One of the major themes of E. M. Forster's novel A Passage to India is cultural misunderstanding. Differing cultural ideas and expectations regarding hospitality, social proprieties, and the role of religion in daily life are responsible for misunderstandings between the English and the Muslim Indians, the English and the Hindu Indians, and between the Muslims and Hindus. Aziz tells Fielding at the end of the novel, "It is useless discussing Hindus with me. Living with them teaches me no more. When I think I annoy them, I do not. When I think I don't annoy them, I do" (319). Forster demonstrates how these repeated misunderstandings become hardened into cultural stereotypes and are often used to justify the uselessness of attempts to bridge cultural gulfs. When Aziz offers his collar stud to Fielding in an 'effusive' act of friendship, Heaslop later misinterprets Aziz's missing stud as an oversight and extends it as a general example: "...there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals the race" (82). Cultural misunderstanding culminates in the experience at the Marabar Caves and one thing this episode seems to reveal is how much cultural misunderstanding, especially of the Indian by the British, is deliberate, even necessary. If the British were to really try to understand the Indian, the cultural barriers might weaken and the British might begin to see their equal humanity and this of course would make the British role as conquering ruler more difficult.
This is why Mrs. Moore is so revered by Aziz and the other Indians. She is too new a visitor to have become hardened, not having been there the six months Aziz and...
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...it, the more disagreeable and frightening it became. She minded it much more now than at the time. The crush and smells she could forget, but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment 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 had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same-'ou-boum.' If one had spoken with the tongues of angels and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misunderstanding in the world, past, present, and to come, for all the misery men must undergo whatever their opinion and position, and however much they dodge and bluff-it would amount to the same, the serpent would descend and return to the ceiling" (149-50).
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