A Passage to India

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For the 1984 film based on this novel, see A Passage to India (film).
A Passage to India
Bookcover a passage to india.jpg
First edition (UK)
Author E.M. Forster
Country England
Language English
Publisher Edward Arnold, (UK)
Harcourt Brace (US)
Publication date
1924
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
OCLC 59352597

A Passage to India (1924) is a novel by English author E. M. Forster set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. It was selected as one of the 100 great works of English literature by the Modern Library and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Time magazine included the novel in its "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".[1] The novel is based on Forster's experiences in India. E.M. Forster borrowed the book's title from Walt Whitman's poem of the same name in Leaves of Grass.

The story revolves around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Mr. Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Miss Adela Quested. During a trip to the Marabar Caves (modeled on the Barabar Caves of Bihar),[2] Adela finds herself alone with Dr. Aziz in one of the caves, panicks and flees; it is assumed that Dr. Aziz had attempted to assault her. Aziz's trial, and its run-up and aftermath, bring out all the racial tensions and prejudices between indigenous Indians and the British colonists who rule India.

Plot summary[edit]

A young British schoolmistress, Adela Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore, visit the fictional city of Chandrapore, British India which is said to have been based on the city of Bankipur, a suburb of Patna in the state of Bihar. Adela is to decide if she wants to marry Mrs. Moore's son, Ronny Heaslop, the city magistrate.

Meanwhile, Dr. Aziz, a young Indian Muslim physician, is dining with two of his Indian friends and conversing about whether it is possible to be a friend of an Englishman. During the meal, a summons arrives from Major Callendar, Aziz's unpleasant superior at the hospital. Aziz hastens to Callendar's bungalow as ordered, but is delayed by a flat tyre and difficulty in finding a tonga and the major has already left in a huff.

Disconsolate, Aziz walks down the road toward the railway station. When he sees his favourite mosque, a rather ramshackle but beautiful structure, he enters on impulse. He sees a strange Englishwoman there, and angrily yells at her not to profane this sacred place. The woman, who turns out to be Mrs Moore, has respect for native customs (she had taken off her shoes before entering and she acknowledged that "God is here" in the mosque). This disarms Aziz, and the two chat and part as friends.

Mrs. Moore returns to the British club down the road and relates her experience at the mosque. Ronny Heaslop, her son, initially thinks she is talking about an Englishman, and becomes indignant when he learns the facts. He thinks she should have indicated by her tone that it was a "Mohammedan" who was in question. Adela, however, is intrigued.

Because the newcomers had expressed a desire to see Indians, Mr. Turton, the city tax collector, invites numerous Indian gentlemen to a party at his house. The party turns out to be an awkward business, thanks to the Indians' timidity and the Britons' bigotry, but Adela does meet Cyril Fielding, headmaster of Chandrapore's government-run college for Indians. Fielding invites Adela and Mrs. Moore to a tea party with him and a Hindu-Brahmin professor named Narayan Godbole. On Adela's request, he extends his invitation to Dr. Aziz.

At Fielding's tea party, everyone has a good time conversing about India, and Fielding and Aziz even become great friends. Aziz buoyantly promises to take Mrs. Moore and Adela to see the Marabar Caves, a distant cave complex that everyone talks about but no one seems to actually visit. Aziz's Marabar invitation was one of those casual promises that people often make and never intend to keep. Ronny Heaslop arrives and rudely breaks up the party.

Aziz mistakenly believes that the women are really offended that he has not followed through on his promise and arranges an outing to the caves at great expense to himself. Fielding and Godbole were supposed to accompany the little expedition, but they miss the train.

Aziz and the women begin to explore the caves. In the first cave, however, Mrs. Moore is overcome with claustrophobia, for the cave is dark and Aziz's retinue has followed her in. The press of people nearly smothers her. But worse than the claustrophobia is the echo. No matter what sound one makes, the echo is always "Boum." Disturbed by the echo, Mrs. Moore declines to continue exploring. So Adela and Aziz, accompanied by a single guide, a local man, climb on up the hill to the next cluster of caves.

As Aziz helps Adela up the hill, she innocently asks him whether he has more than one wife. Disconcerted by the bluntness of the remark, he ducks into a cave to compose himself. When he comes out, he finds the guide sitting alone outside the caves. The guide says Adela has gone into one of the caves by herself. Aziz looks for her in vain. Deciding she is lost, he angrily strikes the guide, who runs away. Aziz looks around again and discovers Adela's field glasses lying broken on the ground. He puts them in his pocket.

Then Aziz looks down the hill and sees Adela speaking to another young Englishwoman, Miss Derek, who has arrived with Fielding in a car. Aziz runs down the hill and greets Fielding effusively, but Miss Derek and Adela have already driven off without a word of explanation. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Aziz return to Chandrapore on the train.

Then the blow falls. At the train station, Dr. Aziz is arrested and charged with sexually assaulting Adela in a cave. She reports the alleged incident to the British authorities.

The run-up to Aziz's trial for attempted sexual assault releases the racial tensions between the British and the Indians. Adela accuses Aziz only of trying to touch her. She says that he followed her into the cave and tried to grab her, and that she fended him off by swinging her field glasses at him. She remembers him grabbing the glasses and the strap breaking, which allowed her to get away. The only actual evidence the British have is the field glasses in the possession of Dr. Aziz. Despite this, the British colonists firmly believe that Aziz is guilty; at the back of all their minds is the conviction that all darker peoples lust after white women. They are stunned when Fielding proclaims his belief in Aziz's innocence. Fielding is ostracised and condemned as a blood-traitor. But the Indians, who consider the assault allegation a fraud aimed at ruining their community's reputation, welcome him.

During the weeks before the trial, Mrs. Moore is unexpectedly apathetic and irritable. Her experience in the cave seems to have ruined her faith in humanity. Although she curtly professes her belief in Aziz's innocence, she does nothing to help him. Ronny, alarmed by his mother's assertion that Aziz is innocent, decides to arrange for her return by ship to England before she can testify to this effect at the trial. Mrs. Moore dies during the voyage. Her absence from India becomes a major issue at the trial, where Aziz's legal defenders assert that her testimony alone, had it been available, would have proven the accused's innocence.

After an initial period of fever and weeping, Adela becomes confused as to Aziz's guilt. At the trial, she is asked point-blank whether Aziz sexually assaulted her. She asks for a moment to think before replying. She has a vision of the cave in that moment, and it turns out that Adela had, while in the cave, received a shock similar to Mrs. Moore's. The echo had disconcerted her so much that she temporarily became unhinged. She ran around the cave, fled down the hill, and finally sped off with Miss Derek. At the time, Adela mistakenly interpreted her shock as an assault by Aziz, who personifies the India that has stripped her of her psychological innocence, but he was never there. She admits that she was mistaken. The case is dismissed. (Note that in the 1913 draft of the novel EM Forster originally had Aziz guilty of the assault and found guilty in the court, but later changed this in the 1924 draft to create a more ambiguous ending.)

Ronny Heaslop breaks off their engagement. Adela stays at Fielding's house until her passage on a boat to England is arranged. After explaining to Fielding that the echo was the cause of the whole business, she departs India, never to return.

Although he is free and vindicated, Aziz is angry and bitter that his friend, Fielding, would befriend Adela after she nearly ruined his life. Believing it to be the gentlemanly thing to do, Fielding convinces Aziz not to seek monetary redress from her. The two men's friendship suffers in consequence, and Fielding soon departs for England. Aziz believes that he is leaving to marry Adela for her money. Bitter at his friend's perceived betrayal, he vows never again to befriend a white person. Aziz moves to the Hindu-ruled state of Mau and begins a new life.

Two years later, Fielding returns to India and to Aziz. His wife is Stella, Mrs. Moore's daughter from a second marriage. Aziz, now the Raja's chief physician, at first persists in his anger against his old friend. But in time, he comes to respect and love Fielding again. However, he does not give up his dream of a free and united India. In the novel's last sentences, he explains that he and Fielding cannot be friends, at least not until India is free of the British Raj. Even the earth and the sky seem to say, "Not yet."

Character list[edit]

Dr. Aziz 
A young Muslim Indian physician who works at the British hospital in Chandrapore, which is said to have been based on the city of Bankipur, a suburb of Patna in the state of Bihar. He relies heavily on intuition over logic, and he is more emotional than his best friend, Fielding. He makes friends easily and seems quite garrulous at times. His chief drawback is an inability to view a situation without emotion, which Forster suggests is a typical Indian difficulty. Aziz seems to possess a profound love for his late wife but only thinks of her intermittently. Initially he is somewhat indifferent to the British colonists, but comes to resent them after his treatment during the trial.
Cyril Fielding 
The 45-year-old, unmarried British headmaster of the small government-run college for Indians. Fielding's logical Western mind cannot comprehend the muddle (or mystery) of India, but he is highly tolerant and respectful toward Indians. He befriends Dr. Aziz, but cultural and racial differences, and personal misunderstandings, separate them.
Adela Quested 
A young British schoolmistress who is visiting India with the vague intention of marrying Ronny Heaslop. Intelligent, brave, honest, but slightly prudish, she is what Fielding calls a "prig." She arrives with the intention of seeing the real India. But after a frightening trip to the Marabar Caves, she falsely accuses Aziz of sexually assaulting her.
Mrs. Moore 
The elderly, thoughtful mother of Ronny Heaslop. She is visiting Chandrapore to oversee her son's engagement to Adela Quested. She respects Indians and their customs, and the Indians in the novel appreciate her more than they do any other Briton. After undergoing an experience similar to Adela's, she becomes apathetic and bitter.
Ronny Heaslop 
The British city magistrate of Chandrapore. Though not a bad man, he shares many of his colonial colleagues' racist view of Indians. He breaks off his engagement to Adela after she retracts her accusation against Aziz. He considers it a betrayal of their race.
Professor Narayan Godbole 
An elderly, courteous, contemplative Brahmin who views the world with equanimity. He remains totally aloof from the novel's conflicts.
Mr. Turton 
The British city collector of Chandrapore. He does not hate Indians, for that would be to negate his life's work. Nevertheless, he is fiercely loyal to his race, reviles less bigoted people like Fielding, and regards natives with thinly veiled contempt.
Mrs. Turton 
Mr. Turton's wife. Openly racist, snobbish, and rude toward Indians and those Europeans who are different, she screams at Adela in the courtroom when the latter retracts her accusation against Aziz.
Maj. Callendar 
The British head doctor and Aziz's superior at the hospital. He is more openly racist than any other male character. Rumors circulate among Indians that Callendar actually tortured an injured Indian by putting pepper instead of antiseptic on his wounds.
Mr. McBryde 
The British superintendent of police in Chandrapore. Like Mr. Turton, he considers dark-skinned races inferior to light-skinned ones. During Aziz's trial, he publicly asserts that it is a scientific fact that dark men lust after white women. Nevertheless, he is more tolerant of Indians than most Britons, and he is friendly with Fielding.
Miss Derek 
An Englishwoman employed by a Hindu royal family. She frequently borrows their car—and does not trouble to ask their permission or return it in time. She is too boisterous and easygoing for most of her compatriots' tastes. She has an affair with McBryde.
Nawab Bahadur 
The chief Indian gentleman in Chandrapore, a Muslim. Wealthy (he owns a car) and generous, he is loyal to the British (he lends his car to Ronny Heaslop). But after the trial, he gives up his title of "nawab," which the British bestowed on him, in favour of plain "Mr. Zulfiqar."
Hamidullah 
Aziz's uncle and friend. Educated in law at Cambridge University, he declares at the beginning of the novel that it is easier to be a friend of an Englishman in England than in India. Aziz comes to agree with him.
Amritrao 
A prominent Indian lawyer from Calcutta, called in to defend Aziz. He is known for his strong anti-British sentiment. He takes the case for political reasons and becomes disgusted when the case evaporates in court.
Mahmoud Ali 
A Muslim Indian barrister who openly hates the British.
Dr. Panna Lal 
A low-born Hindu doctor and Aziz's rival at the hospital.
Ralph Moore 
A timid, sensitive and discerning youth, the second son of Mrs. Moore.
Stella Moore 
Mrs. Moore's daughter and, later, Fielding's beautiful younger wife.

Awards[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

8. S. M. Chanda: A Passage to India: a close look in studies in literature (Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi 2003)

External links[edit]