The Marabar Tragedy: A Disaster Foreseen

April 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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