Analysis of A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
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- Length: 1948 words (5.6 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Forster's novel A Passage to India portrays a colonial India under British rule, before its liberation. For convenience's sake, Western civilization has created an Other as counterpart to itself, and a set of characteristics to go with it. An "us versus them" attitude is exemplified in Forster's representation of The Other. Separation of the British and the Indian exists along cultural lines, specifically religious/spiritual differences. Savage or ungodly cultures were to be assimilated into or at the least governed by Christians, and converted. The separation between the English and the Indian occurs when the Christian assumes the Indians are an ungodly people, in need of spiritual salvation, a race below their own, and entirely unlike them. This was demonstrated historically by the dominance of supposedly inferior races by the Christians (English). Forster's Indians have a seemingly rugged outward appearance. They are a godless people insomuchas they do not believe in the Christian GOD, even though there are two religions, Hinduism and Muslimism, which thrive in India. This division of India's religions, as opposed to England's presumably unifying religion, separates England from India even moreso. Because the Indians do not believe in the Christian GOD, they are unrecognized as spiritual. Religion shapes, if not embodies characterization. The British are British because of their religion, i.e. Ronny Heaslop is who he is because he is a white Christian British male. How he is outwardly polished is a construct of his Christian upbringing. Ronny "approved of religion as long as it endorsed the National Anthem [of England]." (p. 65) His purpose, as was the purpose of English colonialists, was constructed by his Christian beliefs. If Ronny were not English (and for this paper's purposes, English is specifically and continually linked with Christianity) he would not exist as a character. He is almost a caricature of what is English, and is represented wholly by the standards and beliefs of that culture. In contrast, Aziz would not exists if he were not Indian, representing wholly the standards and beliefs of that culture. Forster implies that the division, the Other, is what makes an individual who they are. Spirituality is integral to that existence.
The Indian people are further represented in the English's eyes by the description of India itself. The city, presumably a mark of civilization, is a rotting, festering thing that no English colonialist would consider urbane;
... the city of Chandrapore represents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely... The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all by the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful... nor was it ever democratic. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving... Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting... (p. 29)
Chandrapore is implicitly compared to London, who sits on the Themes (not the Ganges) and thrives, not "rots". The people of Chandrapore are made to seem a part of the city's structure. They are "mud moving". In essence, the people are the city, or conversely and for this paper's purpose, the city is the people. If London is civilization (beautiful and structured), then its inhabitants are the same. Chandrapore is ugly and chaotic. India is outwardly offensive and unpolished, visibly unspiritual and crude. The only part of India that is supposedly worthwhile, or "extraordinary" (p. 29) (according to the English) are the Marabar Caves. India itself is linked directly to Indian spirituality. This is seen in Aziz's attitude towards his country and his faith;
Here was Islam his own country, more than a faith, more than a battle-cry, more, much more... Islam, an attitude towards live both exquisite and durable, where his body and his thoughts found their home. (p. 38)
India ("Islam") is not just a tactile country of earth and city, but an intangible entity connected directly to his spirituality. This description suggests a definite spirituality of the Indian people, however divided, but a spirituality within, unrecognized by the English. The English Christians have a more apparent, outward appearance of faith while the Indians have a more inward belief.
The Marabar Caves are a distinct representation of this inward spirituality. While India is rugged and rotting on the outside, the caves are beautiful;
... the walls of the circular chamber have been most marvellously polished... here at last is their skin, finer than any covering acquired by the animals, smoother, smoother than windless water, more voluptuous than love... Only the wall of the circular chamber has been polished thus. The sides of the tunnel are left rough, they impinge as an afterthought upon the internal perfection. (p. 126)
The Indians, then are perfect on the inside, which the English do not recognize. In comparison to Christianity, which is imposed, the Indians' religion is a personal, inward quest. The description of the caves imply that faith cannot be found unless it is sought. Faith will exist, but will not be recognized unless there is an eye to see it;
They are dark caves... There is little to see, and no eye to see it, until the visitor arrives... and strikes a match. Immediately another flame rises in the depths of the rock and moves towards the surface like an imprisoned spirit... (p. 126)
The discovery of faith, as understood by this description, leads to new truths and frees the human spirit. This difference of imposed faith versus discovered faith is the dividing line between the English and the Indian.
Mrs. Moore appears to exist between the lines that separate the English from the Other. However, her initially strong Christian beliefs at first side her with the English team. Mrs. Moore is Christianity in its purest form, without the dogma acquired throughout the centuries and embraced wholeheartedly by her contemporaries. She believes she understands and appreciates Indians for who they are. This cannot be so, however, as she cannot hope to comprehend their level of spirituality because she herself cannot posses it. Mrs. Moore first encounters Aziz at the Mosque. She surprises Aziz by having the foreknowledge and respect to remove her shoes. Aziz, the embodiment of all that is Indian, has been raised in a world of "us" and "them", and meeting an English person with the sagacity to see through these illusions is a remarkable occurrence for him. He recognizes that she is not "them", and bound by the idea of categories, automatically makes her "us". This distinction, though, does not diminish the traits that Mrs. Moore does share with the Indians. Mrs. Moore exists in a state of limbo between two worlds, between England and India. In many ways Mrs. Moore is neither East nor West as traditionally defined. Her pursuit, simple as it may sound, is to be one with the universe. Her initial approach to this seems to suggest a more Eastern view, finding worth in people, places and experiences without trying to quantify their value, and believing in universal love as the highest governing power. The Marabar experience, however, puts her in another sphere entirely. When she goes to the caves, her experience is a spiritual one. She loses her faith in Christianity entirely, thus losing her identity. She doesn't exist. She is exiled by her son to England, where she cannot possibly exist because of her affinity for Indian spirituality. She dies in transit between these two worlds, as she cannot hope to exist in either of them. Her counterpart, Fielding, who shares Mrs. Moore's respect for the Indians is threatened with an identity destruction as he is forced to choose between English and Indian culture. Because he chooses India over England, he ceases to exist to the English, but can continue to exist with identity as an Indian. Fielding says "I am Indian at last." (p. 265)
Adela, likewise, is affected by the Marabar Caves, but not as profoundly as Mrs. Moore. Her creed or interpretation of Christianity is that "God... is... love" (p. 64 ). She is distinctly on the English team of the "us and them" attitude and though she says she wants to understand Indian culture as Mrs. Moore does, she seems to want this only to be trendy. Adela seems to share the colonialist, racist attitude of her fiancé Ronny. When he says,
"... India isn't a drawing room."
" Your sentiments are those of a god," she said quietly, but it was his manner rather than his sentiments that annoyed her.
... he said, " India likes gods."
" And Englishmen like posing as gods." (p. 62-63)
Adela only experiences the echoes of the cave, as she later experiences the echo of Mrs. Moore in the courtroom. Since Adela does not absorb the full effect of the cave, only the echo, simply a part of her spirituality is changed. Adela realizes a liberating truth about herself, that she does not love her fiancé, Ronny. This challenges the things she has been brought to believe as a result of her English upbringing. Adela then walks the fine line between 'us and them', and loses her identity as she knew it. Attempting to regain that identity, she accuses Aziz of assault, which swiftly moves her back into a position she is familiar with, and a position that can be recognized by her peers. Her accusation separates her clearly from the Indians- it is specifically Adela versus Aziz (us versus them), and the trail that ensues thrusts her into a distinctly civilized and English setting: a courtroom. This security is short-lived. The experience of the cave stays with her, as the recently departed name of Mrs. Moore is chanted. This chanting is reminiscent of the cave's echoes, and almost invokes the presence of Mrs. Moore. However, echoes are non tangible and short lived; they do not exist, just as Mrs. Moore ceases to exist. Adela is compelled to tell the truth of the situation, and is accused of hallucinating. This suggestion of hallucination implies Adela has lost her mind, no longer existing. Because she is no longer English, but she is not Indian, Adela no longer exists, period.
Aziz is affected directly by Adela's experience in the cave. Her glimpse of something spiritual and truthful prompted the mad accusation against Aziz. This reinstates and reinforces Aziz's initial belief in the Western versus the Eastern attitude. Aziz no longer exists in limbo but is obliged to be Indian, and his identity as such is solid and distinct. He still regards Fielding as the Other. Fielding asks "Why can't we be friends now?" (p. 289) and the response was,
But the horses didn't want it... the earth didn't want it... the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion... they didn't want it, they said in their hundred voices, 'No, not yet,' and the sky said, 'No, not there.' (p. 289)
In essence, India said that they could not be friends.
The experience of the Marabar Caves allows for a spiritual liberation of Mrs. Moore and Adele. They glimpse Indian spirituality in a tangible form by trekking into inner India, therefore trekking into the spirit of Indins. This separates them from their belief and causes them to no longer be identified by their peers, but still leaves them unrecognizable to the Indians as anything but the Other. The experience liberates and then destroys Mrs. Moore and Adele while reidentifying and reconfirming the existence of other characters, like Aziz, Fielding and Ronny.
Forster, E.M.; A Passage to India; Penguin Books Ltd., New York, 1979.