Critical Analysis of the Novel A Passage To India

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A Modern Classic

      A Passage to India has been unanimously hailed by all the critics as the best novel of E.M Forster. G. Lowes Dickinson describes it as "a classic of the strange and tragic fact of history and life called India." It is a monumental work and a modern classic. This book, after its publication in 1924, brought Forster into the limelight.

      It is one of the few modern novels for which it is reasonable to predict a prominent place in the history of English literature. Life and conduct in India may have changed since Mr. Forster first visited the country before the First World War, but his insight into Indian problems, and the nature of his intellect and art are deep enough to make a book which does not date. The reader today notices no anachronism in the use of the term "Anglo-Indian", and may not remark anything particularly prophetic when Fielding asked his Indian friend: "Whom do you want instead of the English — the Japanese?'

      According to Rose Macaulay, A Passage to India is "a well-built tale, with significant approach, tense suspense, highly dramatic crisis, brilliantly narrated denouement."

Portrayal of Anglo-Indian Relationship

      The book deals with the Anglo-Indian relationship in which both the English and the Americans were interested. The imperialist as well as the anti-imperialist took equal interest in the book. The book begins with an attempt to bring the Englishmen and the Indians closer to each other. The attempt, however, fails at the end, when Aziz and Fielding meet to part forever.

      There could be no friendship between the haughty British rulers and the humble Indians. Can the barriers be removed? There is no answer to this question. The greatness of the novel lies in posing the question and not in answering it.

Racial Problem

      Two great races with different heritage and history happen to meet. Aziz and Fielding represent two great races which have come into contact on an unequal footing. The novel expands on the themes of fusion and fission, love and hatred, separation and union, negation and affirmation.

      Dr. Aziz's life was a life of suffering. He was humiliated again and again by the Englishmen. The picnic at the Marabar Caves brought the communal hatred into focus. The Englishmen considered themselves to be superior, and the natives inferior. The English officials were agitated over the question of punishment to Aziz. The incident of supposed criminal assault by a Mohammedan on an English girl brought to the fore, the suppressed emotions of racial contempt, prejudice and injustice. The Englishmen were almost united to avenge themselves on the poor Indian. The voices of sanity, sympathy and reason were lost in the wilderness of commotion. Turton, Major Callendar, Ronny Heaslop and McBryde were working on pre-conceived notions. Most of the Britishers were like them. There were a few good-natured English souls like Fielding and Lady Moore who were prepared to be guided by justice and reason. On the other hand, the Indians were also united. They did not hope to get any justice from the Britishers. They were also bent upon rioting. But the Nawab Bahadur kept them under check, and saved bloodshed.

Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested Raise Important Questions

      Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested are used here by the novelist to raise some important questions. Mrs. Moore impelled by her good nature wanted to promote relations with the Indians. She announced "God is Love", goodwill, more goodwill and more goodwill. Her interest in spiritualism and in the equality of man drew her towards the Hindu character Godbole. She enjoyed the song sung by Prof. Godbole at Fielding's party. The mysticism and universalism of Hinduism attracted her. She talked to a wasp out of love towards all living beings because God had made them all. Her effusion of love towards the Indians showed the liberal Christian in her. Because of her sympathy with Dr. Aziz, she was exalted to the position of a goddess at the trial. The crowd outside kept chanting 'Essmiss Essmoor'. Even her tomb was garlanded by the natives, after her death. Such was the power of love which the hard-hearted English officials could never understand. She looked upon marriage as a carnal embracement. Why all this marriage? The human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage had been of any use. And all this rubbish about love; love in a church and love in a cave, as if there was the least difference. She was actually fed up with too much emphasis on sex.

      Adela Quested wanted to know India without knowing the Indians. When she faced the reality and saw the hollowness of her previous opinion about the Indians, she became confused. Her previous opinion was colored by the biased information supplied by the Anglo-Indian community. The question whether she should marry Ronny and live the life of an English snob kept rankling in her mind. Was love essential for marriage? Could the Indians be so handsome as to attract her? She fell victim to her own confusion. She showed undue haste in reporting to the police when she herself was not sure what actually had happened in the cave. It was the test of how much patience she had in trying to understand the Indians. She failed in the test and made a mess of everything.

The Novel as an Echo of the Age in which Forster Lived

      Forster belonged to an age of transition when belief in absolute values were eroded. The old religious beliefs were no longer held valid. But no clear picture of regenerated Christianity had emerged in its place either. There was mystery and muddle and it was not easy for a man to understand them. Since, he believed in good life beauty and warmth, he contemplated that mystery and muddle would gradually disappear. Like Virginia Woolf, he was conscious of the confusion but was unable to explain it and give any message. He, however, believed that reasonableness and toleration would solve the problem of hatred and prejudice so widespread in the world.

Forster Maintains Impartiality in the Portrayal of his Main Characters

      Dr. Aziz is shown as a prey to British narrowness and snobbery. Inspite of the fact that Aziz belonged to a different race, the author has exercised utmost restraint in delineating him. The novelist has nowhere made any attempt to gain sympathy for Aziz by sentimentalizing him or making statements in his favor. The impartial attempt has made the delineation superb. We find in Aziz — pride, vanity, a desire to please and lack of confidence and sincere enthusiasm. The quaintness of his behavior in longing to be liked by Englishmen, though, despising them outwardly, is hard to explain. Aziz is a combination of excellence and comicality. Mrs. Moore has been admirably portrayed because she represents the proclivity of the author to Hinduism. Another brilliant portraiture is that of Mr. Fielding, who like Forster himself, had great sympathy fur India and the Indians.

His Characters are both Round and Flat

      Dr. Aziz, Mrs. Moore and Fielding are the round characters Dr. Aziz was proud, vain, vulgar, aggressive, progressive, lively and courageous. He was proud of Islam and India at the same time. He was courageous and fearful, bold and mild. Despite all this, he was human and living. Mrs. Moore was also an individual of unique qualities. She was an enigma and a mystery. She had a vast fund of sympathy for the Indians. She eluded the grasp of every critic. Some critics call her Forster's failure; even if she is a failure, it is a superb failure. Mr. Fielding also stands quite distinguished from all the other Englishmen, an extreme example of truthfulness and justice and love. Ronny Heaslop is a type of the self-righteous English official. He has received his education at a public school and had set notions about the Indians. Prof. Godbole represented the mysterious and indifferent Hindu. Both the characters are flat.

Classical Compactness of the Novel

      The novel is an example of classical compactness. It is a balanced combination of apt phrases, ironical remarks and symbolism. All the crossing and recrossing of emotions takes place within limits. The whole pattern of the drama is woven in the background of conflicting emotions and racial hatred. The whole symphony is directed against the nameless darkness and horror of the Marabar caves and the terrifying and tension ridden echoes of these mysterious Craves. The process is continuous and the echo is deafening. The aestheticism is perfect, indicating the balancing of religious fervor with nationalism, exclusiveness of Islam with the indecisiveness of Hinduism.

Its Plot

      There are two views regarding the construction of the plot of A Passage to India. Rose Macaulay remarks that A Passage to India is a superbly well-constructed story. The other view is that there is hardly any story worth the name. The story has been told from two angles. The two English women come to India. One is to marry the son of the other. They want to know India and the Indians. One of them, Mrs. Moore realized that the official policy would not let her succeed. So, out of disgust she decides to go back to England and dies on the way. Miss Adela Quested, the second lady loses everything and in desperation returns to England. The other side of the story deals with friendship between an Indian, Dr. Aziz and an Englishman, Principal Fielding. A minor misunderstanding between them was cleared but the friendship could not be lasting. This could hardly make an interesting tale. Both the angles are blended in the trial scene which provides the climax exposing the feelings of all the important characters.

Political, Social and Spiritual Aspects

      The novel treats the three different aspects of the life of the Indian people. The Anglo-Indian community dominates the political scene thus affecting the other aspects. The Muslims represent the social aspects of life. They meet, discuss politics and help each other. The Hindus typify mysticism, indifference and individualism, leading to spiritualism. All these aspects influence each other.

Division of the Novel into Three Sections

      The story and the plot do not go side by side. The story ends with the close of the second section of the novel, "The Caves."

      But it is stretched by the novelist in the remaining five chapters of the third section (Temple). The division of the novel into three sections is open to various interpretations. G.M. White describes it as thesis, antithesis and synthesis of Hegelian dialectics. Allen, disagreeing with White, explains that the three sections represent the ways of work, knowledge of work, and of love (as specified in Hindu philosophy as Islam and Christianity). Wilbur L. Cross interprets it as the "thrice shifting of his point of view", whereby Forster, presents the native as he appears to himself, as he appears to the British official and as he really is, when his mind is laid bare, displaying a "civilization which the west can disturb but will never acquire." To Brower, 'The Mosque', means the possibility of communication between Britons and Indians, and more generally the possibility of understanding relations between Britons and Indians, and more generally the possibility of understand relations between any two persons. 'The Caves' means the failure of all communication and 'The Temple' is a symbol of Hindu unity. W.A.S. Keir suggests that the three sections represent the three periods of Indian History, the Moghul empire of the past, the present Anglo India and the future dominated by the Hindus.

      Are these interpretations to be accepted in toto? These are partial interpretations based on personal imagination. E. M. Forster himself says that the three sections of the novel coincide with three seasons of the Indian year, the winter, the summer, and the rain.


      Forster visited India in 1912 and began to write this novel around that time. It was pre-war time and India had a different setting. The postwar temper was different from the pre-war one. Advocacy of imperialism by Kipling had lost its charm. Democratic liberalism was taking its place. When it was published in 1924, it was well-received. In England it was considered a good piece of satire on the British official class in India. In America it was regarded as a denunciation of the British rule. The prophetic vein in the closing chapter was found quite interesting. This novel brought Forster a lot of popularity, not only in Britain, but also outside in other English speaking countries.


"A Passage to India is as fresh and impressive today as when it was first published in 1924, winning the Femina Vie Heureuse and James Tait Black Memorial prizes." Illustrate.

"A Passage to India has established itself as a modem classic." Elaborate.

"In A Passage to India Forster has given us a classic on the strange and tragic fact of history and life, called India." Justify.

"His psychological understanding is so acute that he can get under the skin of other races than his own". In the light of this remark, attempt an estimate of E.M. Forster's achievement in A Passage to India.

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