Forster's Theory of Novel in A Passage To India

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      For Forster's theory of the novel we shall have to refer to his book Aspects of the Novel. In 1927 he delivered the William George Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, which was published in a book form. The book contains valuable ideas of Forsters' literary criticism. He was called by Trilling as an "impressionistic without any desire for success". He has his personal approach towards the problem. He defines novel in the introductory part of the book as a fiction in prose of a certain length (not less than 50000 words). He imagined the authors of the last 200 years seated in a circular room, all writing at the same time giving him examples from their work to help him illustrate his points. The choice of the. word 'aspects' is very significant. It allows him to include not only the different ways in which we can look at a novel, but also the different ways in which a "novelist can look at his work". He considered the novel to have these aspects — story, people, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern and rhythm.

      We shall discuss the novel in accordance with the order of the points mentioned above. First of all we take up the first point i.e., story.


      The novel tells a story which is a narrative of events arranged in time sequence. Forster disapproves of the fact that a novel must tell a story. Story to him is an ancient and primitive device to please all and sundry. Suspense is the essence of the story. A story is considered good in so far as it keeps the reader repeating 'what next'? The story-teller aims at the speedy and well-connected narration of events as known to him: But the novelist also creates characters which reveal the author's personality.

      The story of the novel A Passage to India is an interesting one. It is simple story covering three seasons of the year over a period of two and a half years We are introduced in the early portion to the important and main characters of the novel, Aziz, Mrs. Moore and Fielding. They uphold certain values in life. They are sincere, honest and sympathetic and are juxtaposed to the narrow-minded British official class. Forster is more of a weaver of plots than a story-teller. The characters and the events play a very important part in the progress of the story.


      The people or the characters of the novel are to be discussed next. The creation of real characters calls for mature experience on the part of the writer. In real life we may not be able to understand each other because of the secrecy and the hurry. But the novelist makes every picture clear. That is why, it is said that fiction is truer than life. 'If God could tell the story of the universe, the universe would become fictitious." Novels give us satisfaction because they introduce us to a more comprehensible and more manageable human race.

      Forster lays stress on five main points of human life. They are birth, death, food, sleep, and love. All of these are treated in the novel. We experience birth and death in life but we know them only by report Birth is described very little in the fiction. Death is, of course, dealt with as it ends the novel neatly. Food is a link between the known and the forgotten. We are nourished before our birth. Food gives us strength. In fiction, food serves as a social means of bringing the characters together. They seldom require it, they seldom enjoy it and they never digest it. Sleep consumes one-third of our life but the novelist does not want to understand or reconstruct sleep. Love includes many emotions in addition to sex, affection, friendship, patriotism etc. It is selfish and altruistic at the same time. Love is unduly important in the novels. Love is helpful to the author because, like death, it ends a book conveniently. A novelist exploits our love because we want love to be everlasting and a novelist introduces the union of two souls through marriage.

      Forster further states that the characters have to adjust themselves to the requirements of the author. They are interdependent and cannot spread themselves. Characters are of two kinds, - flat and round. Flat characters represent a single idea or quality. A really flat character can be expressed in a single sentence. He does not develop; he is not changed by circumstances; he is easily remembered. Flat characters are best when they are comic. The round characters develop and change in accordance with time. He represents the contradictions experienced in life. An author has to introduce different points of view in the most acceptable form to the reader, because life is an amalgam of different colors and shades.


      The plot is well-arranged sequence of events with emphasis on cause and effect. The reader wants to know why all that happened? The plot demands of a reader, memory and intelligence. All the facts are woven together. Each action or word has a meaning. The final scene of a good plot, if well constructed, can have a lasting impression.


      One of the important traits of a work of fiction is the element of fantasy. Forster has made a good use of fantasy in A Passage to India. A sort of visionary fancy pervades the whole novel. The world of the 'Caves' or the 'Temple' could be conceived only in the imagination of a very sensitive artist. Through the use of ghosts and echoes, Forster manages to create an atmosphere in which the more complex truths of life can be seen. It is not an actual physical world, rather it is a visionary world, which the mortal eyes cannot comprehend. Only the imagination is capable of comprehending it.


      Forster has remarked that a prophetic writer makes the characters and situations stand for more than themselves. They show association with all people who have lived on earth. They give us the sensation of a song or of sound.

      Mrs. Moore in A Passage to India reveals the prophetic theme. She shifts from Christianity to Hinduism. She tried to find out a religion which would include in itself all of life and its differences. She communed with the heavenly bodies. She saw darkness and infinity in the caves. She was shocked, frustrated and in utter gloom, but she accepted the universe at the same time.

      Aziz had predicted that the coming generation of Indians would drive away all the Englishmen from India. His prediction came out to be true in 1947. Prophecy in the novel has been invested with some spiritual element, which becomes a reality in due course of time.


      Pattern is usually the most beautiful aspect of a novel. It is connected with the plot and helps in achieving the unity in a novel.

      The story and action of the second part of A Passage to India take us to the Marabar Caves which is the most important section of the story. Even in the third section, we are reminded again and again of the Caves. After going through the whole of the book, we receive the impression of a unified whole.


      Rhythm helps to hold the unity from inside, transporting the reader's Memory with delight and helping to create beauty.
A lot of rhythms is found in A Passage to India. Many phrases and echoes are repeated in the 'Temple' portion to create the impression of unity and beauty. The Muslim festival of Moharram flows in and out from the beginning to the end. The wasp is rejected by the missionaries, accepted by Mrs. Moore and loved by Prof. Godbole like a completed symphony, the book should sing a song of its own, greater than the total of its part A Passage to India is a song of human life, of separation and love. After the end of the novel the reader raises many questions but the vision of something beautiful remains.


      We have seen how the novelist has tried to weld together all the elements that go to the making of a good novel. In the last section of the Aspects of the Novel, Forster considers the future of the novel in the words "if human nature does alter, it will be because individuals manage to look at themselves in a new way." When the writers succeed in a different sort of portrayal of different characters, the novel will change as a result.

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