A passage to India by E.M. Forster

This novel is one of my favourites, because of the splendid descriptions of nearly everything from the impressive landscape and natural surroundings, to the frequent social encounters of the many characters, which sometimes seem to lead to friendship but can also be awkward and then lead to awkward situations and to conflicts.

A Passage to India is internationally considered the starting-point of post-colonial literature. Moreover, it is one of the greatest English novels of the first half of the twentieth century. It is Forster’s most famous and best novel. In this novel, the writer explores the possibility of personal relations between Englishmen and Indians in India. The story is set in the twenties of the twentieth century in India which was still under British reign. Early in the book a group of Indians meet after work and discuss whether it is possible for an Englishman and an Indian to be friends, they agree that it may be, possible in England, but not in India. This is still before the trip to the Marabar Caves, the central event in the novel.

Towards the end of the novel, when a lot has passed, two of the characters Dr. Aziz, and Cyril Fielding go horse-back riding together, they discuss the option of friendship and reach the conclusion that as long as India is under British reign, friendship is not possible for them, because forces within their societies prevent it.

Social events make out a good part of the story as the relations between Indians and the English are the theme of the book: the meeting at the Mosque of Mrs. Moore with Dr. Aziz, the Bridge party at the English Club, another source of discomfort on both sides. The visit to the Marabar Caves has a dramatic ending that is followed by a very unpleasant lawsuit. All these occasions lead to misunderstandings or aggravate existing conflicts. Forster is a master of subtlety in the description of complex situations, with here and there a spot of mild irony.

Many conversations in the story show the complexity of relations within Indian society. The social fabric is extremely complex, there is always the risk of conflicts. People have to mind every step they take and every word they say. Every group has its own social rules as has every religious group and above all these groups is the British Government that demands respect for its Civil Servants in India. In this environment, it is for most people a balancing act to be in mixed company but how to behave in such a situation is problematic for newcomers like Mrs. Moore and Adela.

Mrs. Moore has a significant role in the story, she is the link between Ronny (her son) and Adela (Ronny’s potential fiancé), and she also is the link between Adela and Dr. Aziz. She is guileless, inquisitive, and open-minded. She is not very outspoken, but she sets things in motion. After she has played her part, she dies at sea on her voyage home, still before the court case takes place. Maybe because of that, she becomes for many people, for prof. Godbole, for Dr. Aziz, and for many nameless Indians, “Esmiss Esmoore” who gets her own altar. For many Indians, she becomes a symbol of hope for the future.

I could say a lot more about this novel, but I will stop at this short introduction.


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