Symbolic Elements in A Passage To India

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      Use of Symbolism. A very simple story with the clash of interests of two racial units as the main theme, and the oft-misunderstood personal relationships of individuals belonging to those groups as the subsidiary theme get a larger meaning and added significance by the use of symbolism. These symbols are of diverse characters and significances. The main symbols are the mosque, caves and the temple which appear as the titles of the three sections which again stand for winter, summer and the rainy season. The subsidiary symbols are the celebrations connected with Gokul Ashtami which centers round the incarnation of Sri Krishna of Bhagawad Gita fame, the figure of Mrs. Moore, and the naked low-born pankhawalla who does not form part of the machinery of the Trial but who has something inherent and latent in him which stirs up the mental set up of Adela.

      Symbolic Significance of the Mosque. It is in the mosque that Dr. Aziz meets Mrs. Moore. This casual encounter is symbolic of the deep understanding and an everlasting bond between the Orient and the Occident. Aziz reveres the old lady for her acceptance of the holiness of the environment of the mosque and consequently the glory of Supreme Lord. Mrs. Moore reciprocates with a warmth of friendly feeling and motherly liking for the young man. There is frustration and a severe setback to the hope of an abiding friendship and cordial understanding between the two alien groups as a result of the Bridge Party hastily set up by the collector and others in an attempt to bridge the yawning gap between the hostile racial units. The earlier affirmation of the cordial relationships is negated. The symbolism of the mosque becomes more complex and as the story develops, it adversely affects all concerned as a double-edged sword.

      The Caves as a Symbol. The prehistoric caves that had been in existence long before the advent of Islam and Christianity and probably of even Hinduism plausibly stands for a spiritual wasteland and the summer season when the scorching heat that dries up the sap of life from everything converting it to a mere wastage. They symbolize evil with their emptiness, desolation and darkness conveying a sense of the despair of frustration. The dreadful experience of Mrs. Moore inside the caves agonizes her. The climax of horror is represented by a terrifying echo. This latter symbolizes negation and something null and void. The echo stands for an unmodulated response "boum" or bou-oum a twisted and turned up caricature of the mystic syllable Om of the Vedas that is symbolic of the Absolute Brahman.

      According to different critics, the significance of the caves is extremely divergent. But almost all of them are of the opinion that the caves have a disintegrating influence on Adela as well as Mrs. Moore and would have ruined the professional career of Aziz who was falsely charged with molesting Adela. Had it not been for the abrupt termination of the trial as a result of Adela's recantation, the consequences would have been an aggravation of the racial prejudices of the Anglo-Indian bureaucrats and the native people. There is a tragic story of a Maharaja who killed his sister's son with a dagger that remained clamped to his hand This is the sinister thing connected with the caves which Godbole refrained from divulging to the foreign ladies. The engagement of Ronny and Adela was broken. Despite all these things, the full significance of the caves is entirely enveloped in a sad mystery.

      Mr. Moore as a Symbol. The old lady can be taken as a symbol for the possibility of amicable racial adjustment between the English and the Indians. She praises Aziz which annoys Ronny. Yet her gesture may be taken as an attempt to bridge the gulf between the two. Goodness, piety and charity are symbolically represented by her. Her tragic death on her return voyage does not prevent the spiritual influence she exerted on everyone. She had a reverential love for Hindu mysticism which is also conspicuous in Ralph and Stella. Although the rationalist in Fielding finds this love of mysticism a wall between himself and his wife, there is hint in the story that the couple surmounted the difficulty later.

      The Temple is Symbolic of Reconciliation. The incidents narrated in this section serve great symbolic purposes in the novel. The incarnation of Lord Krishna symbolizes the emergence of Universal Love transcending all types of barriers, national, communal and racial. Devout adherence to one's own religion and bounden duty that Krishna has advocated in his Gita, can lead everyone to salvation. Although Forster does not seem to be convinced himself about the efficiency of a mystic approach in regard to the solution of racial and other problems, it is evident that he suggests this remedy for the people concerned to adopt on hial basis. 'The image of the wasp extends the sphere of operation of the scheme of Universal Love to include even the animal kingdom, not excluding the tiny insects.

      The 'Pankhawallah' Symbol. This insignificant lowborn laborer is providentially endowed with strength and beauty. He is not at all conscious how for he fits into the society where he works mechanically for a pittance in order to sustain himself and probably a family. He does not understand the gravity of the crisis that has agitated the people who had crowded round him in the courtroom. This aloofness of the humble laborer has struck a blow at the narrow-minded working of her hallucination, shrouded brain and roused a sort of nobility of thought in Adela. Consequently, her outlook and vision become broadened.

      The Boats Collide. When the boats of Ralph, Stella and Fielding collide near the floating image of the Lord, the occupants get drenched. This getting wet has symbolic meaning that despite all endeavours, despite mosques, caves, temples and the sacred soil of the ancient land of India, the different cultural entities cannot be integrated into a single coherent unit.

      Minor Symbols. An unidentified beast or Being hit by the Nawab Bahadur's car. This symbolizes the unscrupulous suppression of, the natives by the bureaucrats under the pretext of ruling them for the sake of law and justice. This and other symbols blend together the diverse and divergent details of the story to enable them to flow into a wide current of vast human appeal.

University Questions

Comment on the part played by symbols in A Passage to India.
How does Forster use symbolism in A Passage to India? Discuss.

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