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A Passage to India

E. M. Forster


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

In every remark [Aziz] found a meaning, but not always the true meaning, and his life though vivid was largely a dream.

This quotation occurs in Chapter VII during Aziz and Fielding’s first meeting at Fielding’s house, just before the tea party. Fielding has just made a brief comment in which he meant that the post-impressionist school of painting, to which Aziz has just made joking reference, is obscure and silly. Aziz, however, takes Fielding’s comment to mean that it is silly for Aziz to have Western cultural knowledge. Aziz’s embarrassment and discontent does not last long in this instance, but the incident foreshadows the misunderstandings that eventually break down the men’s friendship.

Aziz’s capacity for imagination and intuition leads him to genuine and deep friendships with Mrs. Moore and Fielding. However, Forster also shows that Aziz’s intuition, which lacks grounding in fact, can lead him astray. In the aftermath of his trial, Aziz’s false hunch that Fielding is courting Adela Quested leads to the breakdown of the men’s relationship. In the above quotation, an early case of this false intuition, we see that Forster lays the blame for the breakdown on Aziz. Forster does not fault the difficulties of cross-cultural interaction, but rather Aziz’s overactive imagination.

This flaw in Aziz’s character, in a sense, also stands for a flaw of India itself. Forster presents Aziz’s attitudes toward others as unfounded in reality. Cut off from a logical cause, Aziz’s responses damage relationships rather than build them. This cut-off quality is later mirrored in the very landscape of India: the land around the Marabar Caves, described in Chapter XIV, appears “cut off at its root” and “infected with illusion.” Forster presents India and Aziz as somewhat threatening to the logical and reasonable apprehension and reaction to reality that the author sees as epitomized by Western order.

This type of narrative comment that diagnoses Aziz’s character is characteristic of Forster’s writing. The author is concerned with presenting actions and dialogue, but he also seeks to draw comparisons and distinctions, to categorize and characterize. Indeed, Forster tells and comments as much as he shows. Still, not all of Forster’s narrative diagnoses can be taken as absolute truth that stands throughout the novel. Though Forster depicts Aziz’s imaginativeness as a handicap here, in other scenes we see that Forster values it.

Fielding did not even want to [correct Aziz]; he had dulled his craving for verbal truth and cared chiefly for truth of mood. As for Miss Quested, she accepted everything Aziz said as true verbally. In her ignorance, she regarded him as “India,” and never surmised that his outlook was limited and his method inaccurate, and that no one is India.

This passage, occurring at Fielding’s tea party later in Chapter VII, highlights a major distinction between the English and the Indians. Forster shows that Indians value the emotion and purpose behind a statement more than the literal words being stated. Indeed, we see that Aziz often tells lies—or, at least, lies by English standards—that are nonetheless truthful to Aziz himself because they reflect his desire to be hospitable, or because they serve to keep a conversation progressing smoothly. Similarly, other Indians, such as the Nawab Bahadur, give elaborate speeches that seem to have no coherent point, but that serve to rescue the other party from disgrace or impoliteness. Whereas the Indians seem to favor indirect speech, the English value statements primarily on the basis of literal truth. The English are incapable of intuiting the larger purpose or underlying tone behind a speech. Fielding’s ability, as seen in this quotation, to respect statements for their mood as well as their truth, shows that he has learned cross-cultural lessons and can interact with Indians on their own standards, rather than his own.

This passage also highlights a problem with Adela’s approach to India. Adela is still caught up with English literalism, even though she is well meaning and her intelligent individualism sets her apart from the rest of the English. Without a capacity for sympathy or affectionate understanding, Adela cannot realize that she is evaluating Indians on her own terms, rather than their terms. Adela’s relationship with Aziz is, in this sense, without understanding or compassion. Rather, it is somewhat materialistic—Adela wants to know the “real India,” and she expects Aziz to render it for her. This goal in itself is Adela’s second mistake: whereas she seeks a single India, the real India exists in hundreds of guises, and no single Indian can offer an entire sense of it.

[Mrs. Moore] felt increasingly (vision or nightmare?) that, though people are important, the relations between them are not, and that in particular too much fuss has been made over marriage.

This quotation, appearing in Chapter XIV during the train ride to the Marabar Caves, foreshadows Mrs. Moore’s upcoming crisis with the cave echo. Ever since setting foot in India—or, more specifically, since hearing Godbole’s religious song in Chapter VII—Mrs. Moore has felt a spiritual presence larger than her own Christian God. The largeness of this presence frightens Mrs. Moore and convinces her that human interactions are petty and meaningless. Her crisis at Marabar reinforces this feeling and leads her to paralyzing apathy. Mrs. Moore’s vision, which shows that something larger than man encompasses the entire world and renders it equal, is a sort of negative version of Godbole’s Hindu vision. The Hindu vision of the oneness of all living things finds comfort and joy in surrendering individual existence to the collective. Though Mrs. Moore takes this vision of impersonality to mean that human relationships are meaningless, the vision can also be liberating. Indeed, it is through a similar vision of impersonality that Adela is able to realize that Aziz is innocent and that she must proclaim him so, regardless of the cost to her own person and reputation.

This passage also evinces Forster’s subtle critique of the institution of marriage. Mrs. Moore and Fielding, both potential mouthpieces for Forster himself, express distaste for marriage, specifically because it does not lead to a fruitful relationship that enlightens one about oneself or others. Few marriages exist in A Passage to India; indeed, we witness the breakdown of two—Ronny and Adela’s before it even starts, and the McBrydes’ through adultery. As such, Forster implies that the English sentimentalize the domestic structure of husband, wife, and children. They view this structure as a sacred symbol of all that is good about the British Empire, though the author contends that, in reality, domestic situations can lead to trouble and ignorance.

“Your emotions never seem in proportion to their objects, Aziz.”
“Is emotion a sack of potatoes, so much the pound, to be measured out? Am I a machine?”

This exchange occurs in Chapter XXVII, as Aziz and Fielding’s relationship begins to break down in the face of Fielding’s new respect and advocacy for Adela. Though Aziz and Fielding have several misunderstandings during this time, their main conflict centers on the issue of reparation money from Adela. Aziz seeks damages from Adela in the aftermath of the trial, but Fielding believes that Adela should be given some credit for her bravery, rather than ruined financially. Fielding points out that Aziz loves Mrs. Moore, who has done nothing for Aziz, but begrudges Adela even after she has risked her own reputation and marriage to eventually pronounce Aziz innocent. Aziz and Fielding’s disagreement over this issue demonstrates the larger disparity between their worldviews. Fielding, who values logic and reason, sees Aziz as fickle and irrational because he bases his feelings on intuitions and connections that Fielding cannot see or understand. Aziz, conversely, sees Fielding as succumbing to the materialism and literalism of the rest of the English. The two men often have lively conversations, but this quotation shows one new trend in their discussions: they directly disagree with each other and say so. Notably, Fielding is often the one who initially expresses dissatisfaction with Aziz’s behavior or opinions. Fielding becomes more judgmental and less patient in the aftermath of the trial.

This quotation also highlights the larger issue of British rule over India. Britain’s control of India began initially as a capitalist venture with the British East India Company. As such, Britain appears to see itself as taking the muddle and inefficiency of India and turning it into an orderly, profitable, capitalist system. Aziz objects to this kind of materialism, believing it values profit and efficiency over intangible matters of spirit and love.

Were there worlds beyond which they could never touch, or did all that is possible enter their consciousness? They could not tell. . . . Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle. . . . Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one. They had not the apparatus for judging.

In this quotation from Chapter XXIX, which details Fielding’s and Adela’s reactions to Adela’s strange experience at Marabar, Forster shows the inadequacy of English rationalism to evaluate mystical India. Adela is unable to articulate her frightening experience in the caves, even after her vision at the trial shows her Aziz’s innocence. She and Fielding both approach the problem logically, attempting to outline a number of possible explanations: hallucination, the absence of the guide, and so on. Though Adela and Fielding are committed to rationally explaining the occurrence, each of their explanations falls short of Adela’s experience. Here, we begin to see that Adela’s experience in the cave stands as a sort of synecdoche—a metaphor that takes a part for the whole—for the entire experience of the foreignness of India. Like Marabar, India presents a confused set of stimulants, not all of which can be incorporated into a dominant explanation or interpretation. The only possible way to understand and classify the chaos of Marabar and India is to ascribe these mysteries to a force larger than humanity—a mystical force. Once mysticism is acknowledged, the “muddle” of Marabar becomes a “mystery,” and the strangeness of India comes to appear as a coherent whole.

This passage also shows Fielding and Aziz coming closer to each other through mutual respect and similar experience. Though Fielding does not like Adela for much of the novel, disagreeing with her theoretical and unemotional approach to Indians and India, the two do share a level of rationalism and non-spiritualism. Both are -atheists in a way and cannot truly fathom mystical presence as Mrs. Moore can. Fielding begins to respect Adela for her frank objectivity and her willingness to admit that she is unable to explain what happened in the caves. Through conversations like this one, Adela and Fielding grow closer by acknowledging the strangeness of the India around them. Aziz senses that this is the tenor of Adela and Fielding’s friendship, and he begins to resent Fielding for it.

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