A Passage To India..


“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. … But {the horses…the earth…the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House… didn’t want it,} they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”

This extract is from the ending part of A Passage to India where meet two of the representatives of the British and the Indians who were friends early in the novel. The British one wants to reconcile but the whole situation opposes it. Thus it clarifies how evident the racial conflict was.

E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India was written at a time when the end of the British colonial presence in India was becoming a very real possibility. And as a result, racial conflict between the British and the Indians was a recurrent happening in India.

As part of the ideology of colonialism, throughout the novel, the English demonstrate their belief that they are superior to the Indians.
“Forster draws an unforgettable picture of the tensions between colonial rulers and the Indian professional class (Critical Survey of Long Fiction.1141).”
The comments and treatment that the Indians receive from the English characters in the novel show the common attitude toward the Indians during this time.

In order to legitimize their colonizing India, not legally obtained, the British colonizers set up a “degenerated” image of native people partly through imagination or misunderstandingThe new coming British people in India are injected such notion by the early comers. Mrs. Turton tries to convince Mrs. Moore:
Don’t forget that. You’re superior to everyone in India except one or two of the Ranis, and they’re on an equality.
Most of the English characters, especially females, always keep a neglecting distance from the Indians. For example, an English lady doesn’t reply to Dr. Aziz’s
“You are most welcome, ladies.”
rather takes his carriage without asking him. Even,
“Indians are not allowed into the Chandrapore Club even as guests,”

On the contrary, the Indians have a differing attitude towards the English. Actually they want their association but the British don’t. The action of the novel begins with the Indians’ discussion on
“as to whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman.”(chaper 2).
But, the novel ends with the conclusion that it is not possible until the British leave India, as quoted in the beginning of our discussion.

The novel’s main action begins after two English women’s coming to visit India. They intend to know India through close observation. The Turtons arrange a “Bridge Party” in their honour in order “to bridge the gulf between East and West.” But the irony is that the bridge attempt leads to misunderstanding and racial conflicts.

Actually cultural misunderstanding is an important reason behind the racial conflict. Differing cultural ideas and expectations regarding hospitality, social properties and the role of religion in daily life are responsible for misunderstandings between the English and the Muslim Indians, the English and the Hindu Indians, and between the Muslims and the Hindus.

The racial conflict reaches its climax in A Passage to India when Adela Quested accuses Dr. Aziz in court of attempting to seduce/rape her in Marabar Caves. It seems that Chandrapur is preparing for a war: it is divided into two groups. However, Fielding joins the Indians, for he believes and knows that the accusation is false.

Even their hostile attitude to each other becomes evident in the trial/court room. McBryde while presenting Aziz’s crime, makes a strict racial comment generalizing the common tendency of the Indians as “Oriental Pathology”,
“the darker races are physically attracted by the fairer, but not _vice versa_ this, not a matter for abuse, but just a fact which any scientific observer will confirm.
{However, this racial attack was not without a counter attack: Adela’s physical structure is satirized by onme of the Indians
“Even when the lady is so uglier than the gentleman?”}
Actually, we find McBryde’s predecessor in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest where Prospero, a racist, treats Caliban in the same way accusing him of ravishing Miranda:
“…thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.”

Longman Dictionary of Modern Literature sees Dr. Aziz episode as “a tragedy of racial tensions and antagonism” in the following quote:

The novel is essentially a tragedy of racial tensions and antagonism, in which the case of Dr. Aziz is a symbolic episode’ (Longman, 2000:410).

In the novel, the British characters repeatedly mention the influence of the landscape and climate in forming the national characteristics. In this respect also they seem to be superior. The reviewer of Harcourt Brace published Forster’s A Passage to India(1984) summarizes their Orientalist idea,
First, the idea that the climate forms the national characteristics. In the case of India, the characteristics is the colorless heat, that drives British crazy, and that make Indians “born” as the irrational. Second, the idea that the land represents its people, and vice versa.
{That is by birth, Oriental Indians are stereotypically considered to be exotic, sensual, passive, and backward, as opposed to the intellectual, civilized, progressive Westerners who have come to civilize and rule the Indians. }

To draw a conclusion of our discussion, racial conflict is one of dominant themes of A Passage to India. The final message of the novel is that though Aziz and Fielding want to be friends, historical circumstances prevent their friendship. Paul Armstrong suggests that A Passage to India reflects Forster’s
“recognition of the impossibility of reconciling different ways of seeing”(365).
His argument is fairly accurate, for Forster leaves us a very uncertain ending. In colonial India, cultural difference indicates a kind of superiority or inferiority, the centre and the periphery, {the dominating and the dominated, order and disorder, the authentic and the inauthentic, the powerful and the powerless}m who cannot be reconciled. But in post-colonial world, this colonial mentality has been rooted out, and the central position of the West destructed by writers like Kiran Desai who with her novel The Inheritance of Loss(2006), challenges the dominance of the West and the “reality” of an orderly, civilized “center” told by the West.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Paul B. “Reading India: E. M. Forster and the Politics of Interpretation”. Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 38, No. 4, Winter, 1992, pp. 365-385

Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. San Diego & NY: Harcourt Brace, 1984.

Longman Dictionary of Modern Literature. London: Longman, 2000

Desai, Kiran. The Inheritance of Loss. New York: Grove Press, 2006.