielding goes on a horse ride with Aziz, where he finds that they have both become more entrenched in their views on politics.
Adela arrives in India with Mrs. Moore, and, fittingly, her character develops in parallel to Mrs. Moore’s. Adela, like the elder Englishwoman, is an individualist and an educated free thinker. These tendencies lead her, just as they lead Mrs. Moore, to question the standard behaviors of the English toward the Indians. Adela’s tendency to question standard practices with frankness makes her resistant to being labeled—and therefore resistant to marrying Ronny and being labeled a typical colonial English wife. Both Mrs. Moore and Adela hope to see the “real India” rather than an arranged tourist version. However, whereas Mrs. Moore’s desire is bolstered by a genuine interest in and affection for Indians, Adela appears to want to see the “real India” simply on intellectual grounds. She puts her mind to the task, but not her heart—and therefore never connects with Indians.
Adela’s experience at the Marabar Caves causes her to undergo a crisis of rationalism against spiritualism. While Adela’s character changes greatly in the several days after her alleged assault, her testimony at the trial represents a return of the old Adela, with the sole difference that she is plagued by doubt in a way she was not originally. Adela begins to sense that her assault, and the echo that haunts her afterward, are representative of something outside the scope of her normal rational comprehension. She is pained by her inability to articulate her experience. She finds she has no purpose in—nor love for—India, and suddenly fears that she is unable to love anyone. Adela is filled with the realization of the damage she has done to Aziz and others, yet she feels paralyzed, unable to remedy the wrongs she has done. Nonetheless, Adela selflessly endures her difficult fate after the trial—a course of action that wins her a friend in Fielding, who sees her as a brave woman rather than a traitor to her race.
Adela Quested Timeline and Summary
At the Chandrapore club's performance of Cousin Kate, Adela announces that she wants to see the "real" India.
Adela is delighted when Mr. Turton offers to set up a Bridge Party so that she can meet Indians.
On the way back to Ronny Heaslop's bungalow, Adela is pleased to learn that Mrs. Moore has met Dr. Aziz, a "real" Indian.
At the Bridge Party, Adela is dismayed to discover that the British and the Indians are not socializing.
Adela and Mrs. Moore are introduced to Mrs. Bhattacharya and Mrs. Das by Mrs. Turton. Adela and Mrs. Moore arrange to call on the Bhattacharyas the following Thursday.
Adela meets Mr. Fielding, who invites her and Mrs. Moore to a tea party at the college, where he will also invite Dr. Aziz.
Adela, Ronny, and Mrs. Moore head back to Ronny's bungalow, where they have dinner with the McBrydes and Miss Derek.
Adela and Mrs. Moore attend Fielding's tea party. They express their puzzlement at the absence of the Bhattacharyas when they went to call on them earlier that morning.
At the tea party, Fielding takes Mrs. Moore on a tour of the college, leaving Adela alone to chat with Aziz. During their conversation, Adela casually says that she doesn't plan on staying in India. It's only after she makes the statement that she realizes that this means that she doesn't plan on marrying Ronny.
Aziz spontaneously invites her and the other tea party guests to an excursion to the caves.
Adela's conversation with Aziz is interrupted by Ronny, who arrives to escort her and Mrs. Moore to a polo match. Before they leave, Adela and the other guests are entertained by a song from Professor Godbole.
On the way to the polo match, Adela and Ronny argue. They drop off Mrs. Moore at the bungalow.
At the polo match, Adela refuses to marry Ronny. The Nawab Bahadur takes them for a ride in his new car, but they get into an accident. On the drive home, Adela changes her mind and agrees to marry Ronny.
Adela and Ronny tell Mrs. Moore about their engagement. Adela ends the evening by playing cards with Mrs. Moore.
A few days later, Adela comments to Miss Derek that she wishes Aziz had remembered his invitation. Aziz hears about Adela's comment, and invites her and Mrs. Moore to go to the Marabar Caves. They accept.
Adela and Mrs. Moore meet Aziz at the train station, but Fielding and Godbole miss the train. Adela, Mrs. Moore, and Aziz and the rest of their party go on to the Marabar Caves.
At the caves, Adela believes that she has been attacked by Aziz. She runs down the hill to Miss Derek, who happens to be driving by at the time. Miss Derek drives her back to Chandrapore, leaving the rest of the party behind.
At the McBrydes' bungalow, Adela files charges against Aziz, and recovers from her ordeal. Cactus needles are plucked out of her skin.
Adela receives a letter from Fielding professing Aziz's innocence.
Adela is picked up from the McBrydes' bungalow by Ronny, who takes her back to his bungalow. Adela speaks with Mrs. Moore, who also believes in Aziz's innocence.
After Mrs. Moore leaves, Adela stays with the Turtons. On the morning of the trial, she prays, then has a drink. She complains of a persistent echo in her ear.
Adela and the Turtons arrive at the courthouse. After meeting up with the other British inhabitants, they file into the courtroom together. Adela notices the punkah wallah.
When someone in the courtroom insults her appearance, Adela feels faint. Major Callendar demands that she be given a seat on the platform. The other members of their party join Adela on the platform. After Aziz's lawyers complain, Adela follows the others off the platform.
Adela is called up to testify. On the stand, she realizes that she has made a mistake and retracts her charge against Aziz.
The courtroom in turmoil, Adela finds herself transported out of the courtroom. Fielding saves her and takes her to the college. There, they discuss what happened.
At the college, Ronny visits Adela and informs her that Mrs. Moore has died. Since Adela is no longer welcome at the Turtons, she and Ronny agree that she will continue to stay at the college.
Adela stays at the college until Aziz agrees not to press charges against her. After Ronny breaks off their engagement, she leaves Chandrapore for England. On the ship ride to England, she decides that she must contact Stella and Ralph, Mrs. Moore's other children.
Years later, Adela sends a letter to Fielding, who is visiting Aziz at Mau.
As a character, Mrs. Moore serves a double function in A Passage to India, operating on two different planes. She is initially a literal character, but as the novel progresses she becomes more a symbolic presence. On the literal level, Mrs. Moore is a good-hearted, religious, elderly woman with mystical leanings. The initial days of her visit to India are successful, as she connects with India and Indians on an intuitive level. Whereas Adela is overly cerebral, Mrs. Moore relies successfully on her heart to make connections during her visit. Furthermore, on the literal level, Mrs. Moore’s character has human limitations: her experience at Marabar renders her apathetic and even somewhat mean, to the degree that she simply leaves India without bothering to testify to Aziz’s innocence or to oversee Ronny and Adela’s wedding.
After her departure, however, Mrs. Moore exists largely on a symbolic level. Though she herself has human flaws, she comes to symbolize an ideally spiritual and race-blind openness that Forster sees as a solution to the problems in India. Mrs. Moore’s name becomes closely associated with Hinduism, especially the Hindu tenet of the oneness and unity of all living things. This symbolic side to Mrs. Moore might even make her the heroine of the novel, the only English person able to closely connect with the Hindu vision of unity. Nonetheless, Mrs. Moore’s literal actions—her sudden abandonment of India—make her less than heroic.
Ronny’s character does not change much over the course of the novel; instead, Forster’s emphasis is on the change that happened before the novel begins, when Ronny first arrived in India. Both Mrs. Moore and Adela note the difference between the Ronny they knew in England and the Ronny of British India. Forster uses Ronny’s character and the changes he has undergone as a sort of case study, an exploration of the restrictions that the English colonials’ herd mentality imposes on individual personalities. All of Ronny’s previously individual tastes are effectively dumbed down to meet group standards. He devalues his intelligence and learning from England in favor of the “wisdom” gained by years of experience in India. The open-minded attitude with which he has been brought up has been replaced by a suspicion of Indians. In short, Ronny’s tastes, opinions, and even his manner of speaking are no longer his own, but those of older, ostensibly wiser British Indian officials. This kind of group thinking is what ultimately causes Ronny to clash with both Adela and his mother, Mrs. Moore.
Nonetheless, Ronny is not the worst of the English in India, and Forster is somewhat sympathetic in his portrayal of him. Ronny’s ambition to rise in the ranks of British India has not completely destroyed his natural goodness, but merely perverted it. Ronny cares about his job and the Indians with whom he works, if only to the extent that they, in turn, reflect upon him. Forster presents Ronny’s failing as the fault of the colonial system, not his own.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Difficulty of English-Indian Friendship
A Passage to India begins and ends by posing the question of whether it is possible for an Englishman and an Indian to ever be friends, at least within the context of British colonialism. Forster uses this question as a framework to explore the general issue of Britain’s political control of India on a more personal level, through the friendship between Aziz and Fielding. At the beginning of the novel, Aziz is scornful of the English, wishing only to consider them comically or ignore them completely. Yet the intuitive connection Aziz feels with Mrs. Moore in the mosque opens him to the possibility of friendship with Fielding. Through the first half of the novel, Fielding and Aziz represent a positive model of liberal humanism: Forster suggests that British rule in India could be successful and respectful if only English and Indians treated each other as Fielding and Aziz treat each other—as worthy individuals who connect through frankness, intelligence, and good will.
Yet in the aftermath of the novel’s climax—Adela’s accusation that Aziz attempted to assault her and her subsequent disavowal of this accusation at the trial—Aziz and Fielding’s friendship falls apart. The strains on their relationship are external in nature, as Aziz and Fielding both suffer from the tendencies of their cultures. Aziz tends to let his imagination run away with him and to let suspicion harden into a grudge. Fielding suffers from an English literalism and rationalism that blind him to Aziz’s true feelings and make Fielding too stilted to reach out to Aziz through conversations or letters. Furthermore, their respective Indian and English communities pull them apart through their mutual stereotyping. As we see at the end of the novel, even the landscape of India seems to oppress their friendship. Forster’s final vision of the possibility of English-Indian friendship is a pessimistic one, yet it is qualified by the possibility of friendship on English soil, or after the liberation of India. As the landscape itself seems to imply at the end of the novel, such a friendship may be possible eventually, but “not yet.”
The Unity of All Living Things
Though the main characters of A Passage to India are generally Christian or Muslim, Hinduism also plays a large thematic role in the novel. The aspect of Hinduism with which Forster is particularly concerned is the religion’s ideal of all living things, from the lowliest to the highest, united in love as one. This vision of the universe appears to offer redemption to India through mysticism, as individual differences disappear into a peaceful collectivity that does not recognize hierarchies. Individual blame and intrigue is forgone in favor of attention to higher, spiritual matters. Professor Godbole, the most visible Hindu in the novel, is Forster’s mouthpiece for this idea of the unity of all living things. Godbole alone remains aloof from the drama of the plot, refraining from taking sides by recognizing that all are implicated in the evil of Marabar. Mrs. Moore, also, shows openness to this aspect of Hinduism. Though she is a Christian, her experience of India has made her dissatisfied with what she perceives as the smallness of Christianity. Mrs. Moore appears to feel a great sense of connection with all living creatures, as evidenced by her respect for the wasp in her bedroom.
Yet, through Mrs. Moore, Forster also shows that the vision of the oneness of all living things can be terrifying. As we see in Mrs. Moore’s experience with the echo that negates everything into “boum” in Marabar, such oneness provides unity but also makes all elements of the universe one and the same—a realization that, it is implied, ultimately kills Mrs. Moore. Godbole is not troubled by the idea that negation is an inevitable result when all things come together as one. Mrs. Moore, however, loses interest in the world of relationships after envisioning this lack of distinctions as a horror. Moreover, though Forster generally endorses the Hindu idea of the oneness of all living things, he also suggests that there may be inherent problems with it. Even Godbole, for example, seems to recognize that something—if only a stone—must be left out of the vision of oneness if the vision is to cohere. This problem of exclusion is, in a sense, merely another manifestation of the individual difference and hierarchy that Hinduism promises to overcome.
The “Muddle” of India
Forster takes great care to strike a distinction between the ideas of “muddle” and “mystery” in A Passage to India. “Muddle” has connotations of dangerous and disorienting disorder, whereas “mystery” suggests a mystical, orderly plan by a spiritual force that is greater than man. Fielding, who acts as Forster’s primary mouthpiece in the novel, admits that India is a “muddle,” while figures such as Mrs. Moore and Godbole view India as a mystery. The muddle that is India in the novel appears to work from the ground up: the very landscape and architecture of the countryside is formless, and the natural life of plants and animals defies identification. This muddled quality to the environment is mirrored in the makeup of India’s native population, which is mixed into a muddle of different religious, ethnic, linguistic, and regional groups.
The muddle of India disorients Adela the most; indeed, the events at the Marabar Caves that trouble her so much can be seen as a manifestation of this muddle. By the end of the novel, we are still not sure what actually has happened in the caves. Forster suggests that Adela’s feelings about Ronny become externalized and muddled in the caves, and that she suddenly experiences these feelings as something outside of her. The muddle of India also affects Aziz and Fielding’s friendship, as their good intentions are derailed by the chaos of cross-cultural signals.
Though Forster is sympathetic to India and Indians in the novel, his overwhelming depiction of India as a muddle matches the manner in which many Western writers of his day treated the East in their works. As the noted critic Edward Said has pointed out, these authors’ “orientalizing” of the East made Western logic and capability appear self-evident, and, by extension, portrayed the West’s domination of the East as reasonable or even necessary.
The Negligence of British Colonial Government
Though A Passage to India is in many ways a highly symbolic, or even mystical, text, it also aims to be a realistic documentation of the attitudes of British colonial officials in India. Forster spends large sections of the novel characterizing different typical attitudes the English hold toward the Indians whom they control. Forster’s satire is most harsh toward Englishwomen, whom the author depicts as overwhelmingly racist, self-righteous, and viciously condescending to the native population. Some of the Englishmen in the novel are as nasty as the women, but Forster more often identifies Englishmen as men who, though condescending and unable to relate to Indians on an individual level, are largely well-meaning and invested in their jobs. For all Forster’s criticism of the British manner of governing India, however, he does not appear to question the right of the British Empire to rule India. He suggests that the British would be well served by becoming kinder and more sympathetic to the Indians with whom they live, but he does not suggest that the British should abandon India outright. Even this lesser critique is never overtly stated in the novel, but implied through biting satire.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The echo begins at the Marabar Caves: first Mrs. Moore and then Adela hear the echo and are haunted by it in the weeks to come. The echo’s sound is “boum”—a sound it returns regardless of what noise or utterance is originally made. This negation of difference embodies the frightening flip side of the seemingly positive Hindu vision of the oneness and unity of all living things. If all people and things become the same thing, then no distinction can be made between good and evil. No value system can exist. The echo plagues Mrs. Moore until her death, causing her to abandon her beliefs and cease to care about human relationships. Adela, however, ultimately escapes the echo by using its message of impersonality to help her realize Aziz’s innocence.
Eastern and Western Architecture
Forster spends time detailing both Eastern and Western architecture in A Passage to India. Three architectural structures—though one is naturally occurring—provide the outline for the book’s three sections, “Mosque,” “Caves,” and “Temple.” Forster presents the aesthetics of Eastern and Western structures as indicative of the differences of the respective cultures as a whole. In India, architecture is confused and formless: interiors blend into exterior gardens, earth and buildings compete with each other, and structures appear unfinished or drab. As such, Indian architecture mirrors the muddle of India itself and what Forster sees as the Indians’ characteristic inattention to form and logic. Occasionally, however, Forster takes a positive view of Indian architecture. The mosque in Part I and temple in Part III represent the promise of Indian openness, mysticism, and friendship. Western architecture, meanwhile, is described during Fielding’s stop in Venice on his way to England. Venice’s structures, which Fielding sees as representative of Western architecture in general, honor form and proportion and complement the earth on which they are built. Fielding reads in this architecture the self-evident correctness of Western reason—an order that, he laments, his Indian friends would not recognize or appreciate.
At the end of Fielding’s tea party, Godbole sings for the English visitors a Hindu song, in which a milkmaid pleads for God to come to her or to her people. The song’s refrain of “Come! come” recurs throughout A Passage to India, mirroring the appeal for the entire country of salvation from something greater than itself. After the song, Godbole admits that God never comes to the milkmaid. The song greatly disheartens Mrs. Moore, setting the stage for her later spiritual apathy, her simultaneous awareness of a spiritual presence and lack of confidence in spiritualism as a redeeming force. Godbole seemingly intends his song as a message or lesson that recognition of the potential existence of a God figure can bring the world together and erode differences—after all, Godbole himself sings the part of a young milkmaid. Forster uses the refrain of Godbole’s song, “Come! come,” to suggest that India’s redemption is yet to come.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Marabar Caves
The Marabar Caves represent all that is alien about nature. The caves are older than anything else on the earth and embody nothingness and emptiness—a literal void in the earth. They defy both English and Indians to act as guides to them, and their strange beauty and menace unsettles visitors. The caves’ alien quality also has the power to make visitors such as Mrs. Moore and Adela confront parts of themselves or the universe that they have not previously recognized. The all-reducing echo of the caves causes Mrs. Moore to see the darker side of her spirituality—a waning commitment to the world of relationships and a growing ambivalence about God. Adela confronts the shame and embarrassment of her realization that she and Ronny are not actually attracted to each other, and that she might be attracted to no one. In this sense, the caves both destroy meaning, in reducing all utterances to the same sound, and expose or narrate the unspeakable, the aspects of the universe that the caves’ visitors have not yet considered.
The Green Bird
Just after Adela and Ronny agree for the first time, in Chapter VII, to break off their engagement, they notice a green bird sitting in the tree above them. Neither of them can positively identify the bird. For Adela, the bird symbolizes the unidentifiable quality of all of India: just when she thinks she can understand any aspect of India, that aspect changes or disappears. In this sense, the green bird symbolizes the muddle of India. In another capacity, the bird points to a different tension between the English and Indians. The English are obsessed with knowledge, literalness, and naming, and they use these tools as a means of gaining and maintaining power. The Indians, in contrast, are more attentive to nuance, undertone, and the emotions behind words. While the English insist on labeling things, the Indians recognize that labels can blind one to important details and differences. The unidentifiable green bird suggests the incompatibility of the English obsession with classification and order with the shifting quality of India itself—the land is, in fact, a “hundred Indias” that defy labeling and understanding.
The wasp appears several times in A Passage to India, usually in conjunction with the Hindu vision of the oneness of all living things. The wasp is usually depicted as the lowest creature the Hindus incorporate into their vision of universal unity. Mrs. Moore is closely associated with the wasp, as she finds one in her room and is gently appreciative of it. Her peaceful regard for the wasp signifies her own openness to the Hindu idea of collectivity, and to the mysticism and indefinable quality of India in general. However, as the wasp is the lowest creature that the Hindus visualize, it also represents the limits of the Hindu vision. The vision is not a panacea, but merely a possibility for unity and understanding in India.
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