By indexer
2 years ago

Mystery in A Passage to India by E M Forster

The mystery around which much of the plot of Forster’s “A Passage to India” revolves is that of what actually happened in the Marabar Caves. Was Miss Quested molested by Dr Aziz? However, there are mysteries that go much deeper than that and it is these that give the novel its greatest strength.

A Passage to India was E M Forster’s fifth and final novel published in his lifetime, although he lived for another 46 years after its publication in 1924. It therefore represents his last exploration, in fiction, of the theme that pervades his work (the first four novels appeared between 1905 and 1910), namely that of the difficulty of human communication, summarised by the plea “Only Connect” that is the motto of “Howards End”.

Forster visited India twice, in 1912-13 and again in 1921-22 when he worked for several months as the secretary of the maharajah of a native (i.e. semi-independent) state. He was therefore able to get a close view of the situation of India under British rule, and to appreciate the problem of human connection from another perspective.

The very first line of the novel states: “Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary”. However, the caves do not enter the story until nearly halfway through the book, and the description given of them seems to belie that first line, as they would appear to be no more “extraordinary” than anywhere else in the area:

“… the visitor returns to Chandrapore uncertain whether he has had an interesting experience or a dull one or any experience at all. He finds it difficult to discuss the caves, or to keep them apart in his mind, for the pattern never varies, and no carving, not even a bees’ nest or a bat, distinguishes one from another”… It is as if the surrounding plain or the passing birds have taken upon themselves to exclaim ‘extraordinary’, and the word has taken root in the air, and been inhaled by mankind”.

In other words, the caves have no mystery other than what has been assigned to them by local people. They are therefore the place to which the obsequious Dr Aziz insists on taking a party of English visitors who wish to see “the real India”. He goes to enormous trouble to organise a rail expedition and picnic, his wish being to create the best possible impression.

The incident at the heart of the novel concerns Adela Quested, who has recently arrived in India to be married to an officer of the British Raj. At one point during his guided tour of the caves Dr Aziz becomes separated from Miss Quested, who is then reported as having run out of a cave in panic, stumbled down a rocky slope, and been taken back to Chandrapore by car.

The reader never knows exactly what happened to Miss Quested, although the best guess is that she had been affected by the heat and panicked in the darkness of a cave that she had entered alone. However, when she arrives back in Chandrapore in a distressed state the British officials are quick to point the finger of blame at Dr Aziz and make up a story that involves him making untoward advances to her. Aziz is arrested and put on trial.

There is now an almost universal wedge suddenly driven between the British and Indian communities. A form of hysteria seems to sweep through both the ruled and the rulers as all trust breaks down and the few characters who had previously tried to forge links of understanding between the races find their situations to be increasingly difficult.

As rumour and counter-rumour rush through the town it looks as though things could turn violent. The trial becomes very confused, with the British officials keen to convict Aziz but the key witnesses becoming increasingly uncertain about their evidence. Eventually, Miss Quested withdraws her charge and the trial collapses, which is interpreted by the local Indians as a major triumph.

The mystery of the Marabar Caves therefore remains unresolved, but so does that of how Briton and Indian can ever reach full understanding between themselves. Dr Aziz leaves town and becomes embittered as a result of his treatment by the British. At the end of the book he expresses his view that the British and the Indians will never be friends until the British have left India. Forster concludes by pointing to a deeper reason why this is so, namely that it is the land itself that makes friendship and understanding impossible:

“… the earth didn’t want it, … the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House … They didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices, ‘No, not yet’, and the sky said, ‘No, not there’”.

The mystery at the heart of A Passage to India is therefore whether there can ever be a true rapprochement between the races and religions that people Planet Earth. Forster leaves the question open, and therefore to continue as a mystery, because the situation of British India was clearly no solution and no alternative seemed likely to present itself.

In his earlier novels, Forster was inclined to offer an answer to the situation of “disconnection” that he presented. His solutions tended to oversimplify matters and therefore appear facile and unsatisfactory. In A Passage to India various unworkable solutions are presented, including that of walking away from the problem and leaving it for others to sort out. By ending the novel in the way he does, Forster recognises that this mystery of human connection is beyond the power of humans, or even gods, to solve. The mystery lies deep within the soul of India itself, and that is where its resolution must take place, if it ever does.

2 years
fortune Interesting why i can't open "read more" , it is not clickable, header is not clickable too in phone. Maybe i succeed to open via pc later as i like mysteries.
2 years
2 years
indexer @fortune That's a shame. It's not a problem that I'm aware of, because I only operate via a computer, not being the owner of a phone!
2 years
2 years
fortune Oh, finally I have read it using a laptop. Great story, and the last words of the Forster's novel are so wise. Anyway, I am happy for Adela Quested that nothing bad happened to her and the story has not a bad ending what I always afraid for when reading books.
2 years
2 years
indexer @fortune I don't think one can say that "nothing bad" happened to Adela - the whole process of the trial and the pressures she was put under beforehand, were extremely distressing, as was the panic attack she suffered in the first place.
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