their meaning and symbolism
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Religion plays a major role in A Passage to India, dividing not only the primarily Christian British from the Indians, but also dividing Indian society from within. While Hinduism is the majority religion in India, and Islam the most significant minority, other Indian religious groups mentioned in the novel include Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. Ronny Heaslop typifies the British administrator's attitude toward all religion, including Christianity, as an irrational system of beliefs. According to him, Christianity is only useful insofar as it provides divine justification for the British monarchy, and no more. And India's plethora of religions only underscores its backwardness to someone like Ronny. The novel, however, explores how different religious traditions, including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, might provide a better, more inclusive view of humanity. But no one religion in the novel is valorized over the others as the last word on life, the universe, and everything. The "boum" – a twist on the Hindu Dharmic "om" – that threatens Mrs. Moore's hold on life signals the novel's general skepticism toward all organized religions.
And the wasps? [Mr. Sorley] became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud? And the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? No, no, that is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing. (1.4.13)
This passage is ironic toward the missionaries. They advocate a Christianity that embraces all regardless of creed. How about species, the narrator asks? Sorley is willing to accept monkeys, but wasps, oranges, mud, bacteria? The reference to mud in this passage is a comment on the fact that Christianity is a religion that seeks to reject the general "muddle" of existence (see our discussion of "muddle" in "Life, Consciousness, and Existence").