Theory & Practice of Forster in A Passage To India

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      Introduction. Aspect of the Novel is the publication in book form of the lectures delivered by Forster in 1927 under the auspices of Trinity College, Cambridge in memory of William George Clark, a Fellow of Trinity College (b.1821-d. 1878).

      Theory and Art of Writing. It is easy to propound a theory regarding any creative art including that of creative writing. But it is not so easy to write a novel or epic or other pieces strictly in accordance with the principles enunciated by a theorist. Forster says towards the end of the Introductory lecture:

      "I have chosen the title 'Aspects' because it is unscientific and vague, because it leaves us the maximum of freedom, because it means both the different ways we can look at a novel and the different ways a novelist can look at his work. And the aspects selected for discussion are seven in number-the Story, People, the Plot, Fantasy, Prophecy, Pattern and Rhythm."

      The Story. Essentially a novel must have a story part in it. One merit of a story is that of making the readers or the listeners want to know what happens next. The story must excite the curiosity of the readers at every step. A novelist's success depends upon his ability to arouse curiosity in the minds of the readers. We find this element adequately in A Passage to India.

      The People. Homo Sapiens (human beings) must be properly reproduced in Homo Fictns (persons in a fiction). According to Forster, a novel should portray "flat" characters and "round" characters. The flat character is one that never changes or develops. The round character is one that undergoes a lot of changes and development as the story proceeds. We have both the types in A Passage to India. The English officials who remain unaffected by events and changed situations and remain the same undeveloped characters throughout as in the beginning are "flat" characters. All the others undergo changes and they can be called "round" characters.

      The Plot. Forster defines plot thus: "A plot is also a narrative of events like a story, but the emphasis falls on causality. 'The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died and then the queen of grief' is a plot. In a story we put the question 'What happened then?' In a plot we ask the question 'Why did it happen?'" In A Passage to India, the plot is admirably laid out. The narrative of events is carried out with due emphasis on causality. All the personal themes break down for one reason or the other. Aziz and Fielding do not become ideal friends because of cultural disparity and dissimilarity in political status. Ronny and Adela could not solemnize their marriage because of differences in basic attitudes, various problems of life and absence of ardent love. Fielding's marriage with Stella becomes unhappy because of differences in outlook: he being a rationalist and she a mystic like her mother. The theme of the Hindu philosophy of love and performance of one's duty as enunciated by Lord Krishna is expatiated upon as a proposed remedy for the solution of various problems.

      Fantasy and Prophecy. Fantasy is the product of one's imagination or illusion. It may deal with the super-normal beings, witches, ghosts and gods. It may merely imply an odd freakish attitude. Some elements of fantasy can be seen in the experiences of Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested at the caves or at the time of the car accident in A Passage to India. The element of prophecy or visualizing what is going to happen does not find a clear portrayal in A Passage to India, except perhaps in the optimistic utterance of Aziz that India is bound to be free (which actually happened within two decades of the time of the novel).

      Pattern and Rhythm. Forster does not want the pattern or the design of a novel to be very rigid. Life provides us with varieties of rich materials and hence it is very difficult to implement a rigid pattern. Rhythm is the regularity of movement of either sound or activity. In music it is achieved and harmony is the effect. If a novel achieves a sort of harmony by picking up all loose threads and by summing up every detail dwelt upon previously, then there is rhythm in it. A Passage to India has both pattern and rhythm in adequate proportions. The novel is divided into three sections - 'Mosque', 'Caves' and 'Temple' - parallel with the three seasons of winter, summer and rainy season. In the mild climate of winter there is an attempt at ideal friendship and personal contacts. In the heat of the summer a crisis is precipitated and negation and separation is the result. In the monsoon the incarnation of Lord Krishna heralds reaffirmation and the possibility of reconciliation. Thus Forster more or less does justice to his own theory regarding a novel.

University Questions

How far do you think E.M. Forster has followed in A Passage to India the criteria for fiction he has laid down in his Aspects of the Novel?
Do you think that E.M. Forster's theory and practice of the novel are related? Discuss A Passage to India in relation to the Aspects of the Novel.

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