What do Adela and Mrs. Moore hope to get out of their visit to India? Do they succeed?
From the outset, both Mrs. Moore and Adela assert that their desire is to see the “real India” while they are in the country. Both women are frustrated with the lack of interaction between the English and the Indians, and they hope to get an authentic view of India rather than the standard tour for visiting colonials. Of the two, Mrs. Moore is less vocal than Adela in her impatience to discover the spirit of India, and she seems to be provisionally more successful in her goal. While Adela mopes in the Chandrapore Club, Mrs. Moore is already out on her own meeting Aziz in the mosque. Mrs. Moore, it seems, gets closer to a real sense of India because she seeks it out within Indians themselves, approaching them with sincere sympathy and interest. She does not desire to learn facts about Indian culture, but to forge a personal, individual connection. Adela, on the other hand, does not look to Indians for a glimpse of the “real India.” Instead, she operates in a somewhat academic vein, going around and trying to gather information and impressions of the country. Adela wishes to get in contact with the “spirit” behind the “frieze” of India, but she skips the step in between. Rather than regard Indians as people like herself, she seems to view them as subjects for intellectual study.
Ultimately, both women largely fail in their quest to see the “real India.” Adela is thwarted before she even begins: her engagement to Ronny forces her to give up her quest for communion with India and to take her place among the ranks of the rest of the Englishwomen in Chandrapore. Mrs. Moore, at least, realizes her mistaken quest before leaving India. On her train ride back to the coast to catch a return ship to England, Mrs. Moore begins to understand that she and Adela have both been misguided in their search for a single India. Mrs. Moore realizes that India exists in hundreds of ways and that it cannot be fathomed by a single mind or in a single visit.
What causes Adela’s breakdown? Why does she accuse Aziz? What qualities enable her to admit the truth at the trial?
Adela is an intelligent and inquisitive girl, but she has a limited worldview, and is, as Fielding puts it, a “prig.” Adela has come to India to experience an adventure and to gauge her desire to marry Ronny. During the early stages of the visit, she weighs both her emotions and her experiences with an almost clinical precision. Adela wants to see the “real India,” which apparently means an India unfiltered through the lens of English people and colonial institutions. But in her desire to have a single authentic experience and a single authentic understanding of India, Adela is unable to take in the complexity of her surroundings, which have been muddled even further by the presence of the English. There is no real India; there are a hundred real Indias. But Adela’s attempt to make her Indian experience match her comfortable preconceptions cannot prepare her for this fact. As the muddle of India slowly works its way into her mind, it undermines her preconceptions without giving her anything with which to replace them.
On the way to the Marabar Caves, Adela realizes for the first time that she does not love Ronny. The sheer incomprehensibility of experience—as represented by the echo in the caves—overwhelms her for the first time. Traumatized, Adela feels not only as though her world is breaking down, but as though India itself is responsible for the breakdown. This idea solidifies in her mind as the idea that Aziz, an Indian, has attacked and attempted to rape her. Still, Adela is committed to the truth and has a strong mind. When she sees Aziz at the trial, she reenters the scene in her mind in a sort of disembodied vision. She realizes that her actions are ruining a real person’s life, and she is therefore able to pull back and withdraw her charge before a verdict can be handed down.
What purpose does Part III, “Temple,” play in A Passage to India?
The first issue that Forster addresses in A Passage to India is whether or not an Englishman and an Indian can be friends. Parts I and II of the novel depict the friendship of Aziz and Fielding, first on the ascendant, and then as it breaks apart. Part II leaves us with a pessimistic sense that cross-cultural communication is futile, and that such friendships cause more hurt than good. Part III, however, gives us a measured resolution to this issue. In this final section of the novel, Fielding and Aziz meet again after two years and resolve their misunderstandings—though not their differences. Forster shows that while outside forces can make cross-cultural friendships nearly impossible, the friendships themselves, whether successful or not, are still a valuable experience. The pessimistic ending of Part II is thus tempered by Forster’s depiction of Aziz and Fielding in Part III.
Additionally, Forster uses Part III to address the issue of how a foreigner can best understand and make peace with the “muddle” of India. Throughout Parts I and II, Forster shows several main characters—Mrs. Moore, Adela, Fielding—experiencing spiritual crises in the face of the chaos of Indian experience. Part III, which is set in the Hindu state of Mau during a Hindu religious festival, offers the Hindu vision of the oneness of all living things as a possible answer to the problem of comprehending India. The most mystical characters of the novel take the spotlight in Part III. Godbole serves in Mau as an educator and religious figure, and Mrs. Moore reappears through her two children, Ralph and Stella. If Forster is pessimistic about Fielding and Aziz’s friendship, in Part III he at least offers the collectivity of Hindu love as a potential source of hope and redeeming possibility.
1. What is Forster’s primary critique of the British in India? What does he appear to think of the Empire in general?
2. Evaluate the role of negation in the novel. Look for instances of the word “nothing,” descriptions that use lack or negativity, and plot points in which “nothing” happens, though characters think something does happen. What does negation signify and how is it used?
3. What is the role of nature in A Passage to India?
4. What part does sexuality play in the novel? Consider any differences of opinion about sexuality between Fielding and Aziz and between Ronny and Adela.
5. Compare Forster’s depiction of the English in Chandrapore with his depiction of Aziz’s Indian community. Do the two groups have any similarities? Does Forster portray one group more sympathetically?
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