The Novel “A Passage to India” by Edward Morgan Forster Research Paper
Updated: May 19th, 2020
One of the main indications that a particular work of literature represents a high value as a ‘thing in itself’, is this work’s universally recognized ability to enlighten readers on what are the main causes of the current socio-economic situation in the world to remain what it is (Johnston, 1990). In light of the above suggested, the novel A Passage to India by E. M. Forster can indeed be considered utterly valuable.
The reason for this is that the themes and motifs, contained in it, reveal the hidden reason why, throughout the course of Britain’s colonial rule in India, the socio-economic dynamics in this country never ceased to reflect the fact that, whereas, the British colonists/administrators used to profess the so-called ‘Faustian’ (Western) existential values, their Indian subjects continued to be affiliated with the ‘Oriental’ ones (Spengler, 1932). In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion in length, while promoting the idea that one of the main reasons why India was able to shake off the colonial yoke in 1947, is that the culturally predetermined psychological difference between the British, on one hand, and Indians, on the other, proved rather irreconcilable.
Body of the paper
Probably the most memorable aspect of the novel in question is the fact that much misunderstanding that occurs between the British and Indian main characters, featured in it, come as the result that these characters appear to be differently ‘brain wired’. After all, it now represents a commonplace assumption that there is indeed a qualitative difference between how Westerns and Orientals tend to reflect on the surrounding social reality and their place in it.
As Bower noted, “In a variety of reasoning tasks, Orientals take a ‘holistic’ approach. They make little use of categories and formal logic and instead focus on relations among objects and the context in which they interact… Westerners adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context” (2000, p. 57). Therefore, there is nothing too surprising about the fact that, even though the characters of Aziz (Indian) and Adela (British) were equally affluent in English, the longer they socialized together, the slimmer were becoming their chances to befriend each other. After all, there can be indeed only a few doubts that, as opposed to what it happened to be the case with Aziz, Adela tended to address life-challenges in the rationale-driven matter.
For example, while striving to realize what accounts for the ‘authentic’ image of India, Adela never ceased believing that she would be in the position to gain an in-depth insight, in this respect, by the mean of making an analytical inquiry into India’s ethno-cultural uniqueness. However, Adela’s approach, in this respect, proved rather ineffective, as it implies that, regardless of what happened to be the specifics of people’s ethno-cultural affiliation, they adhere to the Western value of a perceptual rationalism – just as Westerners do. Therefore, it is not utterly surprising why, despite the fact that Adele never acted arrogantly towards Indians, she continued to fail when trying to establish the atmosphere of informality between herself and her newly acquired Indian acquaintances. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the novel’s scene, in which Adela’s socialization-effort, during the course of the Bridge Party, sustained an utter fiasco: “Miss Quested (Adela) now had her desired opportunity; friendly Indians were before her, and she tried to make them talk, but she failed, she strove in vain against the echoing walls of their civility” (Forster 1965, p. 55).
Apparently, Adela could not bring herself to consider the possibility that the observable difference between the British and Indians did not merely concern the particulars of both peoples’ physical appearance, but also the fact that, unlike the British, Indians are predisposed to indulge in the ‘perceptual holism’. That is, they strive to objectify (to ‘blend’) themselves within the surrounding environment, as its integral part (Findly, 2002).
This is exactly the reason why the religion of Hinduism (as well as Buddhism) proclaims that the main indication of one being a thoroughly virtuous person is his or her willingness to consider the possibility that in this world, everything has to do with everything and that good and evil very much derive out of each other. For example, after having been asked to tell about whether he believed that Aziz was indeed guilty of trying to sneak up on Adela in the Marabar Caves, Professor Godbole (a Brahman Hindu) stated, “Nothing can be performed in isolation. All perform a good action, when one is performed, and when an evil action is performed, all perform it” (Forster, 1965, p. 200). Even though Aziz was a Muslim, he nevertheless used to act just as ‘holistically’, while trying to make sense out of his existence – hence, the character’s strongly defined sense of religiosity: “Aziz liked to hear his religion praised. It soothed the surface of his mind, and allowed beautiful images to form beneath” (Forster, 1965, p. 120).
After all, as it appears from the novel’s context, Aziz grew up in the rural area, which in turn presupposes that, ever since his early years, this character has used to rely on agriculture, as the mean of ensuring his physical survival – just as it happened to be the case with the majority of Indians even today. Yet, as psychologists are being well aware of, people who used to take part in the agricultural pursuits since they were young, are naturally predisposed to pursue with a strongly spiritual lifestyle (Andrews, 2006). The reason for this is that, due to the whims of weather, there is much uncertainty to the concerned pursuits – something that causes peasants to turn to ‘god’, as the mean of making sure that the weather remains favorable.
Another aspect of the rural mode of living is that its affiliates tend to be endowed with the strongly defined sense of a tribal solidarity. This simply could not be otherwise, because, one of the main preconditions for the agriculture-dependent peasants to succeed professionally, is their willingness to cooperate during the time of hardship – something that requires for the concerned individual to be emotionally ‘attuned’ with each other (Hallpike, 1976).
This explains why, while socializing with the British, many of the novel’s Indian characters seem to rely on their ability to ‘sense’ of what is being communicated to them, rather than on their ability to logically grasp the conveyed messages’ implications. Nevertheless, throughout the novel, the mentioned reliance, on the Indian characters’ part, often backfires – hence, causing them to experience a great deal of confusion, within the context of how they interrelate with the British. The full soundness of this statement can be shown, in regards to the novel’s scene, in which Aziz tries to impress Adela and Mrs.
Moore by the mean of having prearranged an elephant for their ride to the Marabar Caves: “An elephant, waving her painted forehead at the morn! ‘Oh, what a surprise!’ called the ladies politely. Aziz said nothing, but he nearly burst with pride and relief” (Forster, 1965, p. 159). Little did this character know about the fact that, by suggesting that they would like to get the taste of authentic India, both ladies the least wanted to be exposed to the sight of an elephant and to the consequent prospect to have a ride on it. The reason for this is that, whereas, Aziz tended to think of the notion of ‘authenticity’ as having been synonymous with the notion of ‘emotional intensity’, Adela and Mrs. Moore were innately predisposed to think of ‘authenticity’ in terms of an ‘intellectual enlightenment’.
This reveals the main reason why, despite having been grossly over-numbered by Indians, a handful of the British was able to keep India in submission for a long time. Apparently, the rationale-mindedness of the British (as it can be seen in Forster’s novel) was nothing but yet another extrapolation of their endowment with the ‘Faustian’ mentality, sublimated in these people’s desire to dominate the world. As Greenwood noted, ‘Faustians’ believe that, “Individual’s willpower must never cease combating obstacles, that the catastrophes of existence come as an inevitable culmination of past choices and experiences, and that the conflict is the essence of existence” (2009, p. 53). Therefore, it is fully explainable, why throughout the course of the novel, many of the featured British characters try to come up with names for the exotic plants/animals that encountered in India – by naming an unfamiliar object, one attains a discursive mastery over it (Hayes, 2005).
The earlier mentioned tribal anxieties, on the part of native Indians, also contributed towards the fact that the British were able to dominate India for centuries. This simply could not be otherwise, because one’s strong affiliation with the tribal mode of living, naturally presupposes the concerned individual’s lack of tolerance towards others. Thus, there is nothing too odd about the fact that the Indian society even today continues to be deeply divided along a number of different ethno-cultural and socio-economic ways – this is just another effect of how the mentality of Indians actually functions (Vaid, 2012).
In light of what has been said earlier, the main discursive message that Forster’s novel conveys, can be formulated as follows: In India, The British used to act as ‘Faustians’, obsessed with striving to rule and to dominate just about everything they happened to lay their eye upon. While acting as the adherents of the value of a will-powered rationalism, they initially did not experience any trouble with maintaining their colonial rule in India (Himanshu, 2006).
Nevertheless, there were a number of the objective reasons for such their rule to grow progressively undermined, as the result of its continuous exposure to the sheer immensity of India’s ‘primevalness’. Forster’s novel provides us with the insight into how many British characters used to experience the concerned process emotionally, without being able to explain what their emotions, in this respect, did signify. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the scene in which, after having been taken on a tour to the Marabar Hills, Adela and Mrs. Moore ended up experiencing the sensation of an utter psychological discomfort, as the result of their realization that there was something utterly ‘uncanny’ about the sight, “They (hills) are like nothing else in the world, and a glimpse of them makes the breath catch. They rise abruptly, insanely, without the proportion that is kept by the wildest hills elsewhere, they bear no relation to anything dreamt or seen” (Forster, 1965, p. 142).
The both characters’ sensation, in this respect, can be explained by the fact that, while exposed to the sight of the Marabar Hills, they were growing unconsciously aware that there was no way for the rationally-minded British to succeed in maintaining their colonial rule in India forever. The reason for this is that such a state of affairs would have violated the laws of nature.
Nevertheless, it is namely the scene, in which Adela and Mrs. Moore experienced nothing short of a sheer horror, as the result of their descent into the Marabar Caves, which can be considered the most illustrative of the novel’s subtly promoted idea that Europeans could never understand what India is all about. As this scene implies, it was specifically their realization of the ‘nullifying’ effect of the strangely sounding echo, which troubled both characters’ the most, “The echo in a Marabar cave … is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. ‘Boum’ is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or ‘bou-oum,’ or ‘ou-boum,’- utterly dull” (Forster, 1965, p. 168).
The reason for this is that Adela and Mrs. Moore felt as if this echo was undermining their sense of self-identity. It reminded them that, despite having been blessed with their rational-mindedness, the British are being nevertheless fully subjected to the primeval forces of nature, just as it happened to be the case with the ‘simple-minded’ Indians – a rather troubling realization for anyone who happened to be an intellectually sophisticate individual. As Christensen pointed out, “The Caves, however, do not do not expose an imaginary, self-apparent truth about India… Rather, the Caves reveal an empty space, a final and self-grounding ‘nothing’ in the truth about India” (2006, p. 161).
This helps us to understand why, throughout the time of their colonial presence in India, the British used to make a deliberate point in keeping a certain distance between themselves and their Indian subjects, “Anything but disaster result when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially. Intercourse, yes. Courtesy, by all means. Intimacy—never, never” (Forster, 1294, p. 198). Apparently, such British strategy had to do with the fact that, while being in control of India, the British never ceased to be unconsciously aware that the concerned state of affairs could continue only for as long as this country remained ‘asleep’, in the allegorical sense of this word. Once ‘awaken’, however, India would not leave its self-proclaimed rulers from Britain even a slightest chance (Rakesh, 1994). The validity of this suggestion becomes self-evident, once we mention the sheer effectiveness of the ‘peaceful resistance’ strategy, deployed by Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle for India’s independence (Godrej, 2006; Kupfer, 2007).
The most peculiar aspect of this strategy was the fact that it did not require its affiliates to act actively, while trying to end the British colonial rule in India. Yet, it did bring about the situation that, as of 1947, the British colonial administrators realized themselves in being no longer in the position to have any influence on the socio-political dynamics in India – hence, their decision to leave.
I believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, as to what can be considered the discursive significance of Forster’s novel, correlates perfectly well with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, the world’s countries can be categorized in terms of ‘predators’, on one hand, and ‘herbivores’, on the other. Traditionally, Britain (as well as many other Western European countries) used to act as a ‘predator’ – especially while implementing its colonial policies overseas. India, on the other hand, used to act as a ‘herbivore’. Nevertheless, as Foster’s novel and the qualitative aspects of the 20th century’s history imply, there can be very little logic in assuming that ‘predator’-countries are necessarily superior.
It is understood, of course, that they have what it takes (their citizens’ endowment with the domination-seeking ‘Faustian’ mentality) to bring ‘herbivore’-countries in the state of submission. This submission, however, usually proves short-lived – while in the process of exercising an authority in the colonies, the rationally-minded European colonists grow overwhelmed by the sheer vitality of those ‘savages’ that they try to control. Thus, it will only be logical to end this paper by reinstating once again that reading of the novel A Passage to India by E. M. Forster should prove utterly beneficial for just about anyone who strives to find an explanation, as to why in the aftermath of the WW2, Britain did not have any other choice but to let India free.
Andrews, D. (2006). Sustainability and spirituality. Rural Sociology, 71 (1), 166-168. Web.
Bower, B. (2000). Cultures of reason. Science News, 157 (4): 56-58. Web.
Christensen, T. (2006). Bearing the white man’s burden: Misrecognition and cultural difference in E. M. Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 39 (2), 155-178. Web.
Findly, E. (2002). Hinduism and ecology: The intersection of earth, sky, and water. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 122 (4), 925-927. Web.
Forster, E.M. (1965). A passage to India. London: Mariner books. Web.
Godrej, F. (2006). Nonviolence and Gandhi’s truth: A method for moral and political arbitration. The Review of Politics, 68 (2), 287-317. Web.
Greenwood, S. (2009). Anthropology of magic. Oxford:.Berg Publishers. Web.
Hallpike, C. (1976). Is there a primitive mentality? Man, 11 (2), 253-270. Web.
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Johnston, J. (1990). Discourse as event: Foucault, writing, and literature. MLN, 105 (4), 800-818. Web.
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Vaid, D. (2012). The caste-class association in India: An empirical analysis. Asian Survey, 52 (2), 395-422. Web.
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