A Passage to India
Part I, Chapters VII–VIII
Summary: Chapter VII
In every remark [Aziz] found a meaning, but not always the true meaning, and his life though vivid was largely a dream.
Fielding’s many worldly experiences keep him from being insensitive toward Indians like the rest of the English are. The English mildly distrust Fielding, partly out of suspicion of his efforts to educate Indians as individuals. Fielding also makes offhand comments that distress the English, such as his remark that “whites” are actually “pinko-grey.” Still, Fielding manages to remain friendly with the men at the English club while also socializing with Indians.
Aziz arrives at Fielding’s for tea as Fielding is dressing. Though the two men have never met, they treat each other informally, which delights Aziz. Fielding breaks the collar stud for his shirt, but Aziz quickly removes his own and gives it to Fielding. The relations between the two men sour only briefly when Aziz misinterprets Fielding’s dismissive comment about a new school of painting to be dismissive of Aziz himself.
Aziz is disappointed when Mrs. Moore and Adela arrive, as their presence upsets the intimacy of his conversation with Fielding. The party continues to be informal, though, even with the women present. Aziz feels comfortable addressing the women as he would address men, as Mrs. Moore is so elderly and Adela so plain looking.
The ladies are disappointed and confused because the Bhattacharyas never sent their carriage this morning as promised. Adela pronounces it a “mystery,” but Mrs. Moore disagrees—mysteries she likes, but this is a “muddle.” Fielding pronounces all India a muddle. Aziz denounces the rudeness of the Hindu Bhattacharyas and invites the women to his own house. To Aziz’s horror, Adela takes his invitation literally and asks for his address. Aziz is ashamed of his shabby residence and distracts Adela with commentary on Indian architecture. Fielding knows that Aziz has some historical facts wrong, but Fielding does not correct Aziz as other Englishmen would have. At the moment Fielding recognizes “truth of mood” over truth of fact.
The last of Fielding’s guests, the Hindu professor Godbole, arrives. Aziz asks Adela if she plans to settle in India, to which Adela spontaneously responds that she cannot. Adela then realizes that, in making this admission, she has essentially told strangers that she will not marry Ronny before she has even told Ronny so herself. Adela’s words fluster Mrs. Moore. Fielding then takes Mrs. Moore on a tour of the college grounds.
Adela again mentions the prospect of visiting Aziz’s house, but Aziz invites her to the Marabar Caves instead. Aziz attempts to describe the caves, but it becomes clear that Aziz has never seen them. Godbole has been to the caves, but he does not adequately describe why they are extraordinary; in fact, Aziz senses that Godbole is holding back information. Suddenly, Ronny arrives to take Adela and his mother to a polo match at the club. Ronny ignores the Indians. Aziz becomes excitable and overly intimate in reaction to Ronny’s rude interruption. Fielding reappears, and Ronny privately scolds him for leaving Adela alone with Indians.
Before the ladies leave, Godbole sings an odd-sounding Hindu song in which the singer asks God to come to her, but God refuses.
In her ignorance, [Adela] regarded [Aziz] as “India,” and never surmised that his outlook was limited and his method inaccurate, and that no one is India.
Summary: Chapter VIII
Driving away from Fielding’s, Adela expresses annoyance at Ronny’s rudeness. Adela mentions Aziz’s invitation to the Marabar Caves, but Ronny immediately forbids the women to go. Ronny mentions Aziz’s unpinned collar as an example of Indians’ general inattention to detail. Mrs. Moore, tired of bickering, asks to be dropped off at home. Adela feels suddenly ashamed of telling those at the tea party of her intention to leave India.
After the polo match at the club, Adela quietly tells Ronny that she has decided not to marry him. Ronny is disappointed, but he agrees to remain friends with her. Adela sees a green bird and asks Ronny what type of bird it is. Ronny does not know, which confirms Adela’s feeling that nothing in India is identifiable. Ronny and Adela begin to feel lonely and useless in their surroundings; they suddenly feel they share more similarities than differences.
The Nawab Bahadur happens by and offers Ronny and Adela a ride in his automobile. Riding in the back seat, the two feel dwarfed by the dark night and expansive landscape surrounding them. Their hands accidentally touch, and they feel an animalistic thrill. The car mysteriously breaks down on a road outside the city. They all climb out and determine that the car must have hit something, probably a hyena. After a short while, Miss Derek drives past them offers them a ride back to Chandrapore.
Driving back to Chandrapore, Miss Derek jokes about her employer, an Indian noblewoman. Ronny and Adela feel drawn together by their shared distaste for Miss Derek’s crass manner and for the Nawab’s polite but long-winded speeches. When Adela and Ronny arrive back at the bungalow, Adela says that she would like to marry Ronny after all. He agrees. Adela, however, immediately feels a sense of disappointment, believing she will now be labeled the same as all the other married Englishwomen in India. They go inside and tell Mrs. Moore of their plans. Adela begins to feel more pleasant, joining Ronny in poking fun at the Nawab Bahadur. When Ronny and Adela tell Mrs. Moore of the strange car accident, the older woman shivers and claims that the car must have hit a “ghost.”
Meanwhile, down in the city of Chandrapore, the Nawab Bahadur describes the accident to others. He explains that it took place near the site where he ran over and killed a drunken man nine years ago. The Nawab Bahadur insists that the dead man caused the accident that occurred this evening. Aziz is skeptical, however, and feels that Indians should not be so superstitious.
Analysis: Chapters VII–VIII
Though Fielding himself disregards racial boundaries, his tea party does not quite develop into a successful version of the Bridge Party. Aziz and Adela both appear overexcited during the tea, while Mrs. Moore and Professor Godbole remain withdrawn from the others’ chatter. The sudden cultural interaction carries Adela away and convinces her, almost subconsciously, that she cannot remain in India and become a wife at the club—prompting the spontaneous admission that upsets Mrs. Moore. The tea sours when Ronny arrives, though his rudeness appears only to bring out tensions that already existed. Aziz becomes grotesquely overfamiliar, Adela blames herself and Ronny, Fielding becomes annoyed, and Mrs. Moore becomes spiritually drained by Godbole’s Hindu song.
The tea party is further disturbed by a disparity between what Forster calls “truth of fact” and “truth of mood.” Thus far in A Passage to India, we have seen that the Indian characters often tend to say one thing when they mean another. Forster presents this tendency as problematic only for the English, among whom words are taken at face value. Indians appear skilled at identifying the undertones—the unspoken elements—of a conversation. Indeed, we see that Aziz recognizes from tone, rather than words, that Godbole is withholding information from his description of the Marabar Caves. Moreover, when Aziz invites Mrs. Moore and Adela to his house, the “mood” of his question—his sincere feeling of goodwill and hospitality to the Englishwomen—is all that Aziz means to convey. Adela, however, takes the invitation literally and asks for Aziz’s address. The misunderstanding makes Aziz uncomfortable, as he is in fact embarrassed about the appearance of his home. Fielding, too, reacts negatively to Adela’s literal-mindedness. This disconnect between cultural uses of language is an important division between the English and Indians in the novel.
Forster explores another divide between the English and Indian cultures through the idea of naming or labeling. If the English in the novel always say exactly what they mean, they also are quick to attach names or labels to objects and people around them. When Adela and Ronny sit together at the club, Adela wonders aloud what kind of bird sits on the tree above them. Ronny does not know, which depresses Adela even more; meanwhile, the narrator notes that nothing is identifiable in India, as things disappear or change before one can name them. The British in India realize that with the ability to name or label things comes power. It is for this reason that Fielding’s remark that “whites” are really “pinko-grey” upsets the men at the club: by deflating labels like “white” and “brown,” Fielding implicitly challenges the assertive naming and labeling power of the English in India. If “white” really only refers to skin tone—rather than also connoting superiority, advanced religion, technology, and morality—then “whites” have no inherent right to rule India.
Adela’s conflicted view of naming or labeling constitutes a major tension within her character. On the one hand, Adela recognizes that the ability to label gives one power—or, as she might say, a purpose or place in the world. India’s resistance to identification, symbolized by the nameless green bird, challenges Adela’s sense of individuality. On the other hand, Adela realizes that being on the receiving end of a label can leave one powerless. It is for this reason that she remains resistant to marrying Ronny, knowing that she will be labeled an Englishwoman in India—a club wife—and that her behavior will be restricted accordingly. When Adela feels her individuality challenged by India’s resistance to identification, she seems more likely to turn to Ronny for marriage; yet, when she recognizes the tyranny of labels like “Englishwoman in India,” she feels reluctant to marry Ronny.
We see in these chapters that the natural environment of India has a direct effect on Ronny and Adela’s engagement. As soon as Adela tells Ronny she does not want to become engaged, their surroundings begin to overwhelm them, making them feel like lonely, sensual beings who share more similarities than differences. In particular, they feel that the night sky swallows them during their ride with the Nawab Bahadur. The sky makes Ronny and Adela feel indistinct as individuals, suddenly part of a larger mass that is somehow fundamentally united. Therefore, when their hands touch accidentally in the car, both Ronny and Adela are attuned to the animalistic thrill of sensuality. Their experience under the engulfing Indian sky draws Ronny and Adela together, forcing them to assert themselves as important, distinct individuals through a commitment to each other.
Furthermore, the social environment of India—the Indians who surround Ronny and Adela—contributes to this shift in perspective in the couple’s relationship, their new feeling that they are more alike than different. Specifically, Ronny and Adela feel a bond through their shared distaste for Miss Derek and the Nawab Bahadur—a bond that leads Adela to suddenly reverse her decision and renew her engagement to Ronny. In this regard, Forster implies that the union of marriage requires a third presence, against which husband and wife can define themselves as similar. Indeed, after announcing their renewed engagement, Adela shows her openness to her future with Ronny through her willingness to make fun of the Nawab Bahadur with him.
While Ronny and Adela feel a sense of unity against the muddle that is India, we see Mrs. Moore grow even more spiritually attuned to the minds of Indians. First Mrs. Moore appears to be most aligned with the religious figure of Professor Godbole. Godbole’s song, in which God is called but does not come, profoundly affects Mrs. Moore, deepening her sense of separation from her Christian God. Then, when Ronny and Adela tell Mrs. Moore of their car accident with Nawab Bahadur, the elder woman strongly feels that a ghost caused the accident. Though Ronny and Adela ignore Mrs. Moore, we learn a short while later that the Nawab Bahadur, too, suspects that a ghost caused the accident—the ghost of the drunken man that he ran over nine years ago near the same spot. While Ronny and Adela begin to segregate themselves from the social and natural landscape that surrounds them, Mrs. Moore surrenders to the overwhelming presence and mysticism she feels in India, attuning herself to a sort of collective psyche of the land she is visiting.
by UGLYHASSNAA69, November 12, 2012
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