The Presence of Evil in A Passage To India

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Evil in Objects

      Forster was seized with the problem of evil permeating the world. The idea of evil haunted his mind. The evil in the shape of place or objects appears again and again in A Passage to India. The sunrise is depicted as glamourless. It appears as hostile because it generates heat and adds to the oppression of the Indians. Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested knew of cases when sun-stroke led to a serious trouble. Both of them were scared. They felt the scorching heat of the sun when they proceeded towards the caves. The unpalatable experiences during their troublesome journey forbode the experiences in the caves which were going to be horrible. On entering the cave Mrs. Moore went through the worst experience of her life. The smell in the cave was awfully nauseating and the echo was terrifying. On the other hand, some naked thing struck Adela's face, which turned out to be a baby’s hips across her mother's hands. So terrible was the interior of the cave that she felt as if she would go mad. She gasped and yelled like a fanatic. The persistently haunting echo became a nightmare for her.

Echo as An Embodiment of Evil

      The caves were dark and dingy. The shape of the caves was such that the sunlight never entered them. The echoes following in quick succession, heard long after one's voice or breath had ended, were nerve-racking. It could upset a person. "Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof."

      The blowing of a nose or the squeak of a boat, produced the sound of 'boum'. Even the striking of a match would start a little worm coiling, and it would be eternally watchful. If several people talked at once, the overlapping howling noise produced echoes. The cave was full of snakes. There was something eerie and queer about the whole place. The echoes are not to be taken as they appear to be. They possess a significant meaning. Mrs. Moore, who had come out of the first cave which she had entered earlier, reflected on her experience. "She minded it much more than at the time. The crush and smell she could forget, but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life—coming at a time when she chanced to be fatigued; it had managed to murmur,— pathos, piety, courage, — they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists; nothing has value. If one talked of vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same - 'boum'. If one had spoken like angels and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misery in the world, it would amount to the same. The serpent would descend and return to the ceiling." The poems can be written even about the devils but no one could romanticize the Marabar Caves because it robbed infinity and eternity of their vastness.

      These echoes represent the helplessness of man. One cannot prevent the echoes. They inhere in the darkness and narrowness of the caves. And she knew all its divine words. "Let there be light" only amounted to 'Boum'. The echo resounding like ’boum' stands for nullity, nothingness, emptiness and denial of established and set values. The echoes enter the mind and get well settled there, never to come out. They rob life of all its fascination

Appearance of Evil in a Rhythmical Cycle

      In his Aspects of the Novel, Forster says that pattern and rhythm greatly contribute to the artistic beauty of a novel. The greatest of the rhythmic method in this novel is the use of the echo. Forster's use of the echo is very complex "The very texture of the story is a recapitulation of the echoes," thus opines Trilling. The echo is repeated again and again to produce effects of association rather than of memory. Mrs. Moore after hearing the echo behaved with indifference towards Aziz. She came back in the form of a good echo after her death. Ralph Moore removed all the hatred from Aziz's heart and brought back an echo of his former life.

The Dominant Echo

      The most dominant echo is that boomed through the Marabar Caves. When two ladies entered the caves, they faced a universe in which everything exists but nothing has any value. When Mrs. Moore faced the darkness of the cave, she at once became conscious of the emptiness which existed before space and before time - an emptiness from which nothing could be taken and nothing could be put into it. From this void emerged the horrifying echo, the voice of something snub-nosed, incapable of generosity - the undying worm itself. Whatever was said, the same Monotonous noise replied and quivered up and down the walls until it was absorbed into the root. 'Boum' was the sound as far as human alphabet could express it As echoes generated echoes, meaninglessness, spread out layer upon layer like serpents. The same echo stuck to her and spoiled her personal relations, religion and even God. She became selfish and cynical.

Echo and Evil

      The echo had brought her to a state "where the horror of the universe and its smallness are both visible at the same time - the twilight of the double vision in which so many elderly people are involved".

      And regarding Adela her condition was even worse. The sound had spouted after her "and was going on still like a river that gradually floods the plain. Evil was loose. She could even hear it entering the lives of others."

      Even Fielding felt that everything echoed; there was nothing to stop the echo. "The original sound may have been harmless, but the echo was always evil".

Echo something more than An Evil

      Forster uses many devices to supplement the suggestion of evil, and makes it more than a symbol of evil. For instance, after hearing the echo which had created a void in her life, Mrs. Moore left for England. As her train made a semi-circle around the pleasant town of Asirgarh she saw Asirgarh, vanishing, and reappearing very much like an echo. This echo suggested to her, "I do not vanish'. The voices of Asirgarh drowned the echo of the Marabar Caves. The echo of Asirgarh was a pleasant one. Thus, good and evil interweave in these expanding symbols, making them more mysterious".


      The evil was so tenacious that it could even exist in the imagination. Adela Quested felt that an attempt to rape her was made in the cave. She was not sure of that attempt. She was not even certain whether anything really happened. Nothing was clear and the whole affair was enveloped in darkness. The whole trend of the trial and the stand taken by Moore and Fielding suggests that nothing actually happened in the caves. Adela seemed to be the victim of her own hallucination as she was lost in thinking about her relations with Ronny. To marry Ronny or not? That was the question. Was love necessary for marriage? That was the bigger question. Every question caused confusion when it came in touch with boum'. Godbole's comments on whether man can commit good actions or bad actions, are interesting. He states that man can commit both and why he does so accounts for the difficulty in answering this question. Evil cannot be eradicated totally from society. There are different ways of evil, says Mrs. Moore to Ronny, but we prefer our evils or errors to others Evil is one side of the coin of life. It exists along with the right side Both the sides make up the coin.


Describe briefly Ronny's and Adela's ride in the Nawab Bahadur’s car and the accident which followed.
What is the significance of the echo in the Caves?

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