Point of View, Tone & Style: in A Passage To India

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      Point of View. Forster wrote five novels in all and A Passage to India is his fifth and last one. He did not write a sixth novel though he lived a few decades after its publication. Through his novels he endeavors to place before the readers three main things with his own peculiar angle of vision. They were liberal humanistic traditions, antagonism to all types of oppression (the main being imperialistic overbearing attitude) and cultivation of personal relationships.

      Liberal Humanistic Traditions. What a man in the world requires most is poise, a good mental equilibrium, a sort of balanced development without lopsidedness of growth. All the faculties of man must be proportionately developed. Unfortunately, this development of the whole man is rarely achieved. In his four earlier novels, Forster had adequately portrayed and critically analyzed this absence of adequate balance. He makes use of irony, satire and wit in all of them but it is in A Passage to India that he developed a technique of symbolism which is less obtrusive and more easy as to move a modern reader. The theme he selected has outstanding grandeur, giving full scope to the display of liberal humanistic traditions. The point that he raised, namely, that of the "undeveloped heart" by means of satirical analysis, is fully dealt with in his last novel. He made the mystic land of India with its mosques, caves and temples the sphere of operation for his characters. With this setting he made a formidable attack on the snobbish censoriousness of the bureaucrats with the upper middle class English values of the "Public School" type.

      Antagonism to Imperialistic Overbearing. A confirmed critic of all types of undeveloped hearts, Forster could not but oppose the arrogant and imperialistic overbearing attitude of the rulers of India. With all the expedients he could command as a crusader with the pen, he made them the target of his irony, ridicule and satire. The average British Civil Servant in those days believed or was compelled to believe that it was not his duty to behave pleasantly with the natives of the land where they had come to rule and to maintain law and order. They thought themselves little gods incarnate sent to this land to boss over the people.

      Cultivation of Personal Relationships. Forster was a votary of ideal friendship and liberal personal relationships. Hence he created the character of Fielding and others to propagate this humanistic ideal. They make serious attempts to evolve ideal relationships on various levels but unfortunately, for different reasons, all these attempts fail. They flounder and ultimately break down because of the barriers of racial prejudice in the case of Aziz and Fielding; on grounds of incompatibility of points of view in the ease of Ronny and Miss Quested; because of a clash of ideals on the religious levels in the case of the marriage of Stella and Fielding. Over the question of moral lapses the marriage of McBryde and his wife is declared null and void.

      Tone. Like the versatile writer he is, Forster alters the tone of his novel to suit the topic he describes. He uses irony and satire when he contends with human absurdities. He employs sympathetic understanding when portraying the nationalistic aspirations of the enlightened Indians. His solemn and reverential tone can be noticed when Mrs. Moore's visit to the Mosque or the Hindu ceremonies connected with Gokul Ashtami is being narrated. His tone, which varies in accordance with the situation has the following aspects.

      Forster's Irony is usually directed against persons and institutions that deserve condemnation, such as the British officials and their exclusive club. Sometimes, when he is gravely describing something serious, he occasionally lapses into a satirical comment also, probably as a relief from boredom, as when he says "God can play practical jokes upon Himself, draw chairs away from beneath His own posterior.

      Sympathetic Understanding. Forster exhibits a lot of sympathy and genuine understanding uncontaminated by facial prejudices when he portrays the nationalistic urges and patriotic feelings of the Indians. Their anti-British hatred is objectively portrayed by our author explaining that it is neither baseless nor irrational, although there may be some unpleasant features as well. Such a detailed analysis free from racial bias in those days was rare from the pen of British authors.

      Reverentially Solemn Tone. Description of the Hindu ceremonies is carried out in a manner that does not wound anyone's emotional susceptibilities through an adverse comment here and a mocking reference there has not been avoided by Forster in the course of his narrative. Although he was an agnostic with a thorough nationalistic outlook, he feels drawn toward Hindu mysticism and it is probable that he wanted to recommend the use of this mysticism as a solution to some of the burning problems of the day. As to the eventual success of this mysticism, Forster was no doubt not convinced at all, but that is a different matter.

      Style. Extreme simplicity with a discerning diction gives a rare charm to Forster's style. Such a lucidly graceful style as Forster's is very rarely seen in other writers. It is plain and also eloquent, sometimes even poetically excellent. His descriptive passages and dialogues are excellent. His funny parody of the speeches of Indians in English amuses us. Effective in every way in portraying different moods and various situations, his style is another feather in Forster's cap.

University Questions

Critically examine Forster's A Passage to India with reference to the (i) point of view, (ii) tone and (iii) style

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