A Passage to India: Novel by E. M. Forster – Summary
A Passage to India Summary : A Passage to India (1924) is the finest and mature work of E. M. Forster.
A Passage to India Summary
E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, published in 1924, tells a story of the power of colonialism, the tension between spirituality and morality, and the inescapability of evil. Forster wrote this novel after traveling to India in 1912 and volunteering in Egypt during World War I. A film adaptation of the novel directed by David Lean premiered in 1984 and received multiple Academy Award nominations. This summary uses the 75th Anniversary edition of A Passage to India published by Mariner Books. Some of the terms used in quotes by Forster, such as “Oriental,” are outdated and now considered offensive.
It is unrivalled in English fiction in its presentation of the complex problems which were to be found in the relationships between English and the native people in India, and in its portrayal of the Indian scene in all its magic and all its wretchedness. It is a nice study of the British rule over India round about 1924.
Plot Summary of A Passage to India
In the Indian city of Chandrapore, Dr. Aziz answers a summons by the English surgeon Major Callendar. On his way home, Dr. Aziz stops in a mosque where he meets an English woman. Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore establish a deep connection in just a few exchanges before each return to their respective parts of the city. Mrs. Moore returns to a club and rejoins her son, Ronny, the City Magistrate, and his prospective fiancée Adela, whom Mrs. Moore is chaperoning.
Mrs. Moore and Adela seek an authentic experience in India, not the reconstructed English society of the club and Anglo-Indian neighborhood. Mr. Turton, a prominent Englishman stationed in Chandrapore, throws a party to introduce Mrs. Moore and Adela to some of the upper-class Indians the English associate with. At the party, the English and Indians keep a strict, racially driven distance. Still, Adela is determined to experience the new culture around her. Mr. Fielding, the Principle at the Government College, arranges for herself, Mrs. Moore, Aziz, and the musician and Hindu mystic Godbole to attend tea at his house. At tea, Aziz and Fielding form a friendship. Aziz is motivated to show his hospitality and invites them all on an expedition to the nearby legendary Marabar Caves.
Adela becomes disappointed with Ronny as she sees him interacting with the citizens of Marabar; she cannot envision herself a wife to a man as racially insensitive and cold as him. She decides to break off their engagement, but after the two are in a car accident, Adela changes her mind.
Aziz arranges for the trip to the Marabar Caves. The ladies meet him at the train station in the morning but Fielding and Goldbole run late and miss the train. Aziz shows Mrs. Moore and Adela the caves with the help of guides and local villagers. Both women are disenchanted with India at this point. Mrs. Moore desires to return to England as soon as possible now that Ronny and Adela are engaged. Mrs. Moore stays behind at their camp as Aziz and Adela continue exploring the caves.
After Adela makes an ignorant remark about Aziz’s marriage, Aziz leaves her to explore a cave on his own. When he emerges, Miss Derek’s car is seen nearby, dropping Fielding off. Aziz notes that Adela is down by the car and meets Fielding at camp. The entire party leaves and returns to Chandrapore, where Aziz is immediately arrested.
While alone in the caves, Adela was assaulted, and she names Aziz as her attacker. Without evidence, Aziz is imprisoned, and a trial date is set. The English are determined to protect their image and pride by condemning Aziz, but Fielding joins Aziz’s cause. Adela’s time before the trial is marked by wavering mental health and uncertainty; seeing Mrs. Moore again and hearing her speak to Aziz’s innocence further destabilizes her. Ronny sends his mother back to England. A riot breaks out in Chandrapore and tensions between the English and Indian populations rise.
At the trial, Adela is put under pressure by the rest of the English to condemn Aziz outright. However, though she clearly envisions the events leading up to her attack in the cave, she does not see Aziz there. She truthfully confesses and exonerates Aziz, to the horror of the rest of the English. She is ostracized and lives at Fielding’s house for a few weeks while Fielding celebrates with Aziz and their friends. Mrs. Moore dies while traveling. Ronny breaks off his engagement with Adela and sends her back to England.
Fielding’s and Aziz’s friendship falters after the trial, strained by the cultural differences between them. Fielding convinces Aziz not to sue Adela and returns to England while Aziz plans to look for work in a remoter part of India away from the influence of the English. He hears from Hamidullah that Fielding has married Adela and believes that Fielding betrayed him.
Two years pass until the two meet again, this time in Mau, where Aziz works alongside Godbole as part of the Rajah’s medical staff. Fielding visits Mau on his tour and runs into Aziz. Aziz learns that Fielding married Mrs. Moore’s daughter Stella, not Adela, which allows them to speak as friends again for the duration of Fielding’s stay.
Accompanied by her son’s fiancee, Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore comes to India to visit Ronald Heaslop. Adela accuses a young Moslem surgeon, Dr. Aziz of attempting to attack her in the Marabar Caves. The trial becomes a bitter contest between the English and the natives, but at the crucial point in the trial Adela changes her mind and withdraws the charges. Heaslop packs off Adela and marries another English woman. Although Indians and Englishmen try to make some reconciliation but a great gap lies between them. It is Ronald’s belief that Indians and Britons are apart of because of Indian venality but because of cultural differences in temperament, social concepts and religious viewpoints. No passage between the East and the West can be effected. The National individualism of the West collides vainly with the depersonalised mystery of India.
The novel is divided into three parts – Mosque, Caves, Temple. These three divisions are symbolic in character. The cave scenes are the symbolic heart of the novel where India confronts the westerner with illusion and disillusion. Walter Allen finds in the three part divisions of the novel three attitudes to life. Dr. Aziz stands for the path of activity, Fielding and Adela quested for the path of knowledge and Professor Godbole for the path of devotion and love.
Mrs. Moore is the embodiment of all these three aspects of life. Forster seeks in the novel to establish bonds of true personal relationship between the East and the West. But he fails to do so. The reason is that the British officials represented in the novel fail to understand the view point of the Indians. Forster draws in Fielding a character whose sympathies with Indians are true and sensitive, but Fielding in the end finds that intelligence, goodwill and culture are not enough to connect East and West. Mosque symbolises the fragile relationships between the Hindus, Muslims and British.
The Hindus and Muslims try to live in union, but their traditions and cultures make them apart. The caves symbolise the rupture of relationships. Mrs Moore undergoes a traumatic and nihilistic psychic experience from which she never recovers. Adela whose for Tonny seems to be uncertain has an illusion that she is sexually attacked by Aziz, a muslim doctor. This proves disastrous to all relationships. Even the friendship between Fielding, principal of the government college and Dr Aziz is compromised. The entire community at Chandrapore is sharply divided into opposing racial factions.
Mrs Moore dies on the voyage home, and Adela, under extreme psychological pressure admits that she was mistaken. The Temple tries to re-establish friendship and goodwill through the Mau Festival of Hindu Professor Godbole. But the two boats collide and the clay god is drowned. Passage to India cannot be found. However Aziz and Fielding meet and discuss the future of India.
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