Characterisation in the Novel A Passage To India

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      The Technique of Characterization. The individuality of the various persons described in a story leaves an impression in the minds of the readers. An adept writer portrays his character in such a way that when this character is put in another context, the readers do not feel any jolt as though they do not expect that person to say that or to do like that. If there is consistency in a character's portrayal then the author has become successful in his art of characterization. As characters are introduced through their own actions or speeches, or through the comments of other characters or through the remarks of the author himself we get a fairly good picture of the characters and we seem to feel as though we have met them somewhere in real life. Forster's skill cannot be doubted. All the aspects of a person are conveyed to us by all these means and Forster gives the finishing touch with a psychological analysis of the character concerned.

      Portrayal of the Two Races. In A Passage to India, Forster delineates the racial characteristics in a "wholesale" manner i.e. by way of generalization, whether he speaks of the Indians or the Anglo-Indians. This collective characterization is certainly amusing though not convincing, but it is never repelling because there is an element of truth in it Dr. Aziz and his Muslim friends make the sweeping statement that all the Englishmen in India are snobbishly arrogant, shedding all their original refinement within a couple of years' stay in India. In the case of the English women the feat is usually accomplished in six months. Forster himself makes his ironical comments now and then in a similar vein and these statements are supported by the characters' later behavior. The bureaucrats do not lag behind in their collective adverse remarks on both Hindus and Muslims alike. In their opinion, all the Indians are inefficient and seditious. Such sweeping remarks are made by Hindus and Muslims also against each other.

      Outstanding Individual Portrayal. Forster's portrayal of the different characters such as Ronny, his mother Mrs. Moore, his fiancee Miss Quested, Fielding the college Principal, Dr. Aziz and Professor Godbole is very lively and true to life.

      Ronny. Forster's description of Ronny as a hardworking minion of British Imperialism, trying to decide which one of the two untrue accounts was the less untrue and trying to dispense justice fearlessly to protect the weak against the less weak, is very characteristically true. He approves of religion only when it falls in line with the political necessity or endorses the obligations of state-craft. Adela's remarks about Ronny are also extremely realistic. According to her, some unseemly traits of his character are enhanced by his long stay in India and they are self-complacency, censoriousness and lack of subtlety. His own talk and action substantiate these statements. He gate-crashes into Fielding's tea party in order to take away his mother and fiance unceremoniously, ostensibly for witnessing a polo game. His manner of talking and behaving at the gathering of the Anglo-Indian community at the club is also typically repulsive.

      Fielding, the Intellectual. Amply endowed with the qualities of the head and heart, Fielding, the college principal, reveals his sanity, sweet reasonableness and humanistic tendency. He defends Aziz risking the combined hostility of all his compatriots. His friendliness towards the Indians and his endorsement of the nationalistic aspirations of the Indian patriots pleases us. When Miss Quested withdraws her charge against Aziz, he immediately appreciates her intellectual honesty and does not hesitate to dissuade Aziz from insisting on demanding compensation from Adela. Later on, he marries Ronny's step-sister Stella and joins the official group. How far this has affected his original broad-mindness is left to the realm of conjecture.

      Aziz. Personal comments, threadbare psychological analysis and the descriptive comments of friends and hostile people —all these collectively give us a fairly good picture of Dr. Aziz, hero of the novel. His own actions and talks before, during and after the great crisis that he was compelled to face also reveal a great deal of the different traits in his character. Vanity, volatile light-heartedness and simplicity, active restlessness and friendly candor-all these are revealed by means of his actions. His anti-English stance, pride in the glory of Islam descending becomes bigotry at times. Also his hero-worship of Babar and other Moghul kings are brought before us. His personal relationship with Fielding is ardent in the beginning, a little hostile when he becomes over credulous of the rumor against the Englishman and degenerated into one of utter indifference when Fielding joins the official group. A critic is of the opinion that the portrayal of Aziz alone is enough to give the novel the status of a highly remarkable novel.

      Mrs. Moore and Adela. The portrayal of these two ladies is also highly remarkable and superb. Mrs. Moore's respect for other religions and places of worship, her prejudice-free friendly amiability with the
Indians, etc. reveal her open-heartedness. How her mysterious experience in the caves undermined her hold on life and made her fall into a state of apathy, lethargy and indifference and the news of her tragic death during her voyage to England-all these touch the reader's sensitive mind. Adela is a rationalist, broad-minded English lady and had adequate sympathy for the Indians. She was very eager to see the real India. She did resent the snobbery and arrogance of the Anglo-Indian bureaucrats. Her inexplicable hallucination resulting in her silly accusation of Dr. Aziz's attempt to molest her and her later recantation when the bothersome "echoes" she heard frequently left her for good are landmarks in the progress of fine portrayal of character in the hands of Forster.

      Professor Godbole. He is a fine example of a person with "affectionate detachment" a life of a "lotus leaf in the water" way of withdrawal from the exciting upheavals of mundane existence. This explains his enigmatic indifference to Aziz's arrest and trial. His discourses on the subject of good and evil, his earnest and enthusiastic participation in the celebration of Gokul Ashtami and his indulgence in the singing of devotional songs, etc. are very characteristic of him. He is a representative of Hindu mysticism that transcends all barriers, social, communal and even national, and, as such, he is worthy of our esteem.

      Epigrammatic Remarks about Minor Characters. In the case of minor characters also Forster exhibits his skill in characterization by means of a number of epigrammatic remarks that infuse life into each of these characters.

      Some Deficiency. It is inevitable for every writer to fail in the proper characterization of some of his own creations - Ralph and Stella have not been portrayed properly by Forster, probably because he had exceeded the minimum fifty thousand words for a novel by reaching nearly double that quantity when Ralph and Stella enter the story. They enter the arena too late to receive adequate attention from him. Of course, there are certain aspects of character which even the writer of Aspects of the Novel does not fully understand.

University Questions

Comment on Forster's art of characterization in A Passage to India.
How successful is Forster in the portrayal of characters in A Passage to India? Discuss with reference to their variety and life-likeness.

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