A Passage to India

does forster portray one group more sympathetically ?


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Though Forster clearly portrays the Indians in the novel more sympathetically than the British, he occasionally shows how the Indians sometimes succumb to racism in the same ways that the British do. Thus far, we have been acquainted only with Aziz and his similarly well educated, upper-class friends. In Chapter IX we meet several other acquaintances of Aziz, Muslims, some of whom are not as enlightened or privileged as Aziz himself. These men stir up an atmosphere of paranoia, suspicion, and racism equal to the behavior of the British: they first suspect Fielding of poisoning the non-English guests at his tea party, and then they blatantly disparage the Hindu religion. Forster satirizes their sentiments in the same way that he satirizes the British, showing how their racism leads them into contradiction. The Indians uphold the ill Hindu professor Godbole against the English Fielding, but then disparage Hindus in general as disease-ridden. The men, in their clamor about the alleged dirtiness of Hindus, resemble the English who fear infection or contamination from the Indians.

Similarly, though Forster satirizes English behavior toward Indians, he seems to remain somewhat pro-Empire in his views. Forster’s logic does not argue against England’s presence in India, but rather suggests that England might better serve India by improving personal relations with Indians. We can see Forster’s fundamentally pro-Empire stance in his implication in these chapters that India, without British presence, would dissolve into fighting among its many sects. Hamidullah is Forster’s mouthpiece for this sentiment in Chapter IX: as the other men disparage Hindus and bicker among themselves, Hamidullah contemplates the lack of national feeling in India. He notes that Indians from different sects—like those at his political meetings—unite only against the British. Forster portrays a united India as only a fleeting illusion, brought on by Aziz’s recital of nostalgic poetry that imagines a single, Islamic India.

Furthermore, Forster implies that political action and energy may be impossible in India because the country is so oppressed by natural forces. In Chapter X, he shows that animals have as much voice as humans in India: their chaotic and meaningless noises sometimes dominate, blocking out rational human discussion. Additionally, the approaching onset of the hot season prevents action and sends people scurrying into the shelter of their homes. Looking closely, we see that each of the three parts of A Passage to India corresponds to one of the three seasons in India: Part I corresponds to the cold season, Part II to the hot season, and Part III to the wet season. As we see later, the oppressiveness of the hot season directly relates to the divisive and inflammatory plot events of Part II. Chapter X foreshadows the hot season and the turmoil, argumentativeness, and inexplicable sadness to come.

The majority of Part I has focused on developing the characters of Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore in relation to Aziz, to Ronny, and to their new surroundings. In these final sections of Part I, attention shifts somewhat to the character of Fielding, especially in terms of his relation to Aziz and to the rest of the English in Chandrapore. The development of Fielding’s relations begins to constitute a second plotline throughout the rest of the novel, moving in parallel to plot developments involving Adela and Mrs. Moore.

Though Fielding is generally on friendly terms with the English in Chandrapore, Fielding’s character presents a threat to the Englishmen because of his stance as an educator of individuals. The English fear that Indians become less obedient when they are better educated; indeed, the new ideas that Fielding fosters have the potential to undermine Britain’s rule over India. The English see Fielding as suspect because his model of education works through interaction, sitting down with individuals and exchanging ideas. This model treats Indians as separate, distinct individuals, rather than a homogeneous and easily stereotyped group. As such, it places even Fielding himself—a representative Englishman—in a position of vulnerability. While other English people present themselves as knowledgeable and dominant, Fielding lets himself play the role of learner as well as teacher.

As Fielding grows apart from the Englishmen at the club, he grows closer to Aziz. In these chapters we see Forster set up these two characters as the potentially successful answer to the question of whether an Indian can ever be friends with an Englishman. More than merely a cross-cultural bridge, the friendship between Fielding and Aziz seems to develop a homosocial undertone as well. Aspects of heterosexual interaction dominate Chapter XI—the photograph of Aziz’s wife, Aziz’s happy thoughts of visiting prostitutes, the men’s discussion of Adela’s qualities—but these marks of heterosexuality function as a means to develop and cement a homosocial (but not implicitly homosexual) connection between Fielding and Aziz. These heterosexual tokens, conversations, and thoughts are passed between the two men and serve primarily to strengthen their relationship—though women are the focus of the men’s conversation, women are effectively excluded, reduced to simply a medium of exchange between the men. Furthermore, we may interpret Fielding’s sentiments against marriage in Chapter XI as Forster’s own. The author implies that marriage shuts people off from educationally and emotionally fruitful relationships, such as the one that we see growing between Fielding and Aziz.