A Passage to India disseminates a horde

Published: 2021-07-02 04:22:18
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Category: India, A Passage to India

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E.M.Forster in his celebrated novel A Passage to India disseminates a horde of messages, one of which is liberal-humanistic attitude that can help stall separation, which is again a major theme of the novel. Like Whitman’s cry “Passage to more than India”, Forster’s novel is more than an historical novel about India: it is a prophetic work in which Forster is concerned not only with the path to greater understanding of India but also with man’s quest for truth and understanding of the universe he lives in.

Forster shows in the novel how man’s attempts to create unity are continually dominated and shattered by forces he cannot control. On this theme of Separation, Lionel Trilling comments, “The theme of separateness of fences and barriers , the old theme of  Pauline epistles, which runs through all Forster’s novels is in A Passage to India, hugely expanded and everywhere dominant.” The separation of race from race, sex, culture from  culture is what underlies every relationship. In this context, the most obvious of these separations is that between the Indians and the English. The earlier part of the novel is concerned with showing the wide gulf between the rulers and the ruled, between the white Englishmen and the colored Indians.

As pointed out in the first chapter of the novel, Chandrapore is divided into two sections: the English Civil Station and the Native Section, the one having nothing to do with the other: the Civil  Station “shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.” This division in landscape is symptomatic of the wide gulf that separates the rulers from the ruled. “Is it possible to be friends with an Englishman ”the Indians ask and Forster’s answer in the novel is a clear NO as long as the English remain unfeeling, proud and autocratic towards the Indians. Even the Bridge Party thrown to bridge the gulf  between the English and the Indians ends in a fiasco. After having invited the Indians to the Bridge Party ,the English do not bother to go out and meet them.
It goes without saying that after such humiliation, the Indians harbor nothing but a collective attitude of fear and hatred in response to the collective attitude of contempt shown by the Englishmen. Love and fraternal feelings could have been the right way of treating the modest Indians, feels Forster. Another dramatic  instance of separation in the novel is that which comes to exist between Aziz and Fielding. Here is a crucial situation in which an Englishman sets aside his snobbishness and attempts a genuine rapport with a warm, impulsive Indian, and yet final understanding is shown to be impossible. It is, perhaps, because the primary barrier between them had been their identities: one a member of the ruler class while the other was a member of the subject race. As Arnold Kettle points out, there are political pressures of imperialism which distort the relationship between Aziz and Fielding.
But the ebb and flow  of their relationship is disturbed by more serious factors—differences of background and values by the clash of standards on beauty, propriety and emotional expression. “Kindness, kindness and more kindness”—this prescription of Aziz about the racial problem does not seem to go a long way ;a trust in the power of affectionate friendship is not enough to bridge the growing hiatus between close friends even.
Further there is the glaring contrast in their characters :between the liberal Englishman “traveling light” and the impulsive Aziz rooted in “society and Islam.” While goodwill and spontaneous affection breaks down the initial barriers between them, there are signs that Fielding’s immature imagination  and Aziz’s sensitiveness are going to bode ill for their future relationship.
And this is what exactly happens later. Misunderstanding crops up between them in their attitudes towards Adela and leads to the break in their relationship. After Aziz’s release from the prison, Fielding asks Aziz to withdraw the brutally revengeful demands clamped on Adela   and Aziz refuses and they part ways. When they are reunited at the end ,their ways of life have changed too radically –Fielding supporting the Anglo Indians and  Aziz  ,Indian nationalism.
Apart from these major schisms there are other minor separations and gaps in the novel . Men themselves are segregated from the rest of the creation. Young Mr. Sorley ,an advanced Christian Missionary ,accepts that God in his divine love brooks no separations and will extend his hospitality to the animals too, to the monkeys and jackals. But he is less sure about wasps and cannot at all admit into Divine Unity things like “oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud.
Or for that matter the “bacteria inside Mr. Sorley’s head!” “We must exclude something from our gathering or we shall be left with nothing”, he nervously insists. And yet the forced exclusion is inane because men, after all, are only a small part of Creation: “It matters so little to the majority of living beings what the majority that calls itself human , desires or decides.”

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