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Three days after the tea party, Aziz falls slightly ill.
Exaggerating his illness, he remains in bed and contemplates a brief
trip to a brothel in Calcutta to lift his spirits. Aziz takes a
rather clinical view of his occasional need for women. Aziz knows
that Major Callendar and others would be scandalized by his plans
to visit the brothel. Nonetheless, Aziz does not mind breaking social
codes—he simply tries not to get caught. Aziz suddenly notices that
flies cover the inside of his room, so he summons his servant, Hassan,
to dispose of them. Hassan is inattentive.
Hamidullah, Syed Mohammed, Haq, and Syed Mohammed’s young
nephew, Rafi, all crowd into Aziz’s room to inquire about his health.
Rafi gossips that Professor Godbole has also fallen ill. The visitors
briefly toss around a suspicion that Mr. Fielding poisoned the men
at his tea. Syed Mohammed and Haq discuss how all disease comes
from Hindus. Aziz recites an irrelevant poem by an Urdu poet. Though
not all of the men comprehend poetry, they are happily silent and
for a moment feel that India is one. Hamidullah silently contemplates
the nationalist meeting he must attend later in the day, which will
gather Indians from many different sects. Hamidullah sadly considers
that the group never achieves anything constructive and that the
meetings are only peaceful when someone is denouncing the English.
The visitors announce their intent to leave, but they
remain seated. Dr. Panna Lal arrives, under Major Callendar’s orders,
to check on Aziz. Dr. Lal immediately realizes that Aziz is not
very ill, but he decides to cover for Aziz anyway, in hopes that
Aziz will return the favor one day. After some prodding, Dr. Lal
reluctantly reports that Professor Godbole’s condition is not serious,
which prompts the men to scold Rafi for spreading rumors. Dr. Lal’s
troublesome driver, Ram Chand, insults Rafi’s uncle, Syed Mohammed, and
a loud argument breaks out.
At this moment, Fielding walks into the room. Aziz would
normally be humiliated at Fielding’s seeing his poor, dirty home,
but Aziz is distracted. Concerned about showing hospitality to Rafi, Aziz
murmurs to the boy and tries to make him comfortable again after
his scolding. Meanwhile, the men begin to question Fielding about
his belief in God, the declining morality of the West, and what he
thinks about England’s position in India. Fielding enjoys being candid
with the men. He explains that he is not certain that England is
justified in holding India and that he is in India personally to
hold a job. The men are shocked by the plainness of Fielding’s honesty. Fielding,
feeling disappointed by his first visit to Aziz, leads the other
men out of Aziz’s sickroom.
Fielding and the others emerge from Aziz’s home and feel
oppressed by the weather and the general atmosphere outside. Several
animals nearby make noises—the inarticulate animal world seems always more
present in India than in England. The other men mount their carriages
and go home, rather than back to work. All over India, people retreat
inside as the hot season approaches.
Fielding stands on the porch of Aziz’s house, but no servant
brings his horse, for Aziz has secretly ordered the servants not
to. Aziz calls Fielding back inside. Though Aziz self-pityingly
draws Fielding’s attention to the shabbiness of his home, Fielding
is matter-of-fact in response. Aziz directs Fielding to a photograph
that he keeps in a drawer, which is of his late wife. Flattered,
Fielding thanks Aziz for the honor of seeing the picture. Aziz tells
Fielding he likes him because he values men acting as brothers.
They agree that the English government has tried to improve India
through institutions, when it should have begun with friendship.
Fielding suddenly feels depressed, feeling that he cannot
match Aziz’s fervent emotions. Fielding wishes he had personal details
to share with Aziz. Fielding momentarily feels as though he will
not be intimate with anyone, but will travel through life, calm
Aziz questions Fielding about his family, but the Englishman
has none. Aziz playfully suggests that Fielding should marry Adela. Fielding
replies vehemently that Adela is a “prig” who tries to learn about
India as though it were a class at school. He adds that Adela has
become engaged to Ronny Heaslop. Aziz is relieved, assuming that
this means he will not have to host a trip to the Marabar Caves after
all, as it would be unseemly to escort an engaged woman. Aziz agrees
with Fielding’s distaste for Adela, but Aziz objects to her lack of
beauty rather than her attitude.
Aziz suddenly feels protective of Fielding and warns him
to be less frank with other Indians. Aziz worries that Fielding
might lose his job, but the Englishman reassures him that it wouldn’t
matter. Fielding explains that he believes in “traveling light,”
which is why he refuses to marry. Fielding leaves, and Aziz drifts
off to sleep, dreaming happily.
Though Forster clearly portrays the Indians in the novel
more sympathetically than the British, he occasionally shows how
the Indians sometimes succumb to racism in the same ways that the
British do. Thus far, we have been acquainted only with Aziz and
his similarly well educated, upper-class friends. In Chapter IX
we meet several other acquaintances of Aziz, Muslims, some of whom
are not as enlightened or privileged as Aziz himself. These men
stir up an atmosphere of paranoia, suspicion, and racism equal to
the behavior of the British: they first suspect Fielding of poisoning
the non-English guests at his tea party, and then they blatantly
disparage the Hindu religion. Forster satirizes their sentiments
in the same way that he satirizes the British, showing how their
racism leads them into contradiction. The Indians uphold the ill
Hindu professor Godbole against the English Fielding, but then disparage
Hindus in general as disease-ridden. The men, in their clamor about
the alleged dirtiness of Hindus, resemble the English who fear infection
or contamination from the Indians.
Similarly, though Forster satirizes English behavior toward
Indians, he seems to remain somewhat pro-Empire in his views. Forster’s
logic does not argue against England’s presence in India, but rather
suggests that England might better serve India by improving personal
relations with Indians. We can see Forster’s fundamentally pro-Empire
stance in his implication in these chapters that India, without
British presence, would dissolve into fighting among its many sects.
Hamidullah is Forster’s mouthpiece for this sentiment in Chapter
IX: as the other men disparage Hindus and bicker among themselves,
Hamidullah contemplates the lack of national feeling in India. He
notes that Indians from different sects—like those at his political
meetings—unite only against the British. Forster portrays a united
India as only a fleeting illusion, brought on by Aziz’s recital
of nostalgic poetry that imagines a single, Islamic India.
Furthermore, Forster implies that political action and
energy may be impossible in India because the country is so oppressed
by natural forces. In Chapter X, he shows that animals have as much voice
as humans in India: their chaotic and meaningless noises sometimes
dominate, blocking out rational human discussion. Additionally,
the approaching onset of the hot season prevents action and sends
people scurrying into the shelter of their homes. Looking closely,
we see that each of the three parts of A Passage to India corresponds
to one of the three seasons in India: Part I corresponds to the
cold season, Part II to the hot season, and Part III to the wet
season. As we see later, the oppressiveness of the hot season directly
relates to the divisive and inflammatory plot events of Part II.
Chapter X foreshadows the hot season and the turmoil, argumentativeness,
and inexplicable sadness to come.
The majority of Part I has focused on developing the characters of
Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore in relation to Aziz, to Ronny, and to
their new surroundings. In these final sections of Part I, attention shifts
somewhat to the character of Fielding, especially in terms of his
relation to Aziz and to the rest of the English in Chandrapore. The
development of Fielding’s relations begins to constitute a second
plotline throughout the rest of the novel, moving in parallel to plot
developments involving Adela and Mrs. Moore.
Though Fielding is generally on friendly terms with the
English in Chandrapore, Fielding’s character presents a threat to
the Englishmen because of his stance as an educator of individuals.
The English fear that Indians become less obedient when they are
better educated; indeed, the new ideas that Fielding fosters have
the potential to undermine Britain’s rule over India. The English
see Fielding as suspect because his model of education works through
interaction, sitting down with individuals and exchanging ideas.
This model treats Indians as separate, distinct individuals, rather
than a homogeneous and easily stereotyped group. As such, it places
even Fielding himself—a representative Englishman—in a position
of vulnerability. While other English people present themselves
as knowledgeable and dominant, Fielding lets himself play the role
of learner as well as teacher.
As Fielding grows apart from the Englishmen at the club,
he grows closer to Aziz. In these chapters we see Forster set up
these two characters as the potentially successful answer to the
question of whether an Indian can ever be friends with an Englishman.
More than merely a cross-cultural bridge, the friendship between
Fielding and Aziz seems to develop a homosocial undertone as well.
Aspects of heterosexual interaction dominate Chapter XI—the photograph of
Aziz’s wife, Aziz’s happy thoughts of visiting prostitutes, the men’s
discussion of Adela’s qualities—but these marks of heterosexuality
function as a means to develop and cement a homosocial (but not
implicitly homosexual) connection between Fielding and Aziz. These
heterosexual tokens, conversations, and thoughts are passed between
the two men and serve primarily to strengthen their relationship—though
women are the focus of the men’s conversation, women are effectively
excluded, reduced to simply a medium of exchange between the men.
Furthermore, we may interpret Fielding’s sentiments against marriage
in Chapter XI as Forster’s own. The author implies that marriage
shuts people off from educationally and emotionally fruitful relationships,
such as the one that we see growing between Fielding and Aziz.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Passage to India!