They have no chance here, that is my point. They come out intending to be gentlemen, and are told it will not do.

Aziz, Hamidullah, and Mahmoud Ali introduce the conflict of the novel by discussing their differing beliefs on the possibility of true Indian-English friendship. One major point of concern is that a lot of British men arrive in India with the idea that they will not be prejudiced toward Indians and will be able to befriend the locals without racial biases tainting the relationship. However, Mahmoud Ali feels that older British officials, who have had more experience in India, always eventually succeed in planting their anti-Indian biases into the minds of these newcomers. Eventually, even the kindest English people are swayed by the nationalist opinions of their peers.

He recovered himself at once and laughed, but her error broke up their conversation – their civilization it had almost been – which scattered like the petals of a desert flower and left them in the middle of the hills.

An obstacle to Indian-English friendships that often arises in A Passage to India is that one party will inevitably say or do something to offend or disappoint the other party, often without realizing it. Aziz is offended by one of Adela’s ignorant questions, Cyril is disappointed by what he perceives to be foolish behavior on the part of Aziz (or vice versa), and never do the two friends truly reach intimacy. The Indian and English characters in the novel do make sincere attempts to get to know each other, and often come close to what this passage refers to as “civilization” – a true understanding of one another – but it is always ruined by an unintended insult or a cultural clash.

The approval of your compatriots no longer interests me, I have become anti-British, and ought to have done so sooner, it would have saved me numerous misfortunes.

At the beginning of the novel, Aziz is cautious but optimistic about the possibility of true friendship with a few select English people, but the traumatic experience of his arrest and trial destroys much of his hope. At the height of his bitterness, Aziz rejects even the friendship of Fielding, who bravely stood for him even when it may have been easier to take the British side. However, Aziz’s feelings are understandable and justifiable. He has personally experienced the horror and corruption of colonial rule, and he knows that if he had never attempted to befriend Fielding, Adela, or Mrs. Moore, he wouldn’t have had to endure such humiliation and fear.

All the stupid misunderstandings had been cleared up, but socially they had no meeting-place. He had thrown in his lot with Anglo-India by marrying a countrywoman, and he was acquiring some of its limitations, and already felt surprise at his own past heroism. Would he today defy all his own people for the sake of a stray Indian?

At the end of the novel, even Fielding, who had been a largely unprejudiced man – a colonial anomaly – has realized how difficult it can be to choose to take the side of the other over the side of your own. When he was an unattached bachelor, he could take the risk of defending Aziz, and standing up for justice in a corrupt system. But now that he has an English wife, he’s not certain that he would take such a risk again. Aziz feels similarly in that his greatest loyalty is now to his family and India. Neither of the men are truly at fault. It is incredibly difficult for a single individual to stand against a system that constantly enforces nationalism and division.

“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.” But [...] the earth didn’t want it.

The powerful ending of A Passage to India makes it clear that, as individuals, Aziz and Fielding absolutely do want to be each other’s friends. Aziz even asserts that, if they lived in a different time, they would be. But the political tensions between England and India are so intense that their friendship could never remain untainted by resentment and pain. Aziz and Fielding are kept separate from each other by a system that is so strong, and so omnipresent, that it seems that everything in the entire world has conspired to stop them from being friends.