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“A Passage to India” by Edward Forster Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Mar 20th, 2020

Introduction

A Passage to India is a must-read chef-d’oeuvre written by E. M Forster to shed light on his first-hand experience in India. The following essay provides a detailed critique of the same book. Some of the topics to be discussed include the setting of the book, plots, characters, point of view, and the literary styles used. A critical analysis of a book allows the acquisition of the necessary skills in literature.

Setting

The book is written in an Indian setting. The town of Chandrapore is the place that the two sections are based on, with the other location being the Marabar Caves near Chandrapone. Having an Indian setting, the book bears various inclusions of several British people. The town is also characterized by different populations with different privileges. The British people are superior to the local Indians since they live in luxurious houses and drink at prominent clubs where the Indians are not allowed.

The Indians are also allowed to live only in certain areas of the town, which are less appealing, thus displaying their lower social status. The other place that the book is set on is a place called Mau in the same country. Symbolically, the section headings, “Caves,” “Mosque,” and “Temple” represent the different areas in which the book is set. Thus, the book covers the wider India and uses it to bring out the various themes.

The author presents the setting of the book in an easy-to-understand and photographic manner. He can create a picture in the minds of readers concerning the setting of the book. This allows him to communicate effectively to the audience and make the story thrilling and informative at the same time. An example is in the first chapter when he describes the town in which the book is set.

He states, “Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges; it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely” (Forster 16). He also describes the existing architecture allowing readers to place the book in the relevant period. To illustrate this point, when describing the town, the author states, “The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic…There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars” (Forster 16).

The other characteristic about the presentation of the setting is that the author uses symbols to direct the leader to the theme of the story and the meanings. Also noticeable is how the author uses India, a former British colony, to bring out the various meanings of the book. He chose the country and the specific towns and locations to portray the British citizens as ruthless and detached people only looking to benefit from the colony without the interest of the locals at heart.

This gives the story its meaning, thus allowing readers to comprehend the shortcomings of foreign occupation and colonialism. The initial indication of the separation of the different classes as set by the colonizers is indicated by the different levels of housing. As the author states, “Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river— the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply” (Forster 16). This means that the colonizers were mean to the locals.

Plot

The book has three parts with different headings relating to the event in the same section. In the first of these parts with the heading ‘Mosque,’ an Indian Doctor, Dr. Aziz, makes friends with two English ladies who were new to the country and oblivious of the existing social separation. The friendship extends with the doctor meeting with one of the women who are kind to him. The woman’s son is not happy with the turn of events.

She does not want his fiancée to know about the kindness of his mother to the natives. Dr. Aziz invites the English woman and some others to the nearby Marabar Caves where the next part of the book is set. This second part is where most of the actions and plot of the book become evident. Strange things happen in caves that they visit. Dr. Aziz is also arrested upon arrival from the caves due to the incidents that happen in that place.

The court’s proceedings are also marked by discrepancies in evidence. The accuser decides to alter the evidence with Dr. Aziz being released. This part is also marked by deceit and betrayal after the death of one of the English woman while on the journey back to England.

The third section features the meeting of the friends-turned-foes about two years after the release of Dr. Aziz. This happens far from the original setting of the first and the second part. An accident in the water causes the reunion of the Indian doctor and his former friend. The book ends with the two parties discussing politics to highlight how the revolution of India from English is possible.

The action in the book covers two years, with the author creating some time gaps in between the periods of transition from one event and part of the story to the other. He bridges the gaps by the use of information about the country that does not necessarily contribute to the plot.

He also creates a picture of change in time for the viewers when he uses descriptive wordings to describe the changes in time. He writes, “Some hundreds of miles westward of the Marabax Hills, and two years later in time…Narayan Godbole stands in the presence of God. God is not born yet—that will occur at” (Forster 21).

The author has also defined beginnings and ends of parts of the story vividly, with the use of time as the most common one. In defining these endings and starts of sections, there is continuity with each section being related to the previous one. The only major change that is very distinct is between the second and the third parts.

These are set in different places and at different times, with the characters having different feelings about each other. The middle sections of the book are also well defined. They are the main parts where the theme of the story and ideas are presented.

The author presents several conflicts in the book. These can be looked at as being social, religious, and racial. There are also political conflicts portrayed in the story, with one of the social groupings dominating over the other. The story also has several dilemmas, with some of the parts being ironic.

An example is in the third part where Dr. Aziz meets his former friend Fielding and his brother−in−law with a bee sting. He helps them despite their history. It is, however, ironically unfriendly again when Fielding tries to mend ways with him.

The most interesting scenes in the story are in the third part where Dr. Aziz meets Fielding after two years trying to escape from the control of the English. He had previously wished that they (English) could not make it to the place where he was residing then. The meeting was rather awkward, with the scene being full of emotions.

They only exchange pleasantries on the meeting where Dr. Aziz is not kind to Fielding. “He waved his arm more dimly and disappeared…Aziz knew who “he” was— Fielding—but he refused to think about him because it disturbed his life, and he still trusted the floods to prevent him from arriving” (Forster 121). The events of the courtroom are repeated in the third part of the book as Dr. Aziz refers to them on meeting Fielding upon remembering how unkind he had been to him.

Characters

The characters in the story have different roles in the presentation of the theme in the book. Mahmoud Ali is a Muslim lawyer and Dr. Aziz’s friend and confident. He is also cynical and one who does not believe in the coexistence of the Indians and the English. Mr. Amritrao is hired in the trial of Dr. Aziz to defend him. This case caused controversy in the courtroom since he is known to be against the British.

His debating skills are also felt in the courtroom. Dr. Aziz is the main character in the story representing the Indian people. He practices at a local hospital and has a love for poetry. His friendship with some of the British people makes him one of the Indians who are moderate about the colonialists. This situation is however changed after the incident, which brought him to court and made him move away from the town.

Another character is Nawab Bahadur who is a distinguished Muslim leader in the town and a supporter of the British rule. He is also a friend to Dr. Aziz who supports him through the trial. Major Callendar is the surgeon at the hospital where Dr. Aziz worked. He is superior to Aziz. Mr. Das is another character in the story.

He is the assistant magistrate in the court where Dr. Aziz is to be tried. He is described as being an able magistrate who presides over the trial of Dr. Aziz with due fairness. He also becomes a friend to Dr. Aziz. He visits him severally, thus breaking the barrier between the Muslim and the Hindu.

Miss Nancy Derek is a visiting British woman whom the other British people in Chandrapore do not trust. She is rumored to have an affair with the police superintendent. Mr. Cyril Fielding is also a British in India who is the principal at a local British-run school. He is also a close friend of Dr. Aziz who defends his innocence in the accusation lodged against him. He is also determined to make sure that Dr. Aziz gets a fair trial.

He even insults some of his British colleagues after they portray favoritism. Professor Godbole is an Indian Hindu teaching in the same college where Fielding is stationed. He is also a close friend of Dr. Aziz. He also becomes a prominent politician in the country in one of the governments serving as the education secretary. Hamidullah is another friend of Dr. Aziz and an Indian Moslem. He is also helpful in the trial against Dr. Aziz.

Ronny Heslop is the city magistrate who is of the view that India has to be ruled by the British if it intends to be successful. He is also disappointed in the way the trial against Aziz was handled together with the withdrawal of the allegations. Dr. Panna Lal is a colleague of Aziz at the local hospital and a devoted Hindu.

He is also a collaborator who does not take an interest in the rebellion. Mohammed Latif is described as being a dishonest, happy, and gentleman who is also a distant relative of Hamidullah. He is also an obedient servant working for Dr. Aziz. He only speaks mostly when other parties speak to him. Mr. McBryde is another police superintendent in Chandrapore who is responsible for the arrest of Dr. Aziz.

He is described as a British born in India who is more educated compared to his colleagues. Mrs. More dies on her way back to England. She is also a close friend to Dr. Aziz, with the friendship beginning on her visit to India. She is described as cynical and one of the British with a different heart. Her son Ralph Moore and the daughter Stella Moore are also mentioned in the book, with Ralph being mentioned towards the end of the book.

Miss Adela Quested is a friend of Mrs. Moore. She comes to visit India together with her with the hope of marrying Mrs. Moore’s son Ronny Heaslop. She accuses Dr. Aziz of attempted rape after the incident in the caves and only withdraws the allegations later. She is also a symbol of the difficult relations between the British and the Indians.

Mr. Turton is another British who has resided in India for a long time but displays little knowledge of the Indian people. He states, “India does wonders for the judgment, especially in hot weather” (Forster 23). His wife Mrs. Turton is also a British who despises the Indians in their land and does not interact with them. She is also a snob who does not like Adela Quested.

The change in character is evident mainly in the Indian characters, with Dr. Aziz being the best example. Originally being moderate about the British and having some of them for friends, he later comes to hate and disapprove their occupation. The characters are a mixture of static and dynamic individuals who seem to have set goals and desires.

The Indian characters want to see their mainland free of the oppressive British while the British think they are superior. The author describes the characters in a clear way by presenting their character to match with the intended theme. The character with the author’s sympathy is Dr. Aziz, as portrayed in the challenges that he goes through under the British people, which later come to haunt him. He is however presented as one who can forgive and help them in times of crisis.

Point of View

The use of dialogue is prominent in the book. It is appropriate for speakers. The action is rendered by both descriptions by the author and the use of dialogue. The author tells the story from an omnipresent point of view. This approach is consistent throughout the book. He describes the characters and events as if he was overseeing them and had been in every corner that the dialogues were taking place.

Some of the striking sentences that can be considered full of meaning or particularly remarkable for their freshness of statement can be found in the book. One is, “All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30…They are not to blame; they have not a dog’s chance–we should be like them if we settled here” (166-7). This depicts the view that the British had of the Indians and their culture.

Symbols

The book employs a lot of symbolism to deliver its intended message. Some of these include the symbolic titles given to the three parts of the book. The Mosque, for example, signifies peace especially for Aziz and Mrs. Moore. It also symbolizes the sanctuary where the two parties meet as they seek peace with themselves.

The other symbols used in the book include the caves and the Wasp. The caves are dark to represent a contrast from the mosque where peace can be found. The wasp is also symbolic. It is mentioned several times in the book. It could symbolize natural Indian life and uncertainty. In one of the parts where the wasp is mentioned, Godbole remembers, “an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days…a wasp saw he forgot where…. He loved the wasp equally” (Forster 137).

The images used above are used to symbolize the nature of India as a country and the struggle for freedom from the British. The Mosque represents the religious nature of the country and its diversity.

It also represents a country at peace with itself. The wasp, on the other hand, could represent the natural environment in India or the invading British. The meanings of the symbols can be found in the history of the country. One has to know this history to interpret the symbols. The symbols also aid the author in passing the intended message to readers to thrilling them at the same time.

Style

The author’s style is rather simple and clear-cut. He uses simple events, people, and settings to produce a dramatic story. He, however, intertwines the simplicity with complex ideas, which bring out the main conflicts within the story.

The author also deviates from the omniscient nature when he narrates the story and makes some ambiguous events such as the death of Mrs. Moore. He also uses some abrupt events to bring contrast such as between the second and third part, which are separated by two years. It is also a richly suggestive.

Motif/Ideas

The characters are preoccupied with certain thoughts, which vary throughout the book. The main characters, both from the British and the Indian side, are used to portray these thoughts. Dr. Aziz is occupied by the thoughts of independence from the British towards the end of the book.

He is constantly creating the likely nature of the nation if the colonizers depart. Event after meeting with his old British friend, he insists that freedom from them is the only thing he looks forward to getting. “We may hate one another, but we hate you most. If I don’t make you go, Ahmed will, Karim will, if it’s fifty-five hundred years we shall get rid of you, yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then” (Forster 234).

Most of the British people are however occupied with the thoughts of suppressing the Indians to reveal how they are superior over them. An example is Ronny Heaslop who believes that the Indians are native people who are incapable of governing themselves and that, “No one can even begin to know [India] until he has been in it twenty years” (Forster 172). These sentiments are held by most, if not all, of the British people in high ranks in the town, with the Indians having contrasting ideas.

The work as a whole suggests some ideas, which are highlighted in the various parts of the book. Throughout the book, the various characters experience delays to travel to their destination.

This case could indicate a motif of the interrupted or delayed journey. Dr. Aziz is the first of the characters used to communicate this motif when his bicycle gets a flat tire on his way to Callendar’s house. The book, however, ends with one complete journey, which is signified by the sailing of Fielding, Ralph, and Stella after their boats had collided. Aziz had helped them with the incident signifying a rebirth.

Theme

The primary theme in the book is a culture clash between the West and the East with their different cultures. The British people and their families living in Chandrapore represent the Western culture in the story. These families live as a close-knit social unit that tries to recreate its life in the families’ motherland especially at the Chandrapore Club where they entertain themselves.

They also think of themselves as superior to the Indians. Ronny Heaslop remarks, “No one can even begin to think of knowing this country until he has been in it twenty years” (Forster 172). Several characters and the locals in Chandrapore, on the other hand, represent the Indians. They display the thinking of the locals representing the Eastern culture.

The other culture clash is between the Moslem and the Hindus who are native to the Indian country. In the book, the author brings out the cultural differences between the two cultural and religious groups. The book initially brings out the differences between the two religions together with the hidden enmity between them because of their conflicting beliefs. They are however united by the trial of Dr. Aziz by the British. Besides, celebrate together upon their victory — most of the elements in the work support this main theme.

Despite the main theme, other minor themes are prominent in the book. These contribute to the main theme. The author also includes them due to their significance especially in the real setting of India. The theme of friendship emerges throughout the book with most of the characters being friendly to some of the other characters.

Dr. Aziz, for example, has several friends in the book who are close to him. However, he falls out with others such as his British friends. Other themes in the book include God and religion public vs. private life and ambiguity. These contribute towards making the book thrilling and full of meaning.

Works Cited

Forster, Edward. A Passage to India. San Diego: Harcourt, 1984. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, March 20). "A Passage to India" by Edward Forster. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-passage-to-india-by-edward-forster/

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