Forster is a distinguished novelist both in modern English and world literature history, all his life his main achievements are six novels and two short story collections. His works provoke criticisms of different viewpoints, among which personal relationships and the theme of separateness, of fences and barriers are the main problems that the author always focuses on. After the author’s two visits to India, the great novel A Passage to India was produced, which continues his previous style, i.e., probing the problem of personal relationship in a more complicated situation, and my article aims at having a comparatively deeper discussion about crisis of human relationship in A Passage to India. Altogether there are certain parts in this article highlighting on the author’s philosophy the imperialism, racialism and colonization in A Passage to India. This article indicates that establishing sincere personal relationship is always Forster’s main concern. However, religious disparity, imperialism, racial prejudice and cultural conflicts turn Forster’s ideal into miserable reality; human’s isolation and separation but temptation to connect is fully demonstrated in A Passage to India.
Probing into the personal relationships between the colonizer and the colonized, with a humane perspective, has never been an easy task, especially when it is during the colonial phase with revolts arising against the rule. E. M. Forster was one such writer to study the relationships between Indians and the British.
Forster, very beautifully, explores the obstacle in the way of sympathetic communication between the English and the natives in British India. It is often commented on this novel that Forster had perhaps planned to discuss on friendship and religion and ended up writing a story.
The two main, of a myriad possible, themes could be that of value and friendship between Aziz and Fielding and the attempts of two British women – Adela and Mrs. Moore to have a “passage to India.” The relation between Indians and Anglo-Indians form a vital element in projecting the social image of India.
The subject of the novel is raised in the beginning itself when at the dinner party of Hamidullah a question is raised whether friendship is possible with an Englishman or not? The conclusion ends in a negative tone. One of the important relationships in the novel begins when Dr Aziz meets Mrs. Moore in the mosque. This makes Aziz feels hopeful towards the possibility of such a relation. However, by the end of the novel, Aziz’s reply to Fielding that their relation cannot be continued reveals the fact that conquered and the conqueror could not be friends.
Throughout the novel, the bond between the Indian and the Englishman is continuously threatened because of failure in understanding. The snobbery on the part of the English colonials towards Indians themselves prevent any real mingling of the races and Indians and The English are no closer to unity at the end of the novel than at the beginning. Fielding, the one character who temporarily belonged to both the groups understands the futility of his liberalism and departs from India altogether.
Great races with different heritage and history, with no desire to understand them and with one of them always in the wrong place – that is the story of the relationship between the two. Fielding is set with Anglo-Indian and Aziz with Indian nationalism and thus, they are unable to continue their friendship. However, their friendships point to the attempts, though futile, in trying to understand one another.
Forster points out separation of race from race, sex from sex, culture from culture, even of man from himself to be reasons that underlies every failed relation. The concluding pages of the novel depicts the pain of the rupture of two diametrically opposite worlds, brought together by force, in poetic terms that lies unmatched to in literature. Relations remain unknown and unexplored in the novel, as the incident at the Marabar caves.
In A Passage to India, Forster seems to have lost his faith in human relations as sole remedy against human ills. His love for human beings is shaken though not lost. His love has become thinner with a tinge of good-humored distrust. We shall have to make a study of Fielding in this connection. Fielding was a sensible and good natured man with a clear understanding of all fundamental things of life. But he lacked in emotion or intimacy with other human beings. His affection for Aziz, though important, did not stand the strain of misunderstandings. As regards Adela, he understood her, even respected her but did not sympathize with her, nor did he show affection for her. He called her a prig and did not consider her fit for marriage. Here he appears to be cynical or unduly proud. As a matter of fact, he looked upon human beings against a background of an immense void representing the past and the future, and as a consequence, life was reduced to insignificance. It may mean that goodness and kindness have limits. It points out the essential loneliness and isolation of the individual soul.
Forester’s early writings reveal that he had a very strong faith in humanism. He has kept aloft the humanitarian ideal and has strongly denounced conventionality and orthodoxy. But this humanitarian feeling has shown a declining trend with the passage of time.
In the mid 1700′s, there was no strong central power in India. The British East India Company took advantage of this situation and gained control over much of the country before the Indians realized it. By 1757, the East India Company was the leading power in India. In 1774, Warren Hastings became the first governor-general of India. Between 1800 and 1857, the East India Company, using largely Indian troops, waged war against Nepal, Burma, and other neighboring countries for the purpose of acquiring more territory. The greed of the company brought bitterness and poverty to the Indians. Finally, in 1857, the Indian people rebelled against the East India Company. Although the Indians were not successful in overthrowing the East India Company, the rebellion made it clear to Great Britain that the East India Company’s rule over India must end. In 1858, the British took over the rule of all the territory belonging to the East India Company, and it became known as British India, which was divided into 15 provinces. Each of the provinces was under the local rule of a British governor, appointed by the queen.
In the late 1800′s, there was a movement towards independence amongst many Indians. Indian violence against the British began during the early 1900′s. Then during World War I, the Indian people supported Great Britain. In return for their allegiance, British promised India a major role in its own government. In 1919, reforms greatly increased the powers of the Indian provincial legislatures. The Indians were not satisfied that they had received enough power, and violence against the British began again in their struggle for independence. Gandhi became the leader of the Indian independence movement. Civil disobedience towards the British continued through the 1920′s and into the 1930′s. Then in 1935 a new Indian constitution was created, giving Indians more power over their government.
India declared war on Nazi Germany in September of 1939, becoming an ally of Great Britain during World War II. During the war, the British leaders tried to reach an agreement with Indian leaders about the country’s independence. In early 1946, Great Britain offered independence to India whenever the various Indian leaders could agree on a form of government. When an agreement could not be found, the British and Indian leaders decided to partition the country to end the violence between Hindus and Moslems. It was against this troubled background that A Passage to India was set.
Glimpse of British Indian Society:
A Passage to India is a book about human relations and racial discrimination. The book is a picture of the Indian society under the British rule. Dr Aziz is a junior doctor at Civil Hospital at Chandrapore, a central Indian town. He is appalled by the discriminatory attitude of the Britishers towards the Indians and desires that both the Europeans and the Indians ought to have greater social intercourse. In other words he desires social equality without any racial barriers.
He meets Mrs. Moore an old English lady and Mr. Fielding who share his opinions on racial equality and are free from discrimination. Mrs. Moore is the mother of the City Magistrate while Mr. Fielding is a principal of the school at Chandrapore .The character of Adela Quested in introduced in the story. She is a young English lady, who has recently arrived from Britain and is yet untouched by racial influences. Adela is to be married to the City Magistrate.
The foursome Dr Aziz, Adela, Mrs. Moore and Mr. Fielding plan a trip to the Marabar Caves. Mr. fielding misses the train while the other three continue their journey to the caves. Mrs. Moore feels sick inside the caves and hence stays out. As Adela Quested enters one of the caves she has a strange and horrifying experience. She feels Dr. Aziz is trying to molest her. Adela runs down from the other side of the mountain as a result of which her cloths get torn in the thorns and she gets bruises on her body.
Dr. Aziz is arrested on the charge of raping Adela Quested. What follows is high drama with shades of racial discrimination. Eventually it all culminates with the trial of Dr. Aziz and his acquittal on basis of Adela’s statement that she was not sure if Dr. Aziz had tried to rape her.
After the trial a misunderstanding develops between Mr. Fielding and Dr. Aziz. Mrs Moore leaves for England before the trial and dies on the way in the ship. Fielding and Dr Aziz meet again after a few years but the warmth of relationship is lost and now Dr Aziz’s feelings about Britishers are more circumspect than before.
The author worked as a diwan in the court of a native prince and the novel seems to be a fictional account of his observations. The occasion of Bridge Party which is supposed to bridge the gap between the Britishers and the natives is well written. The Bridge Party instead of bridging the gap between the two communities widens it more.
Forster’s style of narration is superb. His words bring before the eyes of the reader the entire vista of the settings and the emotions. The courtroom scene is very well written and the readers shall be able to feel the charged atmosphere.
The book is worth a read because of its writing style and its subject matter. The manner of presentation of content is remarkable.
Forster’s Critique of Imperialism in A Passage to India:
The chief argument against imperialism in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India is that it prevents personal relationships. The central question of the novel is posed at the very beginning when Mahmoud Ali and Hamidullah ask each other whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. The answer, given by Forster himself on the last page, is
“No, not yet…. No, not there.” (Forster, 1942: 350)
Such friendship is made impossible, on a political level, by the existence of the British Raj. While having several important drawbacks, Forster’s anti-imperial argument has the advantage of being concrete, clear, moving, and presumably persuasive. It is also particularly well-suited to pursuit in the novel form, which traditionally has focused on interactions among individuals.
Forster’s most obvious target is the unfriendly bigotry of the English in India, or the Anglo-Indians as they were called. At times he scores them for their pure malice, as when Mrs. Callendar says, the kindest thing one can do to a native is to let him die. More tellingly, Forster shows up their bigotry as prejudice in the literal sense of pre-judgment. The Anglo-Indians, as Forster presents them, act on emotional preconceptions rather than rational and open-minded examination of facts. They therefore fall into logical inconsistencies which the author exposes with his favorite weapon: irony.
Forster tells us that every human act in the East is tainted with officialism and that where there is officialism every human relationship suffers. People cannot establish a friendship of equals when the Raj is based on an inequality of power.
The one possible exception to this process of corruption among Englishmen is Fielding. He is partially immune to the influence of the imperialistic power relationship because he works in education rather than government, and because, as he puts it, he travels light–he has no hostages to fortune. Fielding establishes a friendship with Aziz and maintains it in defiance of all the other Anglo-Indians. There is some doubt, however, whether he can maintain this course and still remain in imperial India. He is obliged to quit the Club and says he will leave India altogether should Aziz be convicted. After Fielding marries Stella, thereby ceasing to travel light, and after he becomes associated with the government as a school inspector, he undergoes a marked change of attitude toward the Raj. It would surely be a mistake to continue, as several critics do, to identify Forster with Fielding past this point. The omniscient narrator pulls back and summarizes Fielding’s situation: He had thrown in his lot with Anglo-India by marrying a countrywoman, and he was acquiring some of its limitations. Like Ronny and the other English officials, Fielding begins to be corrupted by his position. Thinking of how Godbole’s school has degenerated into a granary, the new school inspector asserts that Indians go to seed at once away from the British. Fielding almost exactly echoes Ronny’s defense of the Raj to his mother when he excuses unpleasantness in the supposedly necessary imperial presence: he had `no further use for politeness,’ he said, meaning that the British Empire really can’t be abolished because it’s rude. Fielding certainly did not start with a defect of the heart, but, as a result of his new position in the imperial structure, he is acquiring one.
The English, of course, aren’t the only ones corrupted by imperialism. Although most of the Indians in the book have a nearly unbelievable desire to befriend Englishmen, they are ultimately turned from it by the political reality. Some succumb to self-interest. Mahmoud Ali, for example, seems to have been the first to subvert his budding friendship with Ronny by advertising their smoke to potential litigants. More often the Indians succumb to the fear, largely justified but occasionally erroneous, that they will be scorned and betrayed. The prime example is Aziz.
In 1924, when Passage appeared, the Indian movement led by Mahatma Gandhi was still not yet agitating for independence. They said they wished to achieve dominion status and remain within the empire. Forster took what was at the time a more radical position by declaring that India inevitably had to become free. In an article in The Nation and the Athenaeum in 1922, Forster stated that ten years ago Indians had looked to Englishmen for social support, but now it was too late, and he anticipated the dissolution of an Empire. These phrases are repeated at the end of the novel when Aziz cries,
“Clear out, all you Turtons and Burtons. We wanted to know you ten years back–now it’s too late.” (Forster, 1942: 348)
Wrongs of Colonization; A Passage to India:
A Passage to India is a searing portrayal of the English mismanagement of India, as well as an accusatory missal against many of the racist attitudes the English colonial administration held. The novel explores the many rights and wrongs of Empire; the way in which the native Indian population was oppressed by the English administration.
With the exception of Fielding, none of the English believe in Aziz’s innocence. The head of the police believes that the Indian character is inherently flawed by an ingrained criminality. There appears to be little doubt that Aziz will be found guilty, because the word of an English woman is believed over the word of an Indian.
Beyond his concern for British colonization, Forster is even more concerned with the right and wrong of human interactions. A Passage to India is about friendship. The friendship between Aziz and his English friend, Mrs. Moore, begins in almost mystical circumstances. They meet at a Mosque as the light is fading; and they discover a common bond.
Such friendships cannot last in the heat of the Indian sun, nor under the auspices of the British Empire. Forster ushers us into the minds of the characters with his stream-of-consciousness style. We begin to understand the missed meanings, the failure to connect. Ultimately, we begin to see how these characters are kept apart.
A Passage to India is a marvelously sad novel. The novel emotively and naturally recreates the Raj in India, and offers insight into how the Empire was run. Ultimately, though, it’s a tale of powerlessness and alienation, even friendship and the attempt to connect fail.
Racialism in A Passage to India:
The racialism in A Passage to India is considered in relation with Tzvetan Todorov’s essay “Race and Racism”. Todorov distinguishes between racism, which he sees as ‘a term designating behaviour, and ‘racialism,’ a term reserved for doctrines’ (PSR, 213). Moreover, racism is seen as the physical enforcement of the more theoretical and ideological racialism. This ideology originated in Western Europe in the mid eighteenth-century and extended to about the mid-twentieth (PSR, 213), which suggests that Forster was influenced by its doctrines in the writing of his novel.
Todorov’s proposition spells out the fundamental importance of the existence of races that is ‘human groupings of whose members possess common physical characteristics’ (PSR, 213). In A Passage to India, this notion is prominent in the separation between the English, or Anglo-English, and the Indians.
This is most explicit in the narrative of the club, where the exclusion of Indians seem to create a private oasis for the English and so enables Adela Quested to exclaim:
‘‘I want to see the real India.” (Forster, 1942: 16)
She continues by stating
‘I’ve scarcely spoken to an Indian since landing’, (Forster, 1942: 18)
and so affirms the separation of the races.
This separation is built on physical difference, where the race of the Indians is separated from the British due to their darker skin and black hair. This frames the encounter between Mrs Moore and Aziz, however Forster uses the physical appearance of Mrs Moore, and not Aziz, as the point of difference:
‘She was older than Hamidullah Begum, with a red face and white hair.’ (Forster, 1942: 18)
According to Todorov, racialists are not content to just observe the separation of the races but they want it maintained, and so reject racial mixing (PSR, 213-4). This might explain the enigma in the Marabar Caves, where Adele’s absent minded attraction to Aziz suggests the possibility of a racial crossover.
The racialist postulates that physical and moral characteristics are interdependent’ (PSR, 214); that race would determine culture. The physical character of the Indian with his dark skin is thus often characterized as slow, due to the climate. However no one seems to be able to work in the heat of the Indian summer, not least the Anglo-Indians who have to retreat to the mountains for shelter.
In contrast their physical incapacity does not influence their mental abilities, which seems to be attributed to the Indian. Aziz knows this and utilizes it in defiance. Therefore he organizes the trip to the Caves to disprove that
‘Indians are incapable of responsibility’ and to ‘show those pessimists that they were wrong’. (Forster, 1942: 113)
Aziz also plays on the prejudices of the English by giving them what they expect of the Indian character in the introduction of his cousin Mr Mohammed Latif who
‘is an Indian of the old-fashioned sort, he prefers to salaam’. (Forster, 1942: 117)
Here Aziz presents a caricature of the Indian character; a silly fool who has failed to modernize and so knows no English.
This rejection of British supremacy can also be seen in the character of Aziz whose job as a doctor positions him in the higher echelons of society and so connects him to social circles from where he would otherwise be excluded. Aziz’s job further invalidates the fact that Indians are mentally slow, which justifies the feeling of pride he receives from his work. If nature does not act on culture, but as Todorov suggests, “culture acts on nature and as such becomes a genetic filter” (PSR, 215) then one could argue that the incident in the Marabara Caves was culturally determined, resulting in the separation of the races along cultural lines.
Todorov’s another proposition states that racialism is ‘a doctrine of collective psychology, and it is inherently hostile to the individualist psychology’ (PSR, 215). This communal attitude seems to be what affirms English society among the Indians; since the English see themselves as in minority they continuously have to reaffirm their superiority within their group.
The Club is the high seat of this communal bounding, but its ideology is found throughout English social activities; they travel, eat and speak in group, as can be seen by the Bridge Party organized by the Collector. The English amusement at the idea that the party would be a bridge between East and West confirms the strength of the collective psychology among the English, which they will not let Eastern culture penetrate.
Through a unique hierarchy of values the racialist sees some races as superior and often places his own race at the top of the scale; aesthetically, intellectually and morally (PSR, 215). In Forster’s description of Chandrapore this notion is visible. At the river front, where most Indian citizens would live, his negative representation is striking:
‘The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in the gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest’. (Forster, 1942: 1)
E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India is about friendship, the friendship between Aziz and Fielding, to make a bridge between the Indians and the Britishers. But there is no possibility of building the issues. The colonizer and the colonized cannot be in favor of each other. There is no close connection between the oppressors and the oppressed. At the ending part of the novel Aziz says to Fielding that an Indian may hate another Indian but the Indians hate the British most. When Fielding asks about the continuation of the two’s personal friendship, the answer is given not by Aziz but by Forster himself:
“But the horses didn’t want it- they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single-file; the temple, the tank, the jail, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House……..they didn’t want it, they said in their voice, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there”.” (Forster, 1942: 350)
Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 1942.