A Passage to India
Modern Nationalism and Global Conflict in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India
While Walt Whitman’s poem “A Passage to India” romanticizes the idea of blended Indian and British nationalities, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India realistically explores the emergence of Indian nationalism in opposition to British imperial rule. The novel unfolds in post-World War I British India and illustrates the growing tensions between the British Empire and its colonial subjects. India contributed munitions, funds, and troops to the British war effort, and these wartime contributions led to an increase in demands that India gain independence from the British Empire. The British did not simply refuse to grant India self-government: they implemented harsher anti-sedition legislation and extended the power of the colonial government. The Indians who had played a significant role in the Great War felt slighted, which provoked vigorous, widespread anti-British sentiment. Simultaneously, many prominent citizens became critical of nationalism’s prevalence in the European continent. The emergence of nationalism in Europe led to the alliance system that transformed World War I into a global affair rather than simply a dispute between two countries. Through the antagonistic relationships between British and Indian characters, Forster portrays nationalism as a source of conflict instead of unity and critiques the global fixation on nationalism.
Throughout the novel, Forster presents the emergence of Indian nationalism as a response to British imperial control rather than as a reflection of a strong Indian identity. While discussing the relationship between England and India with Cyril Fielding, the British principal of a local college, Aziz, says, “until England is in difficulties we keep silent, but in the next European war… Then is our time” (Forster 360). Aziz’s comment reveals the residual post-war anti-British sentiment that ubiquitously taints Indian life. By calling World War I a “European war,” Aziz references the complex, nationality-based alliance system that dragged the entire European continent into a disastrous conflict. The sentence directly links opposition to “England” and “European wars” to Indian nationalism when Aziz says “our time,” which implies that he includes all Indians in his statement. The connection between anti-British views and Indian nationalism reflects the reactionary nature of Indian nationalism. Later in the novel, when Aziz discusses Indian nationalism with Fielding, he says, “down with the British anyhow. That’s certain. Clear out you fellows…We [Indians] may hate one another, but we hate you most” (Forster 361). Aziz’s statement reflects the intense anti-British sentiments present among native Indians. He hints at the power of nationalism by saying “we [Indians] may hate one another, but we hate you most,” which also suggests that, much as British nationalism unites Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England, Indian nationalism unites all Indians regardless of the religious divisions between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Aziz uses the word “hate” twice to indicate that although the different religious groups actively despise each other, their shared hatred of the British overcomes religious divisions. Forster’s depiction of reactionary nationalism reveals his disdain for nationalism formed through anti-foreigner sentiments. During a debate about Indian nationalism, Aziz exclaims, “India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one!” (Forster 361). Aziz believes wholeheartedly that India should be a united nation state, free of foreigners and British control. The use of multiple exclamation points signifies the urgency and passion behind Aziz’s remark. He connects the word “nation” to anti-foreign views, and thus alludes to the idea that nationalism fuels xenophobia and jingoism rather than international cooperation. Forster concludes the novel with clear disdain for nationalism and, specifically, for the divisive effects of anti-foreigner, hate-fueled nationalism.
Through the novel’s condemnatory portrayal of the Anglo-Indians, Forster criticizes the inflated sense of British nationalism that led to the nation’s aggressive imperialist tendencies. After a group of Englishmen discusses the highly contentious trial between an Englishwoman and the Indian accused of assaulting her, the narrator says, “[those] simple words had reminded them that they were an outpost of Empire” (Forster 202). The trial inflames the imperialistic views of the Anglo-Indians. They remember that they represent “an outpost of Empire,” which separates them from the Indians. Much like the anti-British sentiments that catalyze Indian nationalism, a sense of paternalism and racial superiority fuels British nationalism and imperial conquests. The Anglo-Indians’ perception that they represent the empire allows them to channel their patriotism and feel proud of their national identity. However, the perceived superiority that accompanies imperial rule causes conflict when the British and Indians interact. At the Bridge Party, when the British stand on one side of the lawn and the Indians stand on the other, Mrs. Turton tells Mrs. Moore, “you’re superior to them, anyway. Don’t forget that. You’re superior to everyone in India” (Forster 42). Mrs. Turton highlights the racism that pervades British nationalism. She represents the British viewpoint and interprets British nationalism as racial superiority rather than as a common cultural identity. Her ethnocentric opinion of “superiority” characterizes the foundation of British nationalism and imperialism. Through the negative depiction of British characters, Forster criticizes British nationalism’s reliance on racism and violence to bolster national pride.
Forster uses his novel as a platform for criticizing nationalism through the relationship between India and Great Britain. He criticizes the general trend of reactionary nationalism as a response to the Age of Imperialism because the intensified nationalism attributed to the outbreak of World War I. Forster also critiques the perception of racial superiority that many nations adopt as a validation of nationalistic pride and as a justification for imperialism. Although he uses India and Great Britain as prime examples of destructive nationalism, the criticisms in his novel apply to all nations in the twentieth century whose nationalism triggered the Great War. Forster’s novel and harsh critique of nationalism foreshadow the imminent outbreak of the world’s most destructive war, itself caused by nationalism: World War II.
Whitman, Walt. “A Passage to India.” Leaves of Grass, 1871 Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. Print.
The Significance of Religion in ‘A Passage to India’
E.M Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ is a literary work which operates on two levels simultaneously- personal and impersonal. Scenes involving the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters alternate with scenes vocalizing the voice of the omniscient narrator, who directly addresses some of the heavier issues which lie at the heart of the novel. The theme of religion operates in the same way. On a larger plane, it enables Forster to deliver social commentary by supporting the themes of colonialism and ethnic relations. His portrayal of the tensions which exist within the different segments of Indian society foreshadows historical events which occurred years after the novel was published. However, each of the three major religions is also portrayed as a philosophy through which man makes sense of himself and the universe around him. The presentation of its effects on individual characters enable Forster to explore philosophical concepts such as infinity and head vs. heart. The reactions and personal values of the adherents of each religion, in turn, reinforce the other themes of the novel, connecting everything to Forster’s grand vision.
On a socio-historical level, religion is portrayed as a divisive force. The sections ‘Mosque’ and ‘Temple’ are separated by the section ‘Caves’, representing the gulf which lies between the Moslems and the Hindus in India. The Marabar Caves are associated with the idea of negation- the trip to it is said to have “challenged the very spirit of the Indian Earth, which keeps men in compartments”, and ends in disaster. Its insidious presence, both in the structure and throughout the novel nullifies any hope of unification between the Indians and the Moslems, despite Dr. Aziz’s heroic battle cry at the end of the novel (“Hindu and Moslem and Sikh shall all be one!”). Almost a quarter of a century later, the partition of India into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan justified Forster’s premonitions. Meanwhile, the sole Occidental religion, Christianity, is conspicuously absent- not just in the structure, but in the rest of the novel as well. The Oriental places of worship are described in detail by Forster, and are the locations of important plot events (e.g Dr. Aziz’s first meeting with Mrs. Moore). The mosque and the Hindu temple are both evoked in concrete terms while there is no mention of anything Christian built on Indian soil. The religion appears only through characterization and biblical references, both of which do not leave lasting impressions. Thus, Forster hints that Christianity, and by extension the British colonialists, have no place in India. Despite their attempts to subjugate the Indians, they will never be able to establish themselves permanently in the country. Again, Forster’s prediction was accurate. In 1947, India obtained its independence from the British, 23 years after the publication of the novel.
The description of places of worship also illustrates the central contrast between the attitudes of the English and the Indians- the former are rational and reserved, while the latter openly show emotion. Both the mosque and the Gokul Ashtami festival are described through the usage of imagery, and evoke a sense of the spirit behind the religion. Dr. Aziz’s quiet appreciation of the beauty of the mosque (“…the contest between this contention and dualism of the shadows pleased him…”) and the various sensations he experiences vaguely (e.g the amateur orchestra, the smell of jasmine flowers) create an impression of stillness, showing how Islam is a source of solace for the emotional Dr. Aziz. His recitation of a poem shows how he connects with Islam from his heart. The Gokul Ashtami festival is described differently- it is a vibrant burst of color and motion, with a myriad of sensations described one after another. There is a sense of collectiveness- even Professor Godbole’s vision is tempered by his interactions with other characters (e.g talking to the drummer, his colleague disentangling his pince-nez). Although the vitality of the festival and the scene at the mosque convey different atmospheres, both are brimming with feelings. Christianity, on the other hand, is never shown in practice (except for Adela’s brief prayer on the morning of the trial). Only the formal trappings of religion, such as biblical quotes and missionaries, appear, which is reflective of the English people’s rationality. Religion, despite being something personal, is not close to their hearts. The exceptions are Mrs. Moore and, towards the trial, Adela Quested, but they find it unable to calm their mental turmoil.
The first religion which appears in the novel is Islam, which is portrayed as a religion reveling in past glory. This is shown through the characterization of Dr.Aziz. The decay of Islam is one of his favorite topics, and he possess a wealth of knowledge about the Mughal emperors of the past, such as Akbar and Alamgir, which he usually brings into conversations with Fielding and the Englishwomen, impressing them with his passion. Nevertheless, the Moslems in the novel do not follow their religion blindly. Certain Islamic ceremonies such as circumcision prevail- others such as polygamy, are rejected by educated Moslems. Traditional religious values are thus tempered by Western ones. Dr. Aziz initially rejects his arranged marriage as he was “touched by Western feeling…disliked union with a woman whom he had never met.” Adela’s question about polygamy was akin to asking him if he was civilized, and made Dr. Aziz feel insulted. He felt a greater need to defend himself as monogamy was a new conviction. As the novel progresses, Dr. Aziz’s initial zest for Islam wears off. The Shrine of the Head and the Shrine of the Body at Mau go against Islam’s forbiddance of idolatry. Dr. Aziz, although initially scornful, soon accepts it, even bringing his children to visit it.
Despite Islam’s seeming lack of endurance, the Moslems in the novel consider themselves superior to Hindus. They use various unflattering adjectives (e.g “flabby”, “slack”,) to describe the Hindus. Dr. Aziz criticises Mrs. Bhattacharya’s false invitation to the Englishwomen on the grounds that they are Hindus, then ironically proceeds to make the same mistake himself. The engineer, Mr Syed Mohammed described Hindu religious fairs with contempt, and Dr. Aziz once rapped a Brahmany bull (which is sacred to Hindus) with a polo stick, enraging Panna Lal. This lack of respect for other religions is one reason why the chasm between Moslems and Hindus are so deep. Each thinks of the other in terms of their religious identity, and not as individual people. Dr. Aziz reconciles with Mr. Das but thinks of him as a Hindu first, while Mr. Das thinks “Some Moslems are violent” without considering whether Dr. Aziz himself falls under this category. The herd mentality is too strong to allow the continuation of the brief unification brought about by Dr. Aziz’s trial. Nevertheless, Dr. Aziz himself finally seeks employment in a Hindu state, because his hatred of the British is stronger than his dislike of Hindus. He still makes flippant comments about Hindus, but is less harsh (“… he hoped that they would enjoy carrying their idol about, for at all events it did not pry into other people’s lives.”).
Like Islam, Christianity is also presented as a religion which erects barriers between people, despite the presence of biblical quotations which encourage mutual acceptance. This shows the hypocrisy of the Anglo-Indians, who do not practice what they preach. “In our Father’s house there are many mansions” is the message preached by Maurice and Mr Sorley, the two Christian missionaries, yet the Anglo Indians treat the natives with contempt, dehumanising and humiliating them. Mr McBryde’s wife expresses her opposition towards missionaries, ostensibly because she sees the Indians as inferior beings, and so unworthy of heaven. The Anglo- Indians are not particularly religious- they seem to ignore the missionaries, whose lack of resources is shown by their living beyond the slaughterhouse and travelling third class on the railways. Ronny Heaslop embodies the typical Anglo-Indian attitude towards religion- the “sterile, public school” brand which lacks practical application. It is part of the Anglo-Indian identity and not a way of life (“Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the National Anthem, but objected when it attempted to influence his life.”) However, because religion is meant to serve as a moral guide, the textbook version of it, which focuses on clear divisions between good and evil, is not enough in India, with its lack of explicit boundaries.
The only person who can be considered a ‘true Christian’ in the novel is Mrs Moore, who is one of the most spiritual characters. Her loving acceptance of the wasp and her consideration for the Indians (“God has put us on Earth to love our neighbors…”) shows her inherent good nature. However, even she fails to find solace in Christianity. The phrase “poor little talkative Christianity” is used, foreshadowing Mrs. Moore’s disillusionment with the religion. Its tenets are not vague- on the contrary, Christianity is the most organised religion and is associated with churches, Chaplains and missionaries. However, the word ‘talkative’ implies that its teachings are merely rhetoric, since the deeper side of divinity, that which is unknown and incomprehensible to man, is not addressed. Mrs. Moore thought more about God in India, but out of the familiarity and structure of English society this offered little consolation. The echo in the Marabar caves gave Mrs. Moore a vision of negation, where man is powerless to influence anything around him. As a result, she realized her own insignificance, and became bored of living. Similarly, Adela Quested took to prayer after the Marabar incident. It was ineffective, however as she had not reconciled her feelings and her intellect. Christianity places emphasis on rational moral codes without fostering true spiritual understanding. It is a reflection of the Anglo-Indian character; logical to a fault and unable to apprehend the “muddle” of India.
In contrast to Islam and Christianity, Hinduism is religion portrayed as a unifying force, and one which is not hindered by racial barriers. Mrs. Moore is a Hindu at heart (“then you are an Oriental”). As a result of her simple kindness towards all creatures, Mrs. Moore is Indianized as a Hindu Goddess, “Esmiss Esmoor”- she is symbolically elevated to the spiritual plane of which she had been acutely aware. Mrs. Moore’s spirit is also carried on through her two children, Ralph and Stella Moore, whose instinctive appreciation for Hinduism is further evidence of the religion’s inclusiveness. All the major characters ( representative of the three religions) appear in the final section of the novel- Adela’s voice is heard through her letters and Mrs. Moore’s, through Ralph Moore. Images of peace and harmony dominate, as even Dr. Aziz (who is initially skeptical) is caught up in the joyous mood of the worshipers, and behaves kindly towards Ralph Moore. The atmosphere of togetherness is further strengthened by the description of the procession, which unites people in devotion and eventually reunites Dr. Aziz and Fielding as well, when their boats collide in the water and with some of the devotees. Thus, Hinduism presents the possibility of connection between people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Hinduism focuses on the unification of man and God through love and the equality of all creatures. This is shown through Professor Godbole, the main representative of Hinduism in the novel. In the heat of the festival, he has an almost divine glimpse of Mrs. Moore and the wasp. Like a benevolent God, he finds it in himself to love them equally. “It does not seem like much, but still, it is more than I am myself,” he thinks, of the two. This is reminiscent of Mrs. Moore’s appreciation of a wasp on her coat peg, exhibiting the simple acceptance which is at the core of Hinduism. Professor Godbole acknowledges that he can only do so much, as a tiny part of the universe. Yet Mrs. Moore, in spirit, and the wasp which he saw, together, are part of the wider universe and so more spiritually linked than he is. This is contrasted towards the Christian missionaries’ rejection of the wasp (“We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.”) Hinduism emphasizes spirituality instead of rules and formality, although there are caveats, such as Professor Godbole’s dietary restrictions. Ironically, the inscription “God Si Love” on the temple wall was spelt wrongly, although the Hindus actually practiced the biblical phrase.
For Hindus, God is not an inaccessible figure high up in the heavens. He is a force which flows through the blood of all living beings. The games played during Gokul Ashtami, such as feeding the deity butter, may seem bawdy and tasteless, yet it shows how God is thought to be close to His subjects. Hence, he is given human attributes such as the enjoyment of playing games. They do not just pray to God, but see themselves as a part of Him and the wider universe. Hinduism also contains an acceptance of the unknown. Professor Godbole’s ‘song of the unknown bird’ had everyone spellbound, from the Anglo-Indians to the lowly water chestnut collector alike. Its haunting quality emerged precisely because it could not be identified, yet it touched their souls. This parallels Ronny and Adela’s failure to identify an unknown bird. Their uneasiness points to an inherent need to classify things, instead of feeling and appreciating them, as they did with Professor Godbole’s song. There are things outside the boundaries of human understanding, and knowing this is the key to apprehending infinity. The cosmos is so immense hat nobody can fully penetrate its mysteries. Mystical events such as Professor Godbole’s vision and Ralph Moore guiding Dr. Aziz to the Rajah’s statue proves that there are unseen forces at work. Trying to ‘label’ things will only result in confusion, which is what Adela experienced when she entered the Marabar caves, leading to her false accusation of Dr. Aziz.
Although Forster seems to favor Hinduism over the other two religions, setting an entire section against the backdrop of the Hindu festival at Mau, he is careful to present its drawbacks as well. There are divisions within the religion itself, between Brahman and non-Brahman. Strict rules also exist for Brahmans, such as the touch of a non-Hindu requiring another bath. Hindus are also not averse to arguing with Moslems. Their protest over the Moslems cutting of a branch of the sacred pepul tree to facilitate the paper tower procession during Mohurram, is an example. Nevertheless, Hinduism is portrayed as the most accessible of all the three religions, and the most suitable for establishing mutual goodwill.
In conclusion, Forster maintains a delicate balance between presenting his authorial opinion and allowing the reader to draw his/her own conclusion. He uses religion to highlight the problems of colonial India, but leaves room for interpretation. None of the religions are presented as the perfect solution but neither are any of them presented as the root cause of the country’s issues. Rather, they are a reflection of the communities’ mind-sets. Forster combines his examination of religion as a socio-historical factor with religion as a means for self-actualization. The former focuses on the collective attitudes of a community while the other deals with spirituality on a personal level. This enables him to make a subtle distinction between religion and its followers. While a religion’s teachings may be morally adequate, an individual who does not follow them would receive no benefit. In the end, religion is subjective and inextricably linked to human nature, the vagaries of which Forster explores in detail.
The Waning Days of British Imperialism in “A Passage to India” and “Burmese Days”
In the preface to The English Novel in the Twentieth Century [The Doom of Empire], Martin Green claims that “One could read all the works of the Great Tradition, and never know that England had an empire”. While this argument could be applied to the bourgeois, largely domestic nature of the nineteenth-century literary canon, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924) and George Orwell’s Burmese Days (1934) mark the development of a post-war, politically engaged consciousness, largely triggered by the brutal Amritsar massacre of 1919. Both novels – influenced by the writers’ own experiences in the East – launch a fiercely satirical attack on the conduct of the British Raj overseas and the moral bankruptcy of the English country club. A particularly noticeable aspect of Orwell’s and Forster’s critiques is the complicity of English women in encouraging and reinforcing masculine ideals of belligerence and jingoism in the East, thus exacerbating the strained relations between natives and their British rulers. However, although both texts exhibit a shared disdain for the overbearing, Kiplingesque pomposity of the British ruling classes in the East, Forster’s liberal pragmatism and humanist approach contrasts to the more radical and nihilistic tone of Orwell’s novel, thereby demonstrating how the works of both writers present us with innovative and challenging, yet strikingly distinguishable, interpretations of the flagging days of British imperialism. E.M. Forster wrote A Passage to India against a backdrop of political turbulence and simmering racial tensions, largely compounded by the incompetence of the British colonialists in the East. His novel consistently contrasts the blind complacency and barely-hidden racial prejudice of the colonists with their repeated assertion that they “are out here to do justice and keep the peace” . The callous conduct of the British inevitably has a detrimental effect on cross-cultural understanding and friendship, and, despite the naive efforts of Mrs Moore and the aptly-named Adela Quested to gain an authentic view of India, the oppressive and unjust political structure of the country results in the two women experiencing a divisive and strikingly unfathomable environment. Indeed, while observing her son, the City Magistrate, at work in the court, Mrs Moore laments the insensitivity and negligence of the British Raj in India: How he did rub it in that he was not in India to behave pleasantly, and derived positive satisfaction therefrom… One touch of regret – not the canny substitute but the true regret from the heart – would have made him a different man, and the British Empire a different institution. Amongst this destructive mire of bigotry and suspicion, it is only the elderly Brahmin, Godbole, with his distinctly non-British form of wisdom, who expresses the intrinsic unity of East and West (“When evil occurs, it expresses the whole of the universe. Similarly when good occurs”). Through the character of Godbole, Forster skillfully adopts the ancient values of Hinduism as a vehicle for an alternative and remarkably contemporary mode of thought regarding cross-cultural relations, thus paving the way for a succession of ground-breaking and provocative literary representations of colonialism. Published a decade after Forster’s novel, George Orwell’s Burmese Days embarks on a vitriolic and darkly humorous attack of the grandiose illusions of imperialism and the crass, mindless debauchery of the administrative staff, whose crude reliance on “Booze as the cement of empire”  results in the development of a society steeped in moral failure and corruption. Despite being set during the waning days of British colonialism, the bullish nature of the exclusive and fiercely racist “Kipling-haunted little Clubs”  ensure that any form of political dissent is crushed, leaving the protagonist, John Flory, isolated in his comprehension of the ways in which Empire degrades the natives whom it self-importantly claims to uplift. Similarly to Forster’s narrative, Orwell expresses a firm belief that no member of a subjugated race can develop a true friendship with a member of the dominant race, as the oppressive political structures at work in Burma ensure that such a friendship will end in betrayal and resentment. As Flory reflects following a heated political exchange in the European Club, “With Indians there must be no loyalty, no real friendship.” , a notion which augments the socially-constructed and seemingly impenetrable barrier to positive relationships between Englishmen and their colonial subjects. Paradoxically, however, both novels feature an unlikely alliance between a Western male and an educated native, in both cases a doctor. Indeed, Orwell uses the bond between Flory and Dr. Veriswami to humorously employ the diagnostic language adopted by many politically engaged writers during the interwar period, derisively likening the British Empire to an elderly patient: “Aha, Mr Flory, she iss very low, very low! Grave complications setting in. Septicaemia, peritonitis and paralysis of the ganglia.” . By adopting the language of diagnosis and cure as a metaphor for the dying British Empire, Orwell evokes a disturbing sense of cultural sickness and contagion, which, in turn, warns of the corruptive nature of the Anglo-Indians’ crudely mercenary approach to society. Instead of bringing peace and justice to the native people of the East, Orwell suggests that the function of the British simply amounts to “rubbing our dirt onto them” , with Englishmen and Burmans alike committing abhorrent deeds for the sake of social mobility and prestige. Forster’s novel addresses a similar process of moral debasement at work amongst British expatriates in India: “They all become exactly the same, not worse, not better. I give any Englishman two years” . Even the Indian Dr. Aziz – an affectionate and youthful presence for much of the novel – becomes consumed by a “genuine hatred of the English”, eventually isolating himself from Flory as a result of his humiliation at the hands of the British law: “I am an Indian at last, he thought, standing motionless in the rain” [278-9]. It is therefore clear that, rather than bringing a beacon of hope and prosperity to the East, as literary antecedents such as Rudyard Kipling had implied, the narratives of Forster and Orwell depict the presence of Anglo-Indians as a deeply destructive force in the East, circulating petty resentments and deep-seated prejudices which eventually tear apart positive human relationships. In this way, the highly anglicised colonial setting evoked by Forster and Orwell is arguably a microcosm of British society, with its myopic “country club” mentality acting as a poor recreation of suburban England. Indeed, the political somnolence of Middle England is a recurring theme in Orwell’s writing; his personal account of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia (1938), expresses his dismay at returning from Spain to a complacent, distinctly “English” society, with seemingly no connection to foreign affairs (“Earthquakes in Japan, famine in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning”). Interestingly, however, both Orwell and Forster’s biting satire is most ruthlessly exercised towards Anglo-Indian women, whom they frequently depict as chief collaborators in the colonial system of oppression and subjugation. For example, the haughty, colonial wife in A Passage to India, Mrs Turton, most effectively encapsulates the Englishwoman’s scornful and highly gendered intolerance of Indian natives through her series of increasingly absurd outbursts: “Why, they ought to crawl from here to the caves on their hands and knees whenever and Englishwoman’s in sight, they oughtn’t be spoken to, they ought to be spat at” . Similarly, the primary female character in Burmese Days is mystified and repelled by Flory’s admiration of Burmese culture – “She was grasping, dimly, that his views were not the views an Englishman should hold.”  – yet becomes attracted to him when he adopts a conventional, “manly” demeanour at a shooting expedition. Through their position as agents of chauvinism and oppression, therefore, women are equated with British “civilisation” and become a destructive and dogmatic force in the East, a consensus between the two authors that has prompted the feminist literary critic, Jenny Sharpe, to conclude that the Anglo-Indian woman “perhaps more than anyone else, embodies the memsahib in all her contradictions”. However, it is important to recognise the differing ways in which Orwell and Forster approach their critique of English colonialism. Unlike Forster in A Passage to India, Orwell actually addresses the underlying economic reasons for the British presence in the East: “how can you make out that we are in this country for any purpose except to steal? It’s so simple. The official holds the Burman down while the businessman goes through his pockets” . Through Flory’s withering account of colonial ambitions in Burma, the reader gains an insight into Orwell’s growing political radicalism, with critics agreeing that his experience in the country doubtlessly accentuated his sensitivity to the unjust caste system at home in Britain. As such, his acute disillusion with the British social system is reflected through the troubling sense of nihilism that permeates the text, a powerful scepticism that manifests itself most palpably in the novel’s tragic and unsettling conclusion: “There is a rather large number of suicides among the Europeans in Burma, and they occasion very little surprise” . Orwell’s Burma is a socially fragmented country of indigenous corruption and imperial hypocrisy, and the reader is offered very little hope of redemption or justice. Forster, on the other hand, avoids making these sweeping structural condemnations, instead placing emphasis on the personal rather than directly addressing the social and political implications of British colonialism. This humanist tendency is apparent through his repeated speculation over whether an Englishman and Indian can ever be friends under colonialism, a preoccupation that runs throughout the text. It is important to remember that Forster is not advocating an end to British imperialism – instead he favours a more conciliatory and tolerant form of British rule in India – thus his text lacks the radical undertones of Orwell’s Burmese Days. Moreover, Forster does not share the overly bleak outlook held by Orwell, as memorably demonstrated in the final horseback-riding scene, where Fielding and Aziz attempt at reconciliation:But the horses didn’t want it – they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it…the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.” The literary theorist Edward Said believes this conclusion to be “disappointing”, serving as a gloomy mark of the East’s permanent estrangement from the West. However, he arguably fails to acknowledge the resonant sense of hope embedded in these lines (“not yet… not there”), and the gentle poignancy of the two friends’ final outing. Through its depiction of the complexities and development of Fielding and Aziz’s relationship, the novel subtly implies that cross-cultural friendship, though frustratingly elusive in colonial times, may be achieved in the future. As such, Forster could be said to share the “evolutionary meliorism” of writers such as Thomas Hardy, who favoured a reasoned and rational approach to social issues. While Mrs Moore and Adela ultimately fail in their “quest” for true communion with India, the reader is awakened to the possibility of a new age of tolerance and understanding, therefore raising hopes for the liberalisation of Anglo-Indian rule and improved relations between East and West. In conclusion, both Forster and Orwell present a penetrating and socially conscious depiction of Britain’s weakening control over the East, exhibiting varying degrees of pessimism with regard to the future of relations between Englishmen and natives. While Forster’s ire is directed chiefly at the negligent and callous attitudes of the public schoolboys who rule India, Orwell presents a sustained critique of the political structures that maintain imperialism, making it possible to identify Burmese Days as a radical 1930s rejoinder to Forster’s influential novel. In any case, Orwell and Forster’s bitingly satirical representations of British imperialism mark a significant departure from the nationalist, soldierly rhetoric of Rudyard Kipling, and have therefore proved instrumental in shaping the public and literary discourse surrounding imperialism in the East.
The Souls of Black Folk and A Passage to India
In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois illustrates the very poignant image of a color line that separates the two races in his society. He introduces the term double consciousness to explain how African-Americans view themselves, not as individuals but as a collective group; a perception made through the eyes of the society that they lived in. This perception produces what Du Bois calls a“twoness’ of American Negroes. It is this sense of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” (Du Bois 3). The notion of double consciousness speaks not only to African Americans but to humanity as a whole. E.M. Forster’s novel, A Passage to India both illustrates and complicates Dubois’ notion of double consciousness. Through the racial misconceptions and cultural pretenses that plague the interactions between the British and Indians, we see an uncertainty that lies in each individual’s sense of identity. Du Bois’ theory of double consciousness is also complicated in this novel because he does not leave room for those individuals who do not fit his strict black and white template. There is no gray area. Every individual can identify himself as part of one group on opposite sides of the veil. Can a human being exist in society as an individual or is one’s identity only defined by the group that they associate themselves with? Double consciousness refers to the idea that we see ourselves through the eyes of others. Du Bois uses this term to describe the felt confusion that exists between social standards and daily experience for blacks in this country. Throughout the book, it is evident that Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness has two manifestations. The first is the power that white stereotypes have on black thought. He argues that despite having the knowledge of truth, African Americans continue to force themselves into a context of misrepresentation that is used to define their people. By submitting themselves to these paradigms, blacks allow themselves to remain the inferior race. The second demonstration of double consciousness is the racism that excluded African Americans from the mainstream of society. Blacks struggled to identify themselves and for them the internal conflict came from being African and being American simultaneously. The question of authenticity arose in Du Bois essay on “The Conservation of Races,” where he says:No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these cross-roads; has failed to ask himself at some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and be an American? If I strive as a Negro, am I not perpetuating the very cleft that threatens and separates Black and White America? Is not my only possible practical aim the subduction of all that is Negro in me to the American? (Du Bois 233).Though they were native to America they were not considered to be American because their roots lied in Africa. They were thought to be foreign, and separate from the rest of the population, which is how they soon began to view themselves. A Passage to India is a realistic documentation of the attitudes that British colonists hold towards native Indians, whom they control. Through the exploration of Anglo-Indian relationships, Forster attempts to illustrate how one is viewed not by his status but by his racial or cultural background. In the novel, Dr. Aziz embodies Forster’s notion of the “muddle” of India. Dr. Aziz struggles to identify with one distinct group of individuals. While his racial and cultural background characterizes him as Indian, he does not believe that he can truly relate to this group because he is an exception. His higher education allows him to want to be more like the British, who refuses to accept him as anything other than Indian. Throughout the novel, the British continue to look pass Aziz’s title and education and see him solely as “one of Indians,” who they describe as a group of selfish and ignorant individuals. One major example of this perception is when Dr. Aziz is accused of sexually assaulting Miss Quested. Through his vivid description of the accused crime, and the British reaction toward the situation, Forster satirizes the overreaction by the British as not only silly, but also dangerously based on sentiment rather than truth. Many of the English took the assault on Adela Quested as an assault by all Indians on English womanhood. The English viewed the isolated incident as a threat to the British Empire itself. Their account of the assault is devoid of any recognition or sympathetic understanding of Aziz’s honorable character. They simply see the situation as a revelation of the Indians’ criminal tendencies. This idea is described through McBryde theory behind the assault. “All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of the latitude 30. They are not to blame; they have not a dog’s chance—we should be like them if we settled here” (Forster 184). McBryde explains that Indians have criminal tendencies because of the climate, thus their behavior is inherent and justified. Dr. Aziz suffers from Du Bois’ notion of double consciousness. Aziz knows that he is different but allows himself to be slave to the stereotypes that come with being Indian. He struggles to define himself as an individual in a society that sees him simply as a member of a larger group. Because he knows that he is viewed as a “typical Indian” through the eyes of the British he feels the need to prove himself as being better than his counterparts but finds it hard to do so. Aziz’s numerous acts of generosity are often perceived to be fraudulent. In chapter VIII, Aziz lends Fielding his last collar stud to replace his broken one. Though Forster makes clear that Aziz’s unpinned collar was a display of his act of generosity towards Mr. Fielding, Ronny remarks the unscrupulous look as emblematic of the Indians’ general laziness. “Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, but he had forgotten his back collar stud, and there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals the race” (Forster 87) Despite his friendship with Aziz, Fielding is still found making generalizations about the Indians based on one incident. Though Aziz is a character who illustrates a person’s constant struggle with double consciousness, there are many individuals in the novel that Du Bois’ theory does not account for. Dubois argues that being Black meant being deprived of a “true self‐consciousness,” as blacks viewed themselves only through the generalized contempt of white America. This idea can be related to the way in which the Indians perceived themselves through the eyes of their superiors, the British. While this may be true for many individuals of the oppressed group, there are some who are truly able to achieve self-consciousness. In his argument, Du Bois fails to leave room for these self-assured individuals. In A Passage to Mr. Fielding is an example of someone who does not struggle with double consciousness, but intern is able to identify himself not through the eyes of those around him but through his own eyes. Among the Englishmen in Chandrapore, Mr. Fielding is by far the most successful at developing and sustaining relationships with the natives. Though Mr. Fielding is well aware of his status as an English man and the power that he has over the natives, he strives to be seen as an individual who does not embody the common stereotypes made about his people. In fact, he is the exact opposite and is seen throughout the novel as a model of liberal humanism. He treats the Indians not as an inferior race but as a group of individuals that he can connect with through mutual respect, courtesy, and intelligence. Fielding is not afraid to ally himself with “the enemy.” He honors his friendship with Aziz over any alliance with members of his own race. This disruption of allegiances threatens the solidarity of the English colonial rule over India. Fielding’s alliance and loyalty to the Indians is seen when he takes the side of Aziz in the assault trial. Fielding is ridiculed when he publicly expresses his belief in Aziz’s innocence. He is seen as a traitor and is believed to have betrayed his people and his country. This betrayal is seen in Fielding’s conversation with McBryde where he proclaims his belief in Aziz’s innocence. McBryde tells him that he ought not to get himself involved in the situation despite what his conscious is telling him. “ I feel that things are rather unsatisfactory as well as most disastrous. We are heading for the most awful smash…” “ I say he’s innocent—”“Innocence or guilt, why mix yourself up? What’s the good?…We shall all have to hang together, old man I’m afraid.” (Forster 189)Whether Aziz is guilty or innocent is not the issue at hand. The true issue lies in proclaiming an Indian’s innocence. By doing so the British is doomed for corruption and upheaval by the Indians in the state. Throughout the novel, Mr. Fielding identity is not defined by the “group” that he his associated with but through his individuality and his ability to go against what is expected of him. By being able to set himself apart from the group Fielding does not struggle with double consciousness. By staying true to his beliefs and by not questioning his position in society he is able to identify himself solely as an individual and not as a member of a larger group. As Because he allied with the Indians, Fielding was cast out of the group and was finally able to seek refuge as an individual. W.E.B. Du Bois uses the term double consciousness to describe how one vies themselves through the eyes of another. Though E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India illustrates Du Bois notion of double consciousness through its depiction of Dr. Aziz, it also complicates it by creating a character that is truly self-conscious and aware of his identity. In his concept of double-conscious Du Bois does not leave room or account for this type of individual.WORKS CITED• Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bedford Books, 1997. Print.• Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. New York, Harvest Books, 1965.
The Marabar Tragedy: A Disaster Foreseen
In the first fifteen chapters of A Passage to India, E.M. Forster prepares for the tragedy of the Marabar visit rather successfully. The tragedy is perceived as the failure of the Marabar expedition and its aftermath: Adela Quested’s accusation of Aziz’s improprieties, and Mrs. Moore’s loss of sanity. From Forster’s portrayal of symbolic issues to his description of the Marabar Hills to the experiences of the women in the caves, he has implanted various connections that allude to the tragedy of the Marabar visit. The use of foreshadowing gives readers a sense of impending disaster: Forster implies that the English and Indians can never be friends. This pessimistic view as well as the inter-racial tension accounts for the underlying cause of the tragedy in the Marabar caves. The main issue Forster addresses in A Passage to India is the possibility of friendship between the English and the Indians. The controversy is first brought up in the conversation between Hamidullah and Mahmoud Ali, and again through the Bridge Party. Hamidullah contends that the cross-cultural friendship is only possible in England. The men agree that it is impossible for them to live harmoniously in India, for the structure of the colonial system converts the English’s attitude towards the Indians to a disrespectful one. From the very beginning, Forster makes it clear to the readers that cross-cultural friendship is futile, and that friction between the two nations is inevitable. As newcomers to the country, Mrs. Moore and Adela express their wish to see the ‘real India’, unfiltered through the lens of the English. In response to this desire, a Bridge Party is organized. The Bridge Party, intended to bring together people of different nationalities, turns out to be a failure. The Bridge Party represents all of the problems of cross-cultural exchange between the English and the Indians. The racial distinctions are brought out through the portrayal of Mrs. Turton. The failure of the Bridge Party foreshadows the futility of the attempt to achieve a union between the British and the Indians. Forster implies that the people of both countries have difficulty accepting each other. The inter-racial tensions are portrayed through the interactions between the two nations. The Indians are offended by the English attitude of superiority. Aziz is summoned to Major Callendar’s house during dinner only to find the Englishman out. Mrs. Callendar and Mrs. Lesley took Aziz for a servant, and stole his tonga. Although Aziz was slighted, he is nevertheless friendly towards Mrs. Moore and Adela. He invites them on an expedition to the Marabar caves, proclaiming that the caves are extraordinary and worth seeing. Both Englishwomen are delighted with the invitation. However, the friendship between Aziz and the two Englishwomen is not built on firm grounds. Only Godbole remains aloof to the drama of the plot, recognizing the hidden evils of the Marabar caves. He sings for his visitors a Hindu song in which a milkmaid pleads to the Hindu God Krishna to come to her and her people. Godbole admits that Krishna did not come to the milkmaid, signifying that the plea for God’s grace and blessings is being ignored. Mrs. Moore becomes aware of a spiritual presence greater than her own Christian God. This sudden realization frightens and confuses her; she is convinced that human interactions are meaningless compared to this spiritual presence. Mrs. Moore is discouraged and becomes spiritually drained after hearing the song; this results in her disinterest in the expedition and disillusioned reaction in hearing the caves’ echo. It is ironic that Mr. Fielding misses the train to the Marabar Caves, for Englishmen are characteristically on-time. Godbole’s miscalculation of his morning prayer is what accounts for the lateness of their arrival. It appears that even the Hindu Gods do not give their blessings to the success of the expedition; the expedition is doomed before it has even started. Without Mr. Fielding, Aziz, who has never been to the Marabar Caves, is forced to be the guide. Ronny Heaslop only allowed the women to go on the expedition under the condition that Fielding would accompany them. The absence of Fielding from the expedition puts Aziz in the position of responsibility and leaves him without an intermediary between himself and the Englishwomen. This contributes to the trouble that will arise later in the journey. The announcement that “Indians are incapable of responsibility” leads the readers to anticipate misfortune. The expedition, which is filled with misunderstandings, starts off with a crisis. Exaggerated gossips misled Aziz to believe that the Englishwomen were very keen to see the Marabar Caves. The truth is that neither party particularly wants to go into the caves. Adela and Mrs. Moore’s disinterest is mirrored in the dull and vacant appearance of the landscape. Forster uses the image of a “cocoon” to describe the emotional isolation of the Englishwomen. Before the expedition, Adela possessed a keen interest to seek out the ‘real India’ and Mrs. Moore had a genuine spiritual understanding and sincerity towards its people, but Forster suggests that the women are separated, unable to understand each other and uninterested in making a real connection. The change is drastic: the alarming differences speak to the strong impact that Godbole’s song had on them. Forster’s description of the Marabar Hills predicts the tragedy to come. The emphasis on the hill’s primitiveness confuses and isolates the visitors. The word “nothing” recurs in the description of the hills; their strange and unsettling beauty radiates a sense of menace that sets the appropriate tone for the dissolution of a friendship. The cave itself embodies nothingness and emptiness and gives readers a sense of unease. The caves are “older than the spirits”; there is something uncanny and ghostlike about the appearance of the Marabar Caves. Their strange landscape suggests that the power of illusion can be so great that it can destroy the sense of reality. The natural environment of India also contributes to the preparation of the tragedy. India is a country oppressed by its natural forces. The oppressive heat and intense sunshine determine a man’s attitude and perception. The dehumanizing effect of the intense climate sparks the irrationality and hallucinations that Mrs. Moore will come to experience. The sun is described as a powerful but brutal creature; its heat is destructive. The hot season foreshadows the heat and turmoil, argumentativeness, and inexplicable sadness to come. The heat of the caves disorients Mrs. Moore and muddles her thinking, causing her illusions to intensify. The darkness of the caves also contributes to Mrs. Moore’s madness: “She lost Aziz and Adela in the dark didn’t know who touched her, couldn’t breathe…For an instant she went mad, hitting and gasping like a fanatic.” In the confusion, Mrs. Moore was unable to control herself. Both Mrs. Moore and Adela confront their deepest fears in the caves. The terrifying echo haunts Mrs. Moore, causing her to abandon her spiritual beliefs and interest in human relationships. The contrast between her silence and the echo’s sound “boum” ruins her. In the cave she becomes aware of the darker side of her spirituality, and her growing ambivalence about God. Adela confronts the shame and embarrassment of her realization that she and Ronny are not actually attracted to each other. Forster’s portrayal of the difficulty of establishing a friendship between the English and Indians and his subtle hints of the disaster surrounding the natural environment combine to suggest to readers that the expedition to the Marabar Caves will be a failure. The symbolism of Godbole’s song and the echo in the caves made it seem natural that Mrs. Moore would lose her sanity due to her loss of spiritual faith. In this aspect, Forster is very particular in preparing readers for the failure of the expedition. As for Adela, it appears that she will encounter problems of her own, but Forster’s build-up for the accusation of Aziz’s improprieties is rather ambiguous. In all, Forster is rather successful in preparing readers for the tragedy of the visit.
The Three Phases of a Journey
Forster’s story in A Passage to India exists outside the physical experiences of his characters. The novel is less a tale about Indian life under British rule than an endeavor to map religious and interpersonal journeys of people. British colonial rule over India is, literally, the reason why the British and Indians interact, but their interactions with each other create personal changes. The structure of the novel demands attention to some characters more than others, particularly those whose thoughts concerning God and religion are most manipulated. Furthermore, the pertinent passages for these changes are not necessarily found in the most outstanding events, such as Aziz’s trial. The changes to be studied affect how the characters respect each other, the land, and God. The tripartite structure chronicles the transformative process when everything, particularly religious outlooks, are questioned and then reformed. In Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, the author calls on his readers to appreciate “hour-glass” (134) novels. A Passage to India is one such book, and we pay particular attention to the middle section; Part II disrupts the characters until they are released into Part III–the bottom of the hourglass. “Caves,” contains both the climax of the actions in the story as well as the climatic strain of spiritual confusion. The Marabar Caves symbolize this confusion, for “Nothing, nothing attaches to them, and their reputation–for they have one–does not depend upon human speech” (137). Much will be said about Hinduism and its influence on the confusion of the caves, but “Hinduism…like Islam and Christianity, seems powerless before the nihilistic message of the Marabar Caves” (Crews 176-177). The nothingness is a perpetual backdrop for the story. It is difficult to look at how an author manages the subject of religion without first understanding his own religious viewpoints and reasons for writing. According to Frederick C. Crews, “Forster is not asserting a religious belief of his own, but is simply trying to be open-minded” (176). Much will be said about Hinduism, and it must be understood that Forster does not favor Hinduism as a religion. He merely appreciates the aspect of the religion that caters to “His disbelief in Providence, his sense of man’s ignorance of divine truth, [and] his rejection of the idea of a man-centered universe” (176). The great undercurrent of the final stage of the novel is the Hindu celebration in Part III. This commemoration shows the readers how to bridge the gap between the British and Indians, something the Bridge parties could never do. Few of the main characters are Hindu and none openly convert to Hinduism, but people like the atheist Fielding and Muslim Aziz embrace friendship and peace amongst people. They both, particularly Fielding, exhibit the desire to treat everyone with mutual respect at all times. Part III’s title, “Temple,” foreshadows a break from Muslim and Christian God-to-man relationships in favor of the universal harmony that Hinduism promotes. With the celebration, Forster revels in Hinduism by showing its participants in jubilation, making it a happy belief system in which many have found hope. Forster’s implied solution to the wrongs within society is not without its flaws, and he often alludes to this. For instance, the festivities include such blatant errors as “God is love” on banners rather than “God is love.” Ironically, the Indians put the words in English in order to show the universality of God and, therefore, possible peace amongst men (320). Even the beautiful courtyard in which part of the ceremony takes place can “scarcely be seen behind coloured rags, iridescent balls, chandeliers of opaque pink glass, and murky photographs framed crookedly” (318). The most compelling images are those of gods being blatantly noticeable and other times masked. One of them is constantly being “entirely obscured, when the wind blew, by the tattered foliage of a banana” (319). In this case, it is nature in the form of wind that keeps the viewers from seeing God. This is precisely what happened with Mrs. Moore in the caves–she experienced nature, understood harmony, but it scared her because she couldn’t see God in any of it. Forster realizes that the idea of harmony is a confusing notion, and he highlights this when Mrs. Moore misinterprets Godbole’s song and leads herself into despair. Forster’s use of Mrs. Moore exemplifies the fact that universal harmony can be a difficult concept, especially for those who are used to much simpler interpretations of God. The British assign labels and seek order in everything to not only understand, but to maintain control. Essentially, what they can define, they can control. There is no order in India and there is no label to be placed on individuals’ relationships with the universe. The Westerners “had not the apparatus for judging” (293), but Forster will find some Westerners, besides Fielding, who are capable of assessing India and its people properly. Adela also has trouble with labeling, as we see with the green bird in the tree. Ironically, she was horribly fearful of being labeled an Anglo-Indian wife because of the immediate associations she would imbibe. Adela felt the weakness that comes from being on the opposite end of a label, for becoming an English wife in India would restrict her words and actions. She came to India in Part I to meet her mate as well as to find the “real India,” but Adela found much more as she entered the caves of Part II. The point when she was most unsure about marriage was while in the caves. She knew that what she felt could not be named. It was not until she was with Ronny and the innate physical instinct kicked in–being something she could define–that she decided she wanted to marry him. At this point, she thinks that she had full control of her thoughts and emotions because she previously knew her instincts, whereas she has never known the caves. Adela and Mrs. Moore visit the Marabar Caves soon after they hear Godbole’s song. They both see the surrounding landscape on the way to the caves. They both see the void present in their surroundings. Adela finds mystery without answers in everything at the caves, including a stick she mistakes for a snake as well as the identity of her presumed ravager. Although she truly knows the identity of the assailant all along, the mystery of the caves leaves her aloof and unable to process the happenings. Mrs. Moore, accordingly, finds nothing but “boum,” that monotonous sound that every utterance becomes, whether it is a word whispered in an ear or a prayer to the Almighty. Their emptiness significantly troubles the women and we know this because it pervades their dearest thoughts: Mrs. Moore to her religion and Adela to marriage. By Part III, Mrs. Moore’s and Adela’s presences in the story are minimal. What they leave, though, is a lesson that helps readers through Part III. Parts I and II show, with Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, examples of British individuals attempting to find the romanticized “real India.” Adela and Mrs. Moore stumble because they begin to understand India, but they become wayward when they find out that nothing can be identified in India. They learn that one cannot label India or understand it in the concrete and absolute sense to which the West is accustomed. Because of what they have discovered–or what little they have actually unearthed–Mrs. Moore finds hopelessness and, for Adela, it all becomes too much to handle. Whether it is the first, second, or third section, very little excitement actually occurs–the events that do take place are given strength because of the implications. For instance, the incident in the caves did not really happen as stated, yet it seems significant because of the Indian-to-English tensions it stirred up. Forster clearly wants the focus of the novel to be drawn toward the events happening in the minds of his characters. By adding a third section to A Passage to India, the author shows that the novel is about the spiritual journeys of a group of individuals and not merely about an Indian overcoming a British woman’s accusations. When addressing Part I, according to W.H. Mason, “It is…the title ‘Mosque’ that should guide our thinking about the place of Part I in the composition of the novel” (Mason 25). Amidst all the discord between Indians and the British, Mrs. Moore has the only positive experience with an Indian in Part I, and it takes place on common, holy ground. For Christians, there is eternal hope in salvation and heaven. Even with these factors, Mrs. Moore cannot overcome her new religious feelings. She realizes that the only hope for the earth lies in harmony, but she becomes dejected as the caves “[rob] infinity and eternity of their vastness” (165). All that her religion has promised in the afterlife is swallowed up and echoed back as “boum.” Her actions mean nothing. Accordingly, her words to God produce the same, monotonous echo as her actions. The meeting in the mosque is, arguably, the most compelling incident in the novel. Alone, the meeting between the Muslim and the Christian is paramount because of how much we see Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore change by the end of the novel. Undoubtedly, seeing a genuine friendship forming between an Indian and an Englishwoman motivates readers; this is particularly unique since the English women are consistently more racist than the men. Looking at the confrontation more deeply, the relationship has haunting implications because it is Aziz who leads Mrs. Moore to the caves in Part II, and it is in these caves that the old woman hears the foreboding echo. The meeting at the mosque, though, cannot be looked at as an isolated occurrence. It becomes inextricably linked with Aziz’s discussion with Mrs. Moore’s son, Ralph Moore in the last of the three sections. Forster clearly indicates the link between mother and son as Aziz also calls Ralph an “Oriental.” The difference in the mother and son are simple: Mrs. Moore found death because her deeply-rooted convictions were questioned, whereas it is quite reasonable that Ralph, as a young man, can more securely adopt, enact, and better understand that philosophy which killed his mother. Aziz, a native Indian, cannot be a proper guide on either the caves expedition or the boating trip with Ralph. The young man is the one who Aziz gives control, because he symbolically unravels the mystery of India more adroitly than Aziz. Forster’s optimism in the end is not pinned solely on Aziz and Fielding, for most of it is directed at Ralph and Stella Moore. Ralph and Stella seem most susceptible to the influence of universal harmony. All four characters, though, seem to understand the importance of this harmony that Forster holds ideal. The Hindu notion of faith is set on a basic premise: birth, death, and rebirth. In Part I, Forster gives birth to his characters, with all of their existing beliefs and perceptions included. The caves of Part II kill those perceptions, particularly those of Mrs. Moore and Adela. Part III represents rebirth, but there is an odd twist to this rebirth. The rebirth is that of the fresh souls of Mrs. Moore’s children. We are introduced to them just as we are introduced to the rest of the characters in Part I–with their existing beliefs and perceptions. New characters bring new hope. Forster, with his scathing depictions of both the British (in “Mosque” and “Caves”) and the Indians (primarily in “Caves”), closes the novel with a fundamentally Hindu notion. Part III, “Temple” (in reference to Hindu worship), is where the disturbances of the first two sections are somewhat relieved–or, at least, there is relief in sight. Forster uses a Hindu celebration to make sure the idea of harmony–oneness with the universe–is not forgotten as the novel closes. The notion of universal harmony that Hinduism puts forth pervades the thoughts of Aziz and Fielding as they continue past “No, not yet” (362), and into the future when they can find friendship. Forster wants the British to treat the Indians with respect. He exemplifies this with the three-part structure of A Passage to India. Part I shows characters with relatively firms ideas about life and spirituality. Part II is when mysteries become muddled and confusion becomes typical. Part III is when the characters shine, and they shine in the light of a Hindu celebration. Although the mystery remains, the muddle of India and the British intervention is clearing. Man has stood in the way of man by establishing social orders wherein one can degrade another by labeling inferiors. The labels hindered relations from beginning to end of A Passage to India. Even the final paragraph exhibits the divide. If it were to take “fifty-five hundred years” (361), Forster’s hope is that the souls of men will eventually harmonize, disintegrating social order.
Echo the Silence: Mrs. Moore’s Spiritual Muddle in Forster’s A Passage to India
“Oh why is everything still my duty? When shall I be free from your fuss?” mutters Mrs. Moore as she collapses into the raving madness of spiritual despair (228). After serving as E.M. Forster’s most sympathetic character through nearly all of A Passage to India, she is suddenly immobilized after her experience in the Marabar Caves; her perspective, thoughts, and even language degenerate into withered cynicism and virtually incoherent ramblings. Indeed, the last of these seemingly irrational monologues convinces Ronny that his mother has fallen off completely; he sends her back to England believing that India has warped her sense of reality. In looking more carefully at one of these thought-driven monologues, however, we find that Mrs. Moore has experienced a realization that has completely annihilated her set of distinctly “English”values. By analyzing the structure of these thoughts, the new ideology driving them, and the possibility of their resolution, we discover that Mrs. Moore’s revelations and subsequent transformation stem from a startling anti-vision. The Caves’ undifferentiated echoes have convinced Mrs. Moore that her value scheme is prosaic and worthless, and her final collapse is the result of her most profound realization that without the superficial tendencies of everyday life, she is left with nothing at all.Though Mrs. Moore seems to rattle on endlessly in her last conversation with Ronny and Adela, one short passage stands out that begs close interpretation:Oh, why is everything still my duty? when shall I be free from your fuss? Was he in the cave and were you in the cave and on and on… and unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given…and am I good and is he bad and are we saved? and ending everything the echo. (228)When observing the structure of these thoughts, the interrogative pattern clearly deserves attention. What prompts Mrs. Moore to ask such seemingly vague questions? More importantly, does she receive any answers to them? One would suspect that her queries are either rhetorical or stream-of-consciousness ravings. Yet, a structure clearly exists the entire monologue is a statement, rather than a question. Instead of leaving these inquiring thoughts open-ended, the echo ends everything. A question mark means nothing, a question itself means nothing the echo (and whatever this echo represents) ends all curiosity, all discovery, all possibility for a new perspective. In a sense, Mrs. Moore realizes that her own ideas are futile since the echo will indiscriminately wipe out every thought she produces. In this realization lies the source of her despair: her constant questions concerning spiritual depth and understanding are to be echoed instead of answered. The echoes themselves seem resistant to critical interpretation, but Mrs. Moore’s earlier explication of them “everything exists, nothing has value” proves remarkably lucid (165). All thoughts, no matter how significant or trite, are undistinguished when reflected against the walls of the Marabar caves. “Everything exists” in that it persists without definition, without aesthetic or spiritual texture; at the same time, however, “nothing has value” since everything is negated in this echo (165). The superficialorder of her culture – and her value scheme – is completely obliterated by the chaos and disorder reflected in the echo. Her only choice is to retreat into the self, an entity that she has neither nurtured nor examined in her earlier life. As a result, she collapses into frustrated despair and empty remorse, realizing that she has neither the strength nor the perspective to continue living.Looking at the passage again, Forster’s use of pronouns also proves important to understanding the structuring of Mrs. Moore’s thought process. When these pronouns are highlighted, the questions appear framed in order to emphasize them:Oh why is everything still _my_ duty? when shall _I_ be free from your fuss? Was _he_ in the cave and were you _in_ the cave and on and on…and Unto us a Son is born, unto _us_ a Child is given…and am _I_ good and is _he_ bad and are _we_ saved? (228)Mrs. Moore uses these pronouns deliberately to emphasize the essence of her antivision. First, the pronouns illustrate the progression of her realization: she moves from the idea of her own duty to that of another single human and finally to the collective whole. In a sense, Mrs. Moore has discovered the isolating nature of her experience in the caves. Not only are her own thoughts and feelings worthless, but so then are the thoughts and feelings of Ronny, Adela, Aziz, and everyone else surrounding her. She cannot look to others for strength indeed, she feels almost compelled to muster enough inner strength for both herself and the rest of those who are unenlightened. Additionally, the pronouns accentuate just how crucial the words “I,” “we,” and “us” are to the value scheme which Mrs. Moore and in fact, the rest of British culture champion. The British consciousness finds its center in personal interest, collective duty, and most importantly, the dogma of both personal and collective salvation. Yet, the Caves’ rejection and negation of this consciousness destroys Mrs. Moore’s conception of her world. She has, in fact, come face to face with a fundamental tenet of Hinduism the highest experience requires an abrogation of the self and finds herself unable to recover from the intensity of the vision (Flod, 75). Interestingly, the source of Mrs. Moore’s ultimate despair involves her failure to find an adequate substitute for the pronouns: she perceives the echo in terms of her own ego and thus cannot evolve a more universal perspective. In addition, Mrs. Moore’s heavy pronoun use reflects her cognizance of the falseness of interactions. Realizing that her value scheme has no inherent importance, she also sees nothing but superficial triteness in the feelings and beliefs of others. Personal interactions, then, simply become aimless (and ineffectual) discourses between two artificially constructed sets of values.Also packed within this loaded passage are undertones of the British and Christian ideology which Mrs. Moore abandons, as well as references to Hindu ideology which she cannot accept. The experience in the Caves forces Mrs. Moore to reject her two most sacred value conceptions: the existence of spiritual absolutes and the idea of interpersonal love. Of the former, Mrs. Moore discovers that Christian principles are, in a sense, not adequate; her religious convictions have been based in the belief that God is always present as a physical force. But her central question reflects her sudden disillusionment: “and Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given…and am I good and is he bad and are we saved? and ending everything the echo” (228). In even the most fundamental and basic doctrines of Christianity, Mrs. Moore now sees nothing but meaningless rhetoric. Christian dogma depends on the search for a divine presence; the prophecy of the Resurrection, for instance, calls for an actual physical reinvigoration of the Lord. Hinduism, on the other hand, stresses the absent aspect of God and finds transcendence only in intangibles.Yet, Mrs. Moore cannot accept the possibility that absence implies presence. She grasps the her lifelongconcerns of personal salvation are futile and misdirected, but she cannot find any source of redemption in the formless, indefinable echo. Her religious ideology has been grounded solely in spiritual absolutes: the glorification of Jesus who was “born” and “given” to absolve the sins of man, the guiding force of divine judgment, and a vigorous commitment to achieving salvation and avoiding damnation. Interestingly, as Mrs. Moore has grown older, her commitment to these absolutes has hardened; she has found it “increasingly difficult to avoid” mentioning God’s name (65). In a sense, she has come to India to find God manifested physically and is thus shattered when she discovers that her incessant search for his presence has been doomed from the outset. (Suddenly, her seemingly profound claim in the mosque that “God is here” appears remarkably literal and painfully simplistic.) Realizing that the motivations and questions that have guided her life have been reflected and blunted by the echo, Mrs. Moore repudiates Christianity. Yet, she cannot repudiate her own ego and is thus left in a precarious limbo between her previous self-centered principles and Hindu enlightenment. Stripped of a stable perspective and fully aware that time is running out, Mrs. Moore cannot find the inner strength to continue living or to save those she loves.The first two questions of the passage deal explicitly with Mrs. Moore’s disillusioned renunciation of interpersonal relationships and more broadly, her rejection of love. Suddenly, Mrs. Moore’s entire conception of personal interactions is transformed; no common bond truly exists between people, and human understanding exists as nothing more than a rhetorical myth. Love whether between family, in a “church”, or in a “cave” exists purely as a construct that vanishes in the amoral, indiscriminate echo of the caves. Mrs. Moore must accept a fundamental truth which drives Hindu faith: love is more abstract, more intuitive, more removed from the individual’s desires than for the Christian. Love is not derivative of the self, but instead an intangible force completely detached from the precise order of Western philosophy.Once again, the echoes convince Mrs. Moore that “Everything exists, nothing has value”; as a result, her concern for others fades into weary cynicism, impatience, and ultimately indifference (165). Suddenly, nothing connects her to Aziz, Adela, or even Ronny she cannot impart her enlightenment to others because she cannot even begin to accept it herself. Indeed, the only thing Mrs. Moore can do is mutter out loud various condemnations of Westernized thought. In particular, her attacks focus on the idea of “marriage” (or “love in a church”). Convinced that “the human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage was any use,” Mrs. Moore tries to convey the opinion that even though men have practiced “carnal embracement” for centuries, they are nowhere near truly understanding each other (224, 149). (This opinion, is of cours, startlingly accurate when placed in the larger context of Forster’s narrative.) “Duty” and “fuss,” mentioned in the stream-of-consciousness thoughts above, are directly linked to this idea of fundamental misunderstanding in human interaction (228). Why believe in moral duty or waste one’s time loving another when it will ultimately end in worthless frustration? If duty, marriage, or relationships were of “any use,” universal understanding would have produced a single consciousness, “a single person.” Achieving nirvana would involve a profound human understanding, rather than the realization that the self exists only as a social and thus meaningless construct.Yet, the question remains: can Mrs. Moore possibly resolve these conflicting ideologies and at least find some form of redemption? Indeed, the echo which, ironically, silences everything proposed to it annihilates Mrs. Moore’s values and saps her strength. She retreats not only from the crisis immediately presented to her, but also from life itself; she seems trapped in a spiritual death long before her physical demise. It is no surprise, then, that she refuses to become involved in the Adela-Aziz melee; in fact, she treats the entire situation with contempt: “Was he in the cave and were you in the cave and on and on…” (228). Mrs. Moore struggles to put her convoluted thoughts into words, but the meaning is clear: the events on that fateful day ultimately signify nothing in the larger scheme. Why should it matter, she implies, if Adela was in the cave with Aziz or whether Adela was in the cave alone the echo dissolves all questions of time, space, even physical presence. This abrogation of time and space is a key element of Mrs. Moore’s despair. After wrestling with questions of religious absolutes, social duty, and even personal obligation, she has realized that the echo ends everything including her unfulfilled life. Part of this final disillusionment involves her abdication of a previously strict moral code. The caves’ echo convinces her that “everything exists”outside of a moral framework; nothing has “value” since morals cannot be attributed (165). Thus, not only does Aziz’ imprisonment have no moral repercussions, but Adela’s lies are blunted by the echoes as well. Mrs. Moore, in fact, is fully aware of Aziz’ innocence but the obligation to bear his moral burdens are intolerable. Her previously steadfast convictions melt into withered meekness and finally, a pedestrian death. But what of this death? Does Mrs. Moore ultimately matter as a character since her final thoughts (as in the passage above) are left untranslated and thus virtually meaningless?The irony, of course, is that Mrs. Moore is immortalized in the posthumous “Esmiss Esmoor” chant a hollow echo that indirectly saves Aziz. Though she disavowed all involvement in the legal proceedings and even destroyed all ties to Aziz and Adela before her death, she still manages to play a crucial role in the trial; it is her influence that brings Adela to her senses and the truth. She becomes the undefined, transcendent idol of the Indian people, a God-like figure who remains invisible and resistant to questions of time and space (much like Queen Victoria, who is treated with the same attributes earlier in the novel). Strangely, then, the Indians worship Mrs. Moore as a symbolic representation of human nirvana an enlightenment, in fact, that she never even had the strength to pursue. Indeed, Mrs. Moore would certainly be horrified that her soul remains only in the form of a meaningless echo that connects the masses behind a cause that she believed prosaic and unimportant. Ironically, she finally achieves the oneness with the universe she knew was so vehemently important albeit superficially (and unconsciously). Thus, Mrs. Moore never resolves her own muddle and yet somehow manages to be a spiritual absolute to the people who she ultimately deserted. Forster’s paradox, thus, remains startling and profoundly frustrating. Mrs. Moore’s questions are never fully answered and neither are those of Forster’s audience; instead, our concerns are silenced by the echo which blunts all questions of self and immediate understanding. The only certainty involves the renewal of the Indian cycle of human frustrations and spiritual extinction: a new questioner will emerge and ultimately take unresolved secrets to a worldly death.Mrs. Moore’s final thoughts, then, are crucial in grasping Forster’s larger narrative framework. Her character naturally attracts audience sympathy; thus, her discovery forces readers to take the novel’s events involving Aziz, Adela, and Fielding and place them in the thematic context of human understanding. By analyzing the structure of even one of these sets of thoughts, the ideological motivations driving them, and the consequences of her trying to resolve them, we discover the essence of Mrs. Moore’s antivision; without the superficial tendencies of everyday life, she is left soulless and regretful. Life suddenly seems nothing more than an empty expanse of time. It is not this realization itself, however, that ultimately debilitates Mrs. Moore. Accepting Hindu enlightenment requires profound strength, and the ability to renounce all that one has previously valued for the sake of a new, less defined perspective. Mrs. Moore still cannot disengage herself from absolutes; she reduces the revelations in the Caves to the scale of her own ego and thus remains trapped within the confines of a meaningless echo. Looking inwards, she ultimately realizes that she is unprepared to relinquish her selfhood to a transcendent world soul. Without the least resistance, she falls into a spiritual death, waiting to embrace the extant arms of silent unconsciousness.Works CitedFlod, Gavin. Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 75-77.Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. Neew York: Harcourt Brace, 1984.
As the Player Decides: Sex, Disjunction and the Narrative Voice in Forster
“Only connect,” E.M. Forster’s inscription to Howard’s End, is more problematic than it ought to be. It is a typically Forsterian injunction: idealistic, sweetly humanist and absolute, but vague and stated to be challenged. First, to what does the statement apply? It is there beneath the title, prompting the first-time reader to extend it through every situation of the novel, which is easy enough. We are meant only to connect people, perhaps, or England and Germany, or struggling and comfortable classes, or, with other works in mind, the colonizer and the colonized. The quote does not reveal itself until the final third of the book, where it refers to something interior and specific: “Only connect and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die” (188). There is of course nothing unexpected about a specific phrase having a possible wider meaning, but it is slightly unbalancing to have the large meanings present themselves first.But Forster, despite his scrupulous avoidance of the horrible, is an unexpectedly unbalancing author. This is in part an effect of his pose of steadiness. His constant, assured and auntly narrative voice promises truth through sheer force of diction: “He had known that she would pass from his hands and eyes, but had thought she could live in his mind, not realizing that the very fact that we have loved the dead increases their unreality, and that the more passionately we invoke them the further they recede” (50, Passage to India) to take an example almost at random. This trick – intruding on a character’s musings with a statement from a higher expressive power – is a recognized Forsterism. Yet this narrative voice, with its style of confidence and consistency, is proudly inconsistent. It can pronounce the dreadful resounding “ou-boum” of Mrs. Moore’s disintegration with the same force as it articulates Aziz’s joy at finding her sympathetic. Forster is a moral philosopher of a proclaimed and profound humanist bent, so his official views are easily detected: they are the nice ones. But a triumph for the Forsterian world view cannot be achieved without the defeat of a strong opposition.The idea of this dialectic as a strategy can be supported by an episode in Howard’s End that constitutes a sort of micro-cosm of the Forster novel, the description of Beethoven’s Fifth. The composer is curiously alive and active throughout the performance of his piece “Here Beethoven started decorating his tune… Here Beethoven, after humming and hawing with great sweetness, said “heigh-ho!” (45). Beethoven only ceases to be the subject during his third movement, when “a goblin walking quietly over the universe” and his cohorts fill Helen with “panic and emptiness” (46). But then, “Beethoven took hold of the goblins, and made them do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push…. and then – he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! (46). The artist is in control here, he lets the goblins loose so he can triumph over them with a vision of harmony and heroism. But this is not the natural order of things. It is a matter of the artist’s choice.Beethoven chose to make all right in the end…. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things. (47)This is Forster’s method, art wavering between optimism and uncertainty- ‘muddle.’ He starts out with a certain vision, only to have it falter in subtle and frightening ways, then reaffirms it. But the affirmation comes with an artistic admission – that articulate, dominant narrative voice chose to have things turn out that way. Life in his novels is rather like Beethoven’s sonnets: “They can triumph or despair as the player decides and Lucy had decided that they should triumph” (Room With a View 29)Yet this artistic vision of triumph and unity is presented as seen by people experiencing it in disparate and contradictory ways. Famously, Freddy follows the technicalities with the aid of the score, Mrs. Munt taps her foot, and Helen has visions of shipwrecks and goblins, which Margaret finds a little silly. Most aesthetic appreciation in Forster is like this: problematic, muddled. What is the right way to listen, or to look at the Della Roba babies and the Giotto frescos? The understanding of art, the unifying, de-muddling force, can be as disjointed and disputed as anything else.In Howard’s End, the question of disjunction is further muddled, because the problem lurking beneath the imperative “only connect” is sex. Those words, and the words “the prose and the passion” want to expand universally, covering both the unwhole world and the unwhole people in it. Instead they contract to the site of disjunction caused by the sex drive – the beast and the monk. As if strangers in the house were not enough, now there are strangers inside. The problem is expressed more clearly, if less evocatively, in Maurice. This posthumous novel centers on what his other works were literally barred from touching: the awakening of homosexuality. Sex and desire in Howard’s End, a Room with a View, and A Passage to India are brief implications of rapture or terror: a grappling in a cave, a fall into a field of violets, where kisses are shattering and anything further is only talked about later. There is no explicitness in Maurice, but we see the beginning and the end of love scenes, the veil drawn out of standard courtesy.Maurice can almost be read as a development of the famous quote from Howard’s End, as an understory to the various bargains made by Margaret, who attempts to combine the disparate elements in her husband’s lack of character. The hero is tormented by sexual desires that will not fit within the character society allows him. He does not even have the dispensation for lust allotted to straight men like his father and Mr. Wilcox. His first love Clive, who makes an improbable conversion to heterosexuality, enjoys such a Wilcoxian marriage: “They united in a world that bore no reverence to the daily, and this secrecy drew after it much else of their lives. So much could never be mentioned” (151). Yet Maurice, by his very deviance, is saved from this compartmentalized state. As the wavering, absolute narrator says of Clive’s attitude towards sex: “Between men it is inexcusable, between men and women it may be practised since nature and society approve, but never discussed not vaunted” (151). Between men it is inexcusable, and so must be discussed, or at least thought about. Thus, the young Maurice, when told about sex by his schoolteacher, is able to recognize that the societal scripts for love are inconclusive and flawed, his homosexual desires reveal it to him: “‘Liar,’ he thought. ‘Liar, coward, he’s told me nothing.'” (9). The delicate moral issues and concerns with conventionality that run through the more famous novels reappear as the difficulties of a man trying to write out sexuality.And in this, at least, Forster’s much invoked “muddle” becomes a desirable state. Queer desire is unscripted, beyond the pale, and so demands a reconsideration of marriage, of love and society as a whole. It demands a rewriting, and this is where the conscientious author can triumph. The mysterious bargains made by heterosexual couples tend to enforce whatever limits and boundaries are already there. Leonard Bast, whose marriage is a lurid pun on the union between the beast and the monk, relies on canons for his intellectual life, his singular place as a clerk for everything else. He is devoted to keeping them separate. As Forster suggests in Aspects of the Novel, the various facts of human life are separate, and almost irreconcilable. But as the author can chose to tell us everything and “suggest a more comprehensible and thus a more manageable human race” (70), the character can choose to make the bridge and create his or herself, to “only connect” and become the author of his or her own crucial “I.”Works CitedForster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. Penguin Classics 2000.Forster, E.M. Howard’s End Penguin English Library, 1984.Forster, E.M. Maurice. Holder and Stoughton, London, 1971.Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. Guild Publishing, London, 1987.Forster, E.M. A Room with a View. Holder and Stoughton, London, 1977.
Howards End and A Passage to India: Fictional Barriers to Communication, and the Creation of Real Empathy
‘He heard the will in his wife’s voice, and was at a loss. Her language was unintelligible to him’ (D.H. Lawrence).
In the novels Howards End and A Passage to India, EM Forster evokes the social backgrounds and priorities of his characters through the difference in their language, and the difficulties they have in communicating with each other. The marriage of Margaret and Henry in Howards End appears to reconcile two worlds by joining the moral, cultured Schlegals, primarily concerned with ideas and words, with the bullying, dynamic Wilcoxes and their ‘outer life’ of ‘telegrams and anger’ (this description by Margaret in Chapter 4 reduces them to modern brutality but also admits their superior ability for ‘outer’ action.) The differences between husband and wife, however, are still prevalent in their conversations, as Forster exhibits in their disagreement over Helen in chapter 34. Forster expresses Margaret’s realisation that something could be wrong with Helen mentally as an epiphany about London: ‘Helen seemed one with the grimy trees and the traffic and the slowly flowering slabs of mud… she felt that her sister had been going amiss for many years’. Margaret’s romantic ideas about the pollution of London compared to the idyllic countryside as embodied by Howards End are an impractical but characteristic part of her concern.
Henry, on the other hand, receives the news with clichéd remarks, like that it was ‘just like Helen’ to worry her relatives. He is not concerned with any lists of original imagery or using language in a different way at all, and when Margaret asks why Helen’s nature is ‘allowed to be so queer, and to grow queerer’ he replies ‘Don’t ask me. I’m a plain man of business. I live and let live.’ His short sentences, often capturing common idioms, separate him from the Schlegels’ meaning, and when Tibby says that he has not seen the point, Henry replies ‘I don’t suppose I ever shall’ as though admitting the limitations of communication between him and the ‘gifted but ridiculous family’ he laughs at. The lack of verbal ingenuity is one barrier of characteristics between the married couple, but another, as Forster demonstrates a page later, is his inherent aggression: speaking of Helen as an object to be seized, he asks ‘You want to get a hold of her?’ and plots to lie to her so that ‘we can run her up to a specialist in no time.’ As the narrator comments, his intentions are good but the plan ‘drew its ethics from the wolf-pack’ and Margaret rejects it on the grounds that ‘It’s not the particular language that Helen and I talk’; the direct plan of action could not work due to the language-based sympathies of the sisters.
In A Passage to India, the contrast of the characters Mrs Moore and Adela lies in the ease with which Mrs Moore adapts to her surroundings through conversation, called a true ‘Oriental’ by Aziz, whereas Forster depicts Miss Quested as having a theoretical sympathy towards the native Indians rather than a natural one. The efforts of both Miss Quested in this novel and Helen in Howards End are seemingly well-intentioned but fundamentally flawed and result in them actively ruining the lives of those who they are trying to understand or help. The barriers between Adela and full understanding of India are evoked in the stilted conversation between her and Aziz: in their conversation amongst the Marabar Caves, she shocks him by asking with no knowledge of Indian marriage besides Mrs Turton’s racism, ‘Have you one wife or more than one?’ Forster prefaces this blunder with the description ‘in her honest, decent, inquisitive way’ (the triplicate of adjectives appearing almost hyperbolically defensive) and clarifies that the attachment to one wife is a ‘new conviction’ for an educated Muslim like Aziz at this time, as though to lessen the impact of her honest ignorance through narration. The comparative dishonesty of Aziz is also emphasised as though in her defence: he lies because he feels it is ‘more artistic to have his wife alive for a moment’ and tries to ‘conceal his confusion’ through the stuttering ‘one, one in my own particular case’. Aziz is also speaking in a language foreign to him, and is exerting himself to impress Adela with little reciprocation; rather than shielding Adela by making him appear dishonest and therefore immoral, however, Forster uses these complications and barriers to natural communication to illustrate how little Adela is attempting to connect in comparison. While Aziz makes an effort to protect her feelings by hiding how offended he is, Adela is ‘quite unconscious that she had said the wrong thing’ and leaves ‘not seeing him’. This ignorance demonstrates that the difficulties in communication they have stem from the fact that she is using him as a representation of his culture, rather than a person who she could offend. The condescension behind her thoughts, such as diluting the admiration in ‘what a handsome little Oriental he was’ with the diminishing caveats of ‘little’ and ‘Oriental’ rather than simply ‘man’, prevent her from speaking as honestly with him as Mrs Moore does.
Another example of an attempt to impress met with well-intended condescension is Howards End’s Leonard. In Chapter 5 of Howards End, Leonard compares his conversation to that of the cultured Schlegel sisters wistfully: ‘If he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh, to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce foreign names correctly! Oh, to be well informed, discoursing at ease on every subject that a lady started!’ The poetic nature of this triadic structure, with the wistful interjections of ‘Oh’ regretting his ignorance, may seem to contradict the character’s actual meaning as he can speak elegantly. During their actual conversation in chapter 14, however, the sisters treat him as a curiosity because he speaks so differently and is so separate from culture. By saying ‘No’, that the dawn was not wonderful as Helen expected, he gains ‘unforgettable sincerity’ by presenting a practical, working-class view of the world and ‘down toppled all that had seemed ignoble or literary in his talk’. He excites the sisters by talking about how hungry he was instead of beauty or culture (indeed, the narrator mocks his cultural aspiration with the childishly rhyming ‘Borrow, Thoreau and sorrow’.) Leonard wishes for the power that comes with cultured language, but only is remarkable to the sisters, and perhaps to the reader, as a contrast.
In an almost comically literal metaphor, Leonard is ultimately killed by a representation of the upper classes and collapses in a ‘shower’ of books due to a misunderstanding: his desire to associate with and speak the same language as his social “superiors” has brought about his downfall. The language of his perspective shifts to simplistic, infantilised short sentences in his final moments as well, as though to heighten the contrast: ‘The man took him by the collar and cried: “Bring me a stick.” Women were screaming. A stick, very bright, descended. It hurt him, not where it descended, but in the heart. Books fell over him in a shower. Nothing had sense.’ He has no understanding of who ‘the man’ is or why books are falling over him, and the childish simplicity of language like ‘It hurt him’ or ‘Nothing had sense’ echoes the narrator calling him a ‘naive and sweet-tempered boy’ in Chapter 14. He is overwhelmed by this world and the language of it (even when it is not intended maliciously, as when he is ‘hurt terribly’ by Helen’s supposedly kind letter in Shropshire), and Forster reflects that in the language of his final moments.
Forster’s characters use language to bridge the gap of West and East in A Passage to India in a manner unlike the real Anglo-Indians for whom Forster had an admitted ‘lack of sympathy’. The friendship between Cyril Fielding and Aziz begins when the former casually says ‘Please make yourself at home’ at his house, as Aziz is honoured by the familiarity. While it may seem like basic etiquette, the actions of the English at the garden party in which they ignore their Indian guests and in Chapter 1 when Mrs Callender takes Aziz’s tonga clearly portray a society in which polite language is used as a conduit for further association only amongst certain groups. The Anglo-Indians often ignore polite convention with the Indians, which is why this formal show of etiquette is paradoxically familiar, and incites a friendly relationship. Fielding and Aziz are, however, separated by Fielding’s empathy towards Adela after the trial: language here does not come between them but their identities, as Aziz has chosen to reject the Western world after being so badly misunderstood by it. In the original 1913 draft, Forster had Aziz revealed as guilty, but the final version embodies a lot more sympathy for his character and for falsely vilified Indians (perhaps influenced by the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 – there is a clear parallel in the idea of forcing Indians to crawl past a certain spot where an English woman had been supposedly hurt, which was enforced by General Dyer in real life.) This empathy, creating what Leonard Woolf called ‘the most absolutely “real” Indian to be found in fiction’, makes his choice understandable for British readers who may more naturally align themselves with Fielding. The argument does therefore appear realistic on both sides and inevitable, happening despite communication rather than because of it.
After they reunite at the end, Forster writes that ‘Tangles like this still interrupted their intercourse. A pause in the wrong place, an intonation misunderstood, and a whole conversation went awry’. Even between these natural friends, misunderstandings still arise because of specific social barriers complicating their language. The natural world itself rejects the idea of them being true friends in the final lines as ‘the earth didn’t want it… 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”’. The emphasis by disrupted anaphora of ‘yet’ and ‘there’ make it clear that the time and place of their acquaintance is to blame. This failure is an example of an originally shared affinity through language not being sufficient, and their fundamental beings as Western and Eastern sabotaging a connection. Edward Said described the barriers to their friendship as ‘ontological’, rather than ‘political’ or an inability to speak the same language, so in his view Forster unfortunately neutralises the Indian nationalism movement, as they are not a political force eloquently capturing the need for freedom in words.
The use of language unspoken within the narrative but clearly from a certain characters’ perspective is complicated by the presence of a narrator. For example, in Howards End, the extent of the Schlegel’s hypocrisy in treating Leonard, and how that may impact the miscommunications between them, is uncertain as the particularly cruel inner comments of Margaret used by Bradshaw as evidence of her snobbery such as describing Leonard as metaphorically trailing ‘odours from the abyss’ could be coloured by the narrator. The commentator of Howards End does interject their opinion, and does exhibit classist attitudes when, for example, sneeringly describing the Basts’ living room as fitted with ‘one of the masterpieces of Maude Goodman’ (a saccharine artist very popular at the time.) The narrator’s role in this novel is clearly biased and that may obscure the unspoken language of the characters; this may be Forster’s intent, however, as it evokes the sense of miscommunication that the Schlegels, Wilcoxes and Basts live through. The narration in ‘A Passage to India’, on the other hand, grants unprecedented amounts of sympathy to an Indian character as Aziz, who speaks in a foreign language to all the English characters, is a victim of miscommunication rather than the perpetrator. The social context of these novels lend relevance to the barriers the characters face. The class differences as well as differing methods of dealing with a changing world of class in Howards End prevent clear communication, and the ultimate lack of empathy towards those of a different race in A Passage to India means that the English and the Indian cannot maintain friendship ‘now’. Through the novels themselves, however, Forster managed to communicate the biases and motivations of his characters in a language the reader would understand, creating a revolutionary empathy.
A Comparative Analysis of Heart of Darkness and A Passage to India
At a glimpse, it might seem quite uncanny to compare two such seemingly dissimilar works as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Apart from disparity in their length and structure (Heart of Darkness: a novella, A Passage to India: a fully developed novel), the two narratives are separated by a generation and were produced in differing periods of each writer’s career. Each of the two novelists emerged from a very different background and had a very unique upbringing. In the case of Conrad, the novella is the direct outcome of his experiences as in charge of a small river steamboat in the African Congo in 1890. For his part, E.M. Forster, after having traveled so often through India, seems to have produced A Passage to India as a result of his own ‘passages’ there.
Regardless of all these factual differences, the two novels have much in common. Both works deal with the issues of colonialism and not only ‘fall’ into the category of post-colonial literature, but doubtlessly trigger a lot of debatable problems related to colonialism that otherwise lay hidden under the feigned integrity of the British rule. Just as Heart of Darkness, though apparently dealing with an ordinary seaman’s journey, is claimed not to be a ‘typical’ one, similarly, the “Passage” that Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested take to India is a lot more than simply a passage. This multiplicity of meaning makes it quite obvious that both the novels must be comprehended at various reading levels in order to derive complete essence out of them.
Both the novels carry the burden of factual evidence from specific eras of history. A Passage to India puts before our eyes the time of decline of the British Empire following World War I, while Heart of Darkness takes us into the realm of the European Imperial Powers resulting in a lot of scuttling in Africa. In this way, both E.M. Forster and Joseph Conrad can be taken as perfect examples of the writers who could explicitly voice the mood of a particular moment in history. The views of natives expressed in both the novels against ‘imperialism’ and its impact are the epitome of their times. ‘Social Darwinism’ and ‘Euro-centrism’ are two notions directly traced by both the novelists in a thorough manner. Only the ‘Fittest’ could survive in the world depicted by them and the only possible ‘center’ for the production of ‘fitness’ in that world was doubtlessly considered to be ‘Europe’.
The mastery of the production of outstanding characters that fix so well in their actual costumes of history can only be the trait of an exceptional writer. Both Conrad and Forster are bestowed with this trait which they exhibit well in these two masterpieces. Both stories are related from the viewpoints of European characters who find themselves in foreign lands as direct representatives of a European power or due to some connection with imperial activity, although A Passage to India is unusual in a way that it also throws light on the viewpoint of a colonial native. Conrad’s characters take up their roles and move ahead with the flow. Kurtz is one of the most skillfully created characters in both psychological and moral terms. He is depicted as a representative of the entire Western civilization. Just like Ted Hughes’s ‘Hawk’ in ‘Hawk Roosting’ boasts about itself that: ‘It took the whole of creation/To produce my foot, my each feather/Now I hold Creation in my foot’, similarly, ‘All Europe contributed to making of Kurtz’ which gave vent to his ‘unspeakable rites’ and ‘unsound methods’. His conclusion at the end to ‘Exterminate all the brutes”, seen in the political-cum-moral dimension, can be considered as capitalist exploitation aspiring at world supremacy. Forster’s characters are very strong and fully developed. Like Conrad, we find him focusing on the trials of the individual in a situation of moral isolation leading either to destruction or illumination. Dr. Aziz, a mess of extremes and contradictions, seems to be an embodiment of Forster’s notion of the ‘muddle’ of India. Directly or indirectly, Forster wants us to see many of the characteristics of Dr. Aziz as the traits of many of the Indians in general. Fielding is yet another interesting character in the novel. Just as Marlow serves as an intermediary between the two extremes of Kurtz and the Company, similarly, Fielding appears to be a moderator between the Court and Dr. Aziz.
Human Relations and their limitations is yet another very important aspect recurring time and again in both the novels. Forster is exceedingly drifted towards humanistic philosophy and his characters turn out to be good subjects for psychoanalysis. Nowhere do we find his voice clearer and louder than in A Passage to India, in which human relations are pushed to the very limits, trying to break boundaries of numerous kinds and attempting to bridge the gap between cultures and castes, a gap that remains as wide as ever by the end. Despite Dr. Aziz’s claim that “This picnic is nothing to do with English or Indian; it is an expedition of friends”, he has to pay a heavy price for attempting to be intimate with English people even though everything gets resolved in his favor ultimately. We certainly agree with the idea the result is just a disaster ‘when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially.’ Similarly, Heart of Darkness can also be studied as Marlow’s journey into the depths of human psyche and relations. The darkness becomes a prejudice that fails to see other culture as humans and rejects all sorts of intimacy between people of different races.
Symbolism is an important tool for writers. But for some particular writers, this tool turns into a very powerful weapon with which they can not only defend their thoughts well but very skillfully convince their readers to support their standpoint. Both Conrad and Forster own this very weapon and utilize it fully in their work. The landscape, rivers, caves and even various characters are taken as symbols representing very complex ideas.
Darkness is associated with almost all the places and people that Marlow comes across including his own self. The river Thames, like the dark Africa, turns out to be one of the dark places. ‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the world’ (Conrad 7). The river that Marlow travels in serves as a multi-level symbol in the novel as do the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India. Each of these ‘nature’ symbols represents not only a number of ideas but at the same time they remain the vague center of each idea. The river that, according to Marlow, resembled ‘an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest, curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land’ reminds us of the snakes that Dr.Aziz mentions to Mrs. Moore , saying, “There are bad characters about and leopards may come across from the Marabar Hills. Snakes also.”
The experience that Miss Quested had at the caves can also be taken as the realization of her own inner darkness. The hysteria she experienced afterwards could also be compared with the last words of Kurtz, ‘The horror, the horror’. The Fact that Mrs. Moore had a similar feeling of awe after hearing the echo in one of the caves is another hint into the power of the symbol of Caves. Dark as they apparently are, these caves seem to be laden with the ability to throw light on the inner darkness of humans. Like Coleridge’s ‘caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea’ presented in ‘Kubla Khan’ , these Malabar caves of India have their own awe, their own terror and their own dreadful impact.
The endings of both the novels leave a somewhat similar impact on the readers. While everything seems to ‘lead into the heart of an immense darkness’ for Conrad’s protagonist, all the forces of nature seem to deny the union of East and West in the world of Dr. Aziz and Fielding. ‘No, not yet,’ and the sky said, ‘No, not there.’