A Passage to India Summary and Analysis
by E.M. Forster
Part Two, Chapters 12-22
Part Two: Caves
This chapter is devoted solely to a description of the Marabar Caves. Each of the caves include a tunnel about eight feet long, five feet high, three feet wide that leads to a circular chamber about twenty feet in diameter. Having seen one cave, one has essentially seen all of them. A visitor who sees them returns to Chandrapore uncertain whether he has had an interesting experience, a dull one, or even an experience at all. In one of the caves there is rumored to be a boulder that swings on the summit of the highest of the hills; this boulder sits on a pedestal known as the Kawa Dol.
Forster describes the Marabar Caves as a center of ambiguity in the chapter. Visitors to the cave cannot fully interpret the significance of the caves or even whether or not they are an interesting experience or a dull one. This relates to the theme of difficulty of interpretation prevalent in A Passage to India. The caves will thus serve as a physical manifestation of the events surrounding them. Forster foreshadows future events that will occur in the cave which will be impossible to definitively determine. Forster also creates a sense of irony surrounding the trip to the caves. The characters have treated the Marabar Caves as perhaps the most fascinating site in Chandrapore, but Forster describes the caves as perhaps unexceptional and even dull.
Adela Quested mentions the trip to the Marabar Caves to Miss Derek, but she mentions that she is unsure whether the trip will occur because Indians seem forgetful. A servant overhears them, and passes on the information to Mahmoud Ali. Aziz therefore decides to push the matter through, securing Fielding and Godbole for the trip and asking Fielding to approach Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore. Aziz considers all aspects of the trip, including food and alcohol, and worries about the cultural differences. Mrs. Moore and Adela travel to the caves in a purdah carriage. Aziz finds that Antony, the servant that the women are bringing, is not to be trusted, so he suggests that he is unnecessary, but Antony insists that Ronny wants him to go. Mohammed Latif bribes Antony not to go on the trip with them. Ten minutes before the train is to leave, Fielding and Godbole are not yet at the station. The train starts just as Fielding and Godbole arrive; Godbole had miscalculated the length of his morning prayer. When the two men miss the train, Aziz blames himself. Aziz feels that this trip is a chance for him to demonstrate that Indians are capable of responsibility.
Tensions are high among all involved in the trip to the Marabar Caves, particularly Aziz, who strains to impress Mrs. Moore and the other English visitors. He greatly fears offending the women through cultural insensitivity; he wishes to adapt the trip to English values to the greatest extent possible. This shows the difficulty of the social interaction between the English and the Indians. Even when both groups have the best of intentions, the differences between the two groups and the tension between them make it difficult for the groups to interact casually. This can be seen through the mistake which causes Fielding and Godbole to miss the train.
Aziz's character flaws become more explicit in this chapter, as he feels the strain of trying to impress Adela and Mrs. Moore. Although Aziz has good intentions, he is tense and controlling. Aziz also shows himself to be prone to melodrama, blaming himself for a foolish mistake by Godbole and thinking that the whole trip is ruined because of it. Aziz begins to distrust those around him, sending away Antony, who he believes to be a spy for Ronny Heaslop. The bribery of Antony is a disturbing action for Aziz and Mohammed Latif. They use devious means to ensure that Ronny's servant not attend the trip, and their actions are thus susceptible to great misinterpretation. Furthermore, the absence of Fielding from the trip will leave Aziz without an intermediary between him and the English women that will contribute to the troubles that will soon occur.
For the past two weeks in which they had been in India, Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested had felt nothing, living inside cocoons; Mrs. Moore accepts her apathy, but Adela resents hers. It is Adela's faith that the whole stream of events is important and interesting, and if she grows bored she blames herself severely. This is her only major insincerity. Mrs. Moore feels increasingly that people are important, but relationships between them are not and that in particular too much fuss has been made over marriage. The train reaches its destination and they ride elephants to reach the caves. None of the guests particularly want to see the caves. Aziz overrates hospitality, mistaking it for intimacy and not seeing that it is tainted with a sense of possession. It is only when Mrs. Moore and Fielding are near that he knows that it is more blessed to receive than to give. Miss Quested admits that it is inevitable that she will become an Anglo-Indian, but Aziz protests. She hopes that she will not become like Mrs. Turton and Mrs. Callendar, but admits that she does not have a special force of character to stop that tendency. In one of the caves there is a distinct echo, which alarms Mrs. Moore, who decides she must leave the cave. Aziz appreciates the frankness with which Mrs. Moore treats him. Mrs. Moore begins to write a letter to her son and daughter, but cannot because she remains disturbed and frightened by the echo in the cave. She is terrified because the universe no longer offers repose to her soul. She has lost all interest, even in Aziz, and the affectionate and sincere words that she had spoken seem foreign to her.
Forster establishes more of Mrs. Moore's and Adela Quested's traits in this chapter, describing Mrs. Moore as a woman facing a spiritual crisis as she ages. She does not have the need for drama that Adela has, a quality that will cause Miss Quested great pain, but Mrs. Moore does not have the sense of confidence in any ultimate spiritual truth for comfort. The saintly Mrs. Moore thus becomes concurrently more fragile and more hardened to the outside world. The experience in the caves in which she hears the mysterious echo serves as a turning point for Mrs. Moore, reminding her of the emptiness and horror that seems to surround her, yet she demonstrates this great terror by becoming solitary and unconcerned with those around her. The sincerity and graciousness that she had demonstrated becomes foreign to her, and she collapses into a depressive solipsism.
Forster portrays Adela Quested as a woman who is sincere and forthright, but nevertheless a person of weak and shallow character. She admits that she is susceptible to outside influences and that she does not have the strength of character to resist becoming the typical Anglo-Indian with the corresponding narrow-minded view of Indians. This will be an equally important characteristic in terms of impending plot developments; Adela will be unable to stop events that she herself sets in motion. However, whatever Adela's weakness, she is honest and realizes these insufficiencies. This quality of self-awareness, if not completely negating these undesirable traits, permits Adela to admit her mistakes and errors.
The visit to the Marabar Caves becomes more absurd as the novel continues. Forster portrays the entire expedition with a sense of irony. None of the guests truly wish to see the caves, and each of the guests is tense and unable to appreciate the visit. Aziz works too hard to please; if Adela is a person who becomes overwhelmed by events around her, Aziz is a person who throws himself wholeheartedly into events to a loss of any sense of perspective. The trip to the Marabar Caves demonstrates this loss of perspective as it becomes a diversion of gaudy excess that nobody truly wishes to occur.
Adela and Aziz and a guide continue along the tedious expedition. They encounter several isolated caves which the guide persuades them to visit, but there is really nothing for them to see. Aziz has little to say to Miss Quested, for he likes her less than he does Mrs. Moore and greatly dislikes that she is marrying a British official, while Adela has little to say to Aziz. Adela realizes that she does not love Ronny, but is not sure whether that is reason enough to break off her engagement. She asks Aziz if he is married, and he tells her that he is, feeling that it is more artistic to have his wife alive for a moment. She asks him if he has one wife or more than one, a question which shocks him very much, but Adela is unaware that she had said the wrong thing.
Mrs. Moore's newly developing disillusionment as well as the absence of Fielding and Godbole leaves Adela and Aziz together, an event fraught with peril, for the two have little regard for one another and interaction between the two takes on a more lurid dimension than the obvious innocent social interaction between the elderly Mrs. Moore and Aziz. This situation is precisely what Ronny fears, for an undercurrent of sexual impropriety pervades this chapter, as shown by Adela's realization that she does not love Ronny and her question for Aziz about whether he has more than one wife. However, whatever the subtext of the conversation, the interaction between the two characters is entirely innocent: there remains no sexual attraction between Aziz and Adela. Forster indicates that part of Adela's rationale for not wanting to marry Ronny is due to a similar lack of sexual attraction, but she must consider the comforts that the stable Ronny can provide.
Aziz waits in the cave, smoking, and when he returns he finds the guide alone with his head on one side. The guide does not know exactly which cave Miss Quested entered, and Aziz worries that she is lost. On his way down the path to the car that had arrived from Chandrapore, Aziz finds Miss Quested's field glasses lying at the verge of a cave and puts them in his pocket. He sees Fielding, who arrived in Miss Derek's car, but neither he nor anyone else knows where Adela has gone. The expedition ends, and the train arrives to bring them back into Chandrapore. As they arrive in town, Mr. Haq arrests Dr. Aziz, but he is under instructions not to say the charge. Aziz refuses to go, but Fielding talks him into cooperating. Mr. Turton leads Fielding off so that Aziz goes to prison alone.
The central event of the novel occurs during this chapter, but Forster chooses not to describe it, instead shifting the perspective to Dr. Aziz outside of the cave. The details of the event are deliberately vague: all that Forster indicates during this chapter is that Adela has some physical confrontation in one of the Marabar caves and flees the scene. However, he does establish some points that will come to be important in future chapters, such as the fact that Aziz finds Adela's field glasses. The discovery of the field glasses is perhaps the only explicitly stated event in the chapter, but it is a key event that establishes for the reader that Aziz was not in Adela's presence when she lost them. Nevertheless, the fact that Aziz has the field glasses can easily be misinterpreted as material evidence against him.
Despite the vague circumstances surrounding the attack on Adela Quested, Forster does establish that Aziz is not responsible. By framing the chapter from his perspective, Forster establishes that Aziz could not possibly have been in the cave at the time. However, at this early point only Fielding is ready to avow that Aziz is innocent. Fielding emerges as the pragmatic voice of reason in this chapter, the one English character who attempts to make sense of the attack. Already there seems to be a sharp divide between the other English characters who are united against Aziz and Fielding, who will prove the one exception to this trend.
Fielding speaks to the Collector, who tells him that Miss Quested has been insulted in one of the Marabar Caves and that he would not allow Fielding to accompany Aziz to preserve him from scandal. Fielding thinks that Adela is mad, a remark that Mr. Turton demands that he withdraw. Fielding explains that he cannot believe that Aziz is guilty. Mr. Turton tells Fielding that he has been in the country for twenty-five years, and in that time he has never known anything but disaster whenever Indians and the English interact socially. He tells Fielding that there will be an informal meeting at the club that evening to discuss the situation. Fielding keeps his head during the discussion; he does not rally to the banner of race. The Collector goes to the platform, where he can see the confusion about him. He takes in the situation with a glance, and his sense of justice functions although he is insane with rage. When he sees coolies asleep in the ditches or the shopkeepers rising to salute him, he says to himself "I know what you're like at last; you shall pay for this, you shall squeal."
The worst qualities among the Anglo-Indians emerge in this chapter, as they rally to Miss Quested's cause as a means to show their contempt for the Indians. In the eyes of the Collector, Aziz is already guilty and his impending trial shall serve as a retribution for all that Mr. Turton believes to be the faults of the Indians. However, he places some degree of the blame on Adela, claiming that nothing but disaster occurs when Indians and English interact socially. This is an ironic statement, for whatever happened to Miss Quested occurred when she was not in Aziz's presence. It is insufficient interaction between Adela and Aziz that allowed Adela to be assaulted.
Fielding will serve as Aziz's advocate among the English, to his personal and social detriment. If Mr. Turton is adamant that Aziz is guilty, Fielding is equally adamant that Adela must have made a mistake; his staunch belief in Aziz leads Fielding to make damaging statements against Adela. This indicates that, whatever the outcome of the trial, Adela is destined to become a victim once again, suffering whatever indignity actually occurred in the caves and becoming vilified by supporters of Aziz for her mistake. Forster also indicates that Fielding will soon become an outcast among the English. When Mr. Turton tells Fielding that the English will meet at the club to decide a course of action, he presupposes ethnic solidarity. This brings up the theme of the demands of racial identity. Turton assumes that Fielding's status as an Englishman indicates that he will support Adela, while Fielding adheres first to ideas of justice and only secondarily to racial solidarity.
Mr. McBryde, the District Superintendent of Police, is the most reflective and best educated of the Chandrapore officials. He receives Aziz with courtesy, but is shocked at his downfall. McBryde has a theory about climatic zones: all unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30. They are thus not to blame, for they have not a dog's chance. McBryde, however, admits that he seems to contradict this theory himself. The charge against Aziz is that he followed her into the cave and made insulting advances; she hit him with her field glasses, but he pulled at them and the strap broke, and that is how she got away. They find that Aziz has the glasses. Fielding asks if he may see Adela, but the request is denied. McBryde admits to Fielding that she is in no state to see anyone, but Fielding believes that she's under a hideous delusion and Aziz is innocent. Fielding explains that, if Aziz were guilty, he would not have kept the field glasses. McBryde tells him that the Indian criminal psychology is different, and shows Fielding the contents of Aziz's pocket case, including a letter from a friend who keeps a brothel. The police also find pictures of women in Aziz's bungalow, but Fielding says that the picture is of Aziz's wife.
Even the "best educated and most reflective" of the Chandrapore officials is susceptible to the racist attitudes of his peers, as Mr. McBryde demonstrates, but there are obvious flaws in his reasoning that even Mr. McBryde himself can admit to himself. McBryde is a symbol of the errors of judgment in the educated English. Although he uses reasoning to support his racist views, his judgment, as he even admits, is not quite sound.
Aziz faces great difficulties confronting the charges against him, which become more clear in this chapter. Although the evidence against Aziz, including the field glasses, can be dismissed through rational thought and examination, Forster suggests that there is the possibility that Aziz will not even receive this mere consideration. A Kafkaesque atmosphere surrounds the prosecution of Aziz, as even such evidence as a photograph can confirm the British officials' suspicion that Aziz is an immoral man and must be guilty. The picture of Aziz's wife becomes important for a third time; at first a sign of Aziz's devotion to his deceased wife and then a symbol of his friendship with Fielding, it finally ends up as an ill-used symbol of Aziz's supposed guilt equivalent to pornography.
Fielding believes that, by meeting with Adela, he may solve the misunderstanding between her and Aziz, but even this simple request is denied. For the English, the trial seems to concern first the prosecution of Indians in general and second the specific prosecution of Aziz. Aziz and Adela are merely objects in the struggle between the two ethnic groups. Fielding, in contrast, views the matter in terms of the two persons involved rather than in terms of the larger issues involved.
Hamidullah waits outside the Superintendent's office; Fielding tells him that evidence for Aziz's innocence will come. Hamidullah is convinced that Aziz is innocent and throws his lot with the Indians, realizing the profundity of the gulf that separates them. Hamidullah wants Aziz to have Armitrao, a Hindu who is notoriously anti-British, as his lawyer. Fielding feels this is too extreme. Fielding tells Hamidullah that he is on the side of Aziz, but immediately regrets taking sides, for he wishes to slink through India unlabelled. Fielding has a talk with Godbole, who is entirely unaffected by Aziz's plight. He tells Fielding that he is leaving Chandrapore to return to his birthplace in Central India to take charge of education there. He wants to start a High School on sound English lines. Godbole cannot say whether or not he thinks that Aziz is guilty; he says that nothing can be performed in isolation, for when one performs a good action, all do, and when an evil action is performed, all perform it. He claims that good and evil are both aspects of the Lord. Fielding goes to see Aziz, but finds him unapproachable through misery. Fielding wonders why Miss Quested, such a dry, sensible girl without malice, would falsely accuse an Indian.
Much like the expedition to the Marabar Caves, the trial of Aziz assumes absurdly grand proportions. The trial becomes not about the specific injustice against Adela Quested, but about the relationships among the ethnic groups in India, whether English, Muslim or Hindu. Even the selection of Armitrao as the barrister underscores this, showing the solidarity between the Muslim and Hindus against the British. Fielding therefore must sacrifice his particular racial identity and side with Aziz out of considerations of justice, contrary to his wish to travel throughout India without any particular group status. Forster portrays this situation as a situation of grotesque irony. A mysterious and likely nonexistent event in the Marabar Caves leads to a grand confrontation between the races in Chandrapore.
Professor Godbole's response to Aziz's plight places the trial in different context from the others' consideration of it. Godbole views the trial in terms of humanity as a whole instead of in terms of distinct races. Yet this larger perspective on the situation obscures the details; Godbole appears callous and indifferent to the fate of his friend. Godbole can appear this way because of his inner sense of repose and satisfaction. Since he is convinced that nothing can be done for Aziz, he shows no sense of outrage at the injustice.
Fielding poses the central question of the trial, specifically why the sensible Adela Quested would falsely accuse an Indian. Forster seems to allow for two answers to this question: Adela has been influenced by those around her, forced into inflating her charges by the prejudiced English officials, or Adela may not in fact be sensible. Forster has established that Adela is somewhat impetuous and indecisive; her decision to charge Aziz may be the most dangerous manifestation of this characteristic.
Miss Quested's plight had brought her great support among the English in India; she came out from her ennobled in sorrow. At the meeting at the club, Fielding asks whether there is an official bulletin about Adela's health, or whether the grave reports are due to gossip. Fielding makes an error by speaking her name; others refer to both Adela and Aziz in vague and impersonal terms. Each person feels that all he loved best was at stake in the matter. The Collector tells them to assume that every Indian is an angel. The event had made Ronny Heaslop a martyr, the recipient of all the evil intended against them by the country they had tried to serve. As he watches Fielding, the Collector says that responsibility is a very awful thing, but he has no use for the man who shirks it. He claims that he is against any show of force. Fielding addresses the meeting, telling them that he believes that Aziz is innocent; if Aziz is found guilty, Fielding vows to reign and leave India, but now he resigns from the club. When Ronny enters, Fielding does not stand. The Collector insists that he apologize to Ronny, but then orders Fielding to leave immediately.
Forster finally returns to the point of view of Miss Quested for the first time since the expedition to the Marabar Caves. Suffering has ennobled Adela and given her social standing as well as a sense of purpose. She is not sickly, as has been reported, but is rather held by the British as a perpetual victim and symbol of Indian barbarity. Certain taboos surround Adela as victim; she does not exist as a person, as the injunction against speaking her name demonstrates. Ronny becomes a martyr to the same degree as Adela, an ironic circumstance considering Adela's revelation that she did not love Ronny immediately preceding the attack. For the British, the circumstances of the trial are both personal and public, as the officials feel that their safety and well-being depend on the proper outcome.
Fielding, who has slowly become an outcast among the British, severs his ties to them completely in this chapter by declaring Aziz's innocence and vowing to resign from his post. His actions are righteous yet foolish. Fielding makes the error of refusing to stand when Ronny enters and behaves rudely to the others. Like the rest of the English, Fielding focuses his anger on the wrong target, essentially blaming Ronny for Adela's own mistake. Nevertheless, although Ronny breaks from his race he cannot completely abandon his identity. Fielding demonstrates the limits of racial identity, for it is essentially fixed but still fluid. Fielding can never totally disavow the English, but can become an outcast from them.
Fielding spends the rest of the evening with the Nawab Bahadur, Hamidullah, Mahmoud Ali, and others of the confederacy. Fielding has an inclination to tell Professor Godbole of the tactical and moral error he had made in being rude to Ronny Heaslop, but Godbole had already gone to bed.
Essentially banished from his own race, Fielding joins the Indians in the defense of Aziz, but this choice is a difficult and problematic one. Fielding regrets both the circumstances that force him to choose sides in the conflict and his own decisions which have made it impossible for him to remain sympathetic to the British. Forster establishes several characters as the victims of circumstance, including Aziz and Adela, and Fielding in this chapter definitively joins this select group. Forster portrays Fielding as a man uneasy about his decision: he chooses his friendship with Aziz and sense of justice over his English identity, but still feels that he has made a sacrifice. Fielding, who at the novel's beginning could easily maneuver between associations with the English and Indians, must now accept that he does not have this freedom of association.
Adela lay for several days in the McBryde's bungalow; others are over-kind to her, the men too respectful and the women too sympathetic. The one visitor she wants, Mrs. Moore, kept away. She tells that she went into a detestable cave, remembers scratching the wall with her finger nail, and then there was a shadow down the entrance tunnel, bottling her up. She hit him with her glasses, he pulled her round the cave by the strap, it broke, and she escaped. He never actually touched her. She refuses to cry, a degradation worse than what occurred in the Marabar and a negation of her advanced outlook. Adela feels that only Mrs. Moore can drive back the evil that happened to her. Ronny tells her that she must appear in court, and Adela asks if his mother can be there. He tells her that the case will come before Mr. Das, the brother of Mrs. Bhattacharya and Ronny's assistant. Ronny tells Adela that Fielding wrote her a letter (which he opened). He tells her that the defense had got hold of Fielding, who has done the community a great disservice. Adela worries that Mrs. Moore is ill, but Ronny says that she is merely irritable at the moment. When she sees her, Adela thinks that she repels Mrs. Moore, who has no inclination to be helpful; Mrs. Moore appears slightly resentful, without her Christian tenderness. Mrs. Moore refuses to be at all involved in the trial. She tells that she will attend their marriage but not their trial. She vows to go to England. Ronny tells her that she appears to want to be left out of everything. She says that the human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage were any use. Adela wonders whether she made a mistake, and tells Ronny that he is innocent. She feels that Mrs. Moore has told her that Aziz is innocent. Ronny tells her not to say such things, because every servant he has is a spy. Mrs. Moore tells Adela that of course Aziz is innocent. Mrs. Moore thinks that she is a bad woman, but she will not help Ronny torture a man for what he never did. She claims that there are different ways of evil, and she prefers her own to his. Ronny thinks that Mrs. Moore must leave India, for she was doing no good to herself or anyone else.
Forster portrays Adela as primarily a victim of the circumstances surrounding her attack rather than a victim of the attack herself. Adela approaches the events of the cave as simple if unpleasant facts, but her real degradation occurs with regard to the others' treatment of her. The way that the Anglo-Indians treat Adela places her as a perpetual victim, handling her like a fragile child. Adela refuses to play the role of the helpless victim, however, partially to retain her dignity and partially because she remains unsure of the actual legitimacy of her charges.
Two significant forces trouble Adela. The first is her doubt that Aziz is guilty of the crime with which she has charged him, and she even tells Ronny that she believes she has made a mistake. Mrs. Moore confirms this doubt, definitively stating to Adela that Aziz is innocent. Her statement contains great significance, for Mrs. Moore serves as a paragon of behavior for Forster and the statement serves to shatter the atmosphere of condescending tenderness that surrounds Adela. Mrs. Moore's statement that Aziz is innocent is a turning point in the novel: it is the first time that anybody confronts Adela with the idea that she may be mistaken.
The second factor that concerns Adela is the state of Mrs. Moore. She has been kept apart from Adela, perhaps because she might serve as an advocate for Aziz. However, during her separation from Adela Mrs. Moore has become bitter and cynical; despite her status as perhaps the most moral character in A Passage to India, Mrs. Moore doubts her own virtue, considering herself to be in some sense evil. Her actions, however, demonstrate the contrary, as she opposes her son and confronts Adela with what she believes to be the truth. Mrs. Moore's conversation with Adela serves as a turning point for Mrs. Moore as well as Adela. It is here that Mrs. Moore breaks from her depression to take an active role in the story. She reasserts herself as the moral force in the story, a role that Adela's isolation and Mrs. Moore's solipsism had forced her to abandon.
Ronny's realization that his mother must leave India is tainted with some degree of malicious self-interest. He seems to fear that she will interfere with the events of the trial by proclaiming Aziz's innocence and appears ready to send his mother back to England where she cannot oppose his interests. This is perhaps the most disturbing evidence that Ronny and his colleagues are interested not in the facts of the case but in the larger social ramifications. Ronny is ready to manipulate his mother and secure the conviction of an innocent man as part of Anglo-Indian politics.
A Passage to India Essays and Related Content
- A Passage to India: Essays
- A Passage to India: Questions
- A Passage to India: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- E.M. Forster: Biography
- A Passage to India Summary
- About A Passage to India
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 1-5
- Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 6-11
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 12-22
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two, Chapters 23-32
- Summary and Analysis of Part Three, Chapters 33-37
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