A Passage to India Summary and Analysis
by E.M. Forster
Part Two, Chapters 23-32
Lady Mellanby, wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, had been gratified by the appeal addressed to her by the ladies of Chandrapore, but she could do nothing; she does agree to help Mrs. Moore get passage out of India in her own cabin. Mrs. Moore got what she desired: she escaped the trial, the marriage and the hot weather, and will return to England in comfort. Mrs. Moore, however, has come to that state where the horror and the smallness of the universe are visible. The echo in the cave was a revelation to Mrs. Moore, insignificant though it may be. Mrs. Moore departs from Chandrapore alone, for Ronny cannot leave the town.
Another event of unfortunate ambiguity occurs in this chapter, as Lady Mellanby uses her influence to ensure that Mrs. Moore leaves Chandrapore. Although Forster portrays this as a kind and considerate act in the part of Lady Mellanby, it is the ladies of Chandrapore who make the request to secure Mrs. Moore passage out of India. This fits with the possible interpretation that Ronny forces Mrs. Moore to leave so that she cannot defend Aziz's innocence, a portrayal of the situation that contains a modicum of truth but is nevertheless a grave misrepresentation.
Mrs. Moore leaves India without the tender Christian spirit with which she entered Chandrapore. Although she is no less noble than before, Mrs. Moore no longer has faith in the stability of the universe, finding it vast and uncomforting. The echo in the Marabar Caves proves the pivotal event for Mrs. Moore, a reminder of the emptiness that surrounds her. While her son and the others in Chandrapore inflate the events of the Marabar Caves to absurd proportions, only Mrs. Moore sees her circumstances as pitifully small and unimportant.
The heat accelerates after Mrs. Moore's departure until it seems a punishment. Adela resumes her morning kneel to Christianity, imploring God for a favorable verdict. Adela worries that she will break down during the trial, but the Collector tells her that she is bound to win, but does not tell her that Nawab Bahadur had financed the defense and would surely appeal. The case is called, and the first person Adela notices in the Court is the man who pulls the punkah; to Adela, this nearly naked man stands out as divine as he pulls the rope. Mr. McBryde behaves casually, as if he knows that Aziz will be found guilty. He remarks that the darker races are physically attracted to the fairer, but not vice verse, and a voice is heard from the crowd asking "even when the lady is so much uglier than the man?" Mahmoud Ali claims that Mrs. Moore was sent away because she would have testified that Aziz is innocent. The audience begins chanting Mrs. Moore until her name seems to be Esmiss Esmoor, as if a Hindu goddess. The magistrate scolds Armitrao and McBryde for presuming Mrs. Moore's presence as a witness. Adela is the next to testify; a new sensation protects her like a magnificent armor. When McBryde asks her whether Aziz followed her, she say that she cannot be sure. Finally, she admits that she made a mistake and Dr. Aziz never followed her. The Major attempts to stop the proceedings on medical grounds, but Adela withdraws the charge. The Nawab Bahadur declares in court that this is a scandal. Mr. Das rises and releases the prisoner, as the man who pulls the punkah continues as if nothing had occurred.
As Mrs. Moore turns away from her secure faith in Christianity during her exit from India, Adela returns to her spiritual belief to strengthen herself before her trial. Her worries that she will break down during the trial stem partially from her doubt in the legitimacy of her charge against Aziz; the chapter builds to her final admission in court that she in fact falsely accused the doctor. No actual explanation for Adela's charge against Aziz is yet given, but Forster indicates that Adela has been pressured into accusing Aziz by the British officials. Despite the fact that Adela permitted Aziz to suffer in jail for so long, Forster portrays her action as noble and self-sacrificing. When she attempts to revoke the charge, McBryde immediately turns on her, essentially declaring that she has gone mad. This is one of several indignities that Adela suffers throughout the chapter. Both McBryde and Mahmoud Ali humiliate her when she testifies during the trial for her questionable sanity and her unattractive appearance. The embarrassment that she suffers generates some sympathy for Adela, who comes out of the trial a victim for a second time. However, the trial is not the end of her suffering. By revoking her charge she has alienated herself from those persons who once supported her. This, as well as racist accusations by McBryde about the sexual proclivities of Indians, demonstrates that the trial does not essentially concern the attack on Adela, but instead the English bureaucracy's racism against Indians.
Mrs. Moore becomes in some sense immortal during this chapter as her mortality becomes more and more questionable. She is the paragon of English kindness and compassion toward Indians, yet her actual mortality seems more and more important. Upon her exit from India and foreshadowed death, Mrs. Moore becomes a symbol of both English kindness, for she genuinely cared for Aziz, and English injustice, for the Indians believe that she was taken away so that she could not exonerate Aziz. There is some irony in Mrs. Moore's fate, for just as she turns away from spirituality she becomes a religious icon.
Miss Quested renounces his own people and is drawn into a mass of Indians and carried toward the public exit of the court. Fielding finds her, and tells her that she cannot walk alone in Chandrapore, for there will be a riot. She wonders if she should join the other English persons, but Fielding puts her in his carriage. One of Fielding's students finds him and gives him a garland of jasmine, but Fielding has wearied of his students' adoration. The student vows to pull Fielding and Miss Quested in a procession. Mahmoud Ali shouts "down with the Collector, down with the Superintendent of Police," but the Nawab Bahadur reprimands him as unwise. A riot nearly occurs, but Dr. Panna Lal calms the situation. Although Dr. Lal was going to testify for the prosecution, he makes a public apology to Aziz and secures the release of Nureddin, for there are rumors that he was being tortured by the police.
Miss Quested joins Fielding as a fellow excommunicate from the English race upon the end of the trial. Despite the acquittal of Aziz, Adela and those around her have created such animosity between the English and the Indians that the damage cannot be undone. Fielding and Adela are literally swept off their feet by the actions of others in this chapter, as chaos breaks out around Chandrapore and a riot nearly occurs. Once again, an event grows out of proportion to its actual significance. Forster shows this through the various rumors that abound concerning the trial, such as the reported incidents of torture.
Victory makes the Indians of Chandrapore bold, but the behavior of several of the Indian leaders is foolish and dangerous. Forster shows that, although they are the victims in this situation, they are capable of short-sighted behavior that equals that of the English. It is only through small gestures such as the apology by Dr. Panna Lal that full disaster is averted. Nevertheless, the acquittal of Dr. Aziz is not the end of the Anglo-Indian conflict. Forster foreshadows that the conflict will continue to plague Chandrapore, at the expense of Adela and even Fielding and Dr. Aziz.
Fielding and Miss Quested remain isolated at the college and have the first of several curious conversations. He asks her why she would make a charge if she were to withdraw it, but she cannot give a definitive answer. She tells him that she has been unwell since the caves and perhaps before that, and wonders what gave her the hallucination. He offers four explanations, but only gives three: Aziz is guilty, as her friends think; she invented the charge out of malice, which is what Fielding's friends think; or, she had a hallucination. He tells her that he believes that she broke the strap of the field glasses and was alone in the cave the whole time. She tells him that she first felt out of sorts at the party with Aziz and Godbole, and tells him that she had a hallucination of a marriage proposal when there was none. Fielding believes that McBryde exorcised her: as soon as he asked a straightforward question, she gave a straightforward answer and broke down. She asks what Aziz thinks of her, and Fielding tells Adela that Aziz is not capable of thought in his misery, but is naturally very bitter. An underlying feeling with Aziz is that he had been accused by an ugly woman; Aziz is a sexual snob. Fielding offers the fourth explanation: that it was the guide who assaulted Adela, but that option is inconclusive. Hamidullah joins them, and alternately praises and reprimands Adela. Fielding and Hamidullah are unsure where Adela could go, because no place seems safe for her. Fielding has a new sympathy for Adela, who has become a real person to him. Adela thinks that she must go to the Turtons, for the Collector would take her in, if not his wife. Ronny arrives and tells them that Mrs. Moore died at sea from the heat. Fielding tells him that Adela will stay at the college but he will not be responsible for her safety.
The mutual isolation from the other Anglo-Indians forces Fielding and Adela to be reluctant allies, and Fielding's natural sense of justice causes him to rally to Adela's defense. Yet like all alliances in A Passage to India, there is a chance for misinterpretation, particularly considering Aziz's monumental ill-will toward Adela and Fielding's lack of concern for attacks on his reputation. This plays into Aziz's tendency to overreact to situations and behave melodramatically. He will certainly dislike that his ally Fielding is aiding the person he believes is his sworn enemy.
Forster still does not offer a concrete explanation for the events in the Marabar Caves, but he presents several viable options for the attack on Adela. The most likely of these is that the attack was in part a hallucination. Adela's behavior before the caves seems to confirm this observation; Forster has established her as an intellectual with little grip on the reality around her. For Adela, the event in the cave relates to her possible marriage to Ronny; it was he whom she was thinking about before she entered the cave, and Adela relates the events in the cave to the imagined marriage proposal. This indicates how deeply felt her anxieties about her marriage to Ronny truly are; it has, in some sense, driven her to delusion.
Only when she is forced to confront actual facts, as when McBryde questions her during the trial, does she return to clarity. This particular option shows that Adela was not motivated by malice against Aziz; the indignities that she will suffer from both Aziz and the Anglo-Indians will thus seem unjust punishment for the deluded girl. Already the Anglo-Indians abandon Adela, refusing to accept her for thwarting their plans; Aziz himself will seek retribution as well.
Forster develops the more sinister side to Aziz in this chapter. Although certainly the wronged victim in this situation, Forster does not elevate him to martyrdom. His understandable contempt for Adela Quested takes an unfortunate form. His hatred for Adela is in no small part superficial; he hates that such an unattractive woman made the charge nearly as much as he hates the charge itself. The change in Aziz's character indicates the detrimental effect that the trial has had on him. He leaves his imprisonment not ennobled, but bitter, cynical and vindictive.
After the Victory Banquet at Mr. Zulfiqar's mansion, Aziz and Fielding discuss the future. Aziz knows that Fielding wants him to not sue Adela, for it will show him to be a gentleman, but Aziz says that he has become anti-British and ought to have become so sooner. Aziz says that he will not let Miss Quested off easily to make a better reputation for himself and Indians generally, for it will be put down to weakness and the attempt to gain promotion. Aziz decides that he will have nothing more to do with British India and will seek service in some Moslem State. Fielding tells Aziz that Adela is a prig, but perfectly genuine and very brave. He tells Aziz what a momentous move she made. Fielding offers to be an intermediary for an apology from Adela, and Aziz asks for an apology in which Adela admits that she is an awful hag. Aziz finally agrees to consult Mrs. Moore. However, when Fielding blurts out that she is dead, Aziz does not believe him.
The events surrounding the Marabar Caves and the subsequent trial have a detrimental effect on each of the characters involved: Mrs. Moore loses her faith in the universe, Adela and Fielding lose their social standing among the British, and Aziz suffers the injustice of prison. However, the temporary loss of his freedom is only secondary to the major loss that Aziz suffers. Aziz loses the sense of kindness he demonstrated upon meeting Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested, instead becoming petty and vengeful. His malice toward Adela is the understandable consequence of the previous chapters' events, but nevertheless renders him unsympathetic. His character assaulted by the British, Aziz now obsesses over his reputation and wishes to make Adela pay in order to maintain dignity.
The death of Mrs. Moore had been foreshadowed earlier in the novel, but the timing of the announcement to Aziz is significant. Fielding tells Aziz about her death as he relishes the possibility of punishing Adela, as if intending to punish Aziz for his selfish behavior. Yet the death of Mrs. Moore also symbolizes the severing of Aziz's connection with Anglo-India. Mrs. Moore is the only truly English character to have a genuine friendship with Aziz, for Fielding belongs to his race only when it is pragmatic. When she dies, this ends the possibility that Aziz might find a complete reconciliation with the British in India.
Forster emphasizes the significant sacrifice that Adela made during the trial. Despite her erratic behavior, Adela behaved with a sense of courage and honor when she admitted her mistake. If her mistake in accusing Aziz is the most significant of the novel, her sacrifice of her own safety and status is equally momentous.
The death of Mrs. Moore assumes more subtle and lasting shapes in Chandrapore than in England. A legend sprang up that Ronny killed her for trying to save Aziz's life, and there was sufficient truth in that legend to trouble authorities. Ronny reminds himself that Mrs. Moore left India of her own volition, but his conscience is not clear, for he behaved badly to her. Adela will leave India and not marry Ronny, for that would mean the end of his career.
Mrs. Moore continues to develop a mythology after her death, an appropriate fate for a woman whom Forster portrays as a paragon of kindness and morality. Even Ronny feels a sense of regret concerning the trial. His actions operate on several levels: although he can convince himself that he did nothing inappropriate when sending his mother from India, he must remind himself that his motives were not entirely pure. The suspicions about Ronny contain a particular irony: he is unfairly suspected of engineering his mother's death in the same manner that he wrongly assumed that Aziz assaulted Adela Quested.
Sir Gilbert, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province, visits Chandrapore. Fielding finds himself drawn more and more into Miss Quested's affairs, and appreciates her fine loyal character and humility. Victory had made the Indians aggressive, attempting to discover new grievances and wrongs. Fielding uses Mrs. Moore as an attempt to persuade Aziz to let Adela off paying. Adela admits to Fielding that she was thinking of Ronny when she first entered the cave, and now she no longer wants love. Adela leaves India. On her travel out of India, Antony tries to blackmail her by claiming that she had an affair with Fielding, but she turns him away. When Adela arrives in England, she vows to look up Ralph and Stella and to return to her profession.
That the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province must be called in to Chandrapore demonstrates the impact of the trial upon the town and on relations between the British and the Indians. However, as the British were the aggressors during the trial, the role shifts to the Indians, who use the false charge against Aziz as an example of all their grievances. Their behavior is simply that of the British; the only difference is that they lack the bureaucratic clout to effect their plans. Fielding's invocation of Mrs. Moore shows that Aziz still retains some of the kindness and receptivity to others that he demonstrated before the trial. For Aziz, Mrs. Moore exemplifies the ideal of behavior for western culture. Forster even juxtaposes Aziz's dedication to Mrs. Moore with Adela's similar reverence for her. Although Aziz and Adela are in a significant sense enemies, both characters hold Mrs. Moore as a symbol of ideal behavior.
Forster continues to build on his portrayal of Adela Quested as courageous and noble as she is afflicted with various indignities. The events surrounding the Marabar Caves expedition have made her cynical, as they have done with Aziz, but she continues to behave with humility and honor. In some sense she assumes some of the characteristics of Mrs. Moore, a change made more evident by her intention to visit Ralph and Stella when she returns to England. Adela leaves England having suffered greatly and having caused equal suffering, but nevertheless she leaves the country a stronger woman who can better face reality.
Another local consequence of the trial is a Hindu-Moslem entente. Mr. Das visits Aziz, seeking favors; he asks Aziz to write poetry for the magazine he publishes. Aziz accommodates him, but asks why he should fulfill these when Mr. Das tried to send him to prison. Aziz thinks that the magazine for which Mr. Das asks him to write is for Hindus only, but Mr. Das tells him that it is for Indians in general. When Aziz says there is no category of "Indian" (only Hindu and Moslem), Das says that after the trial there may be. Hamidullah gossips with Aziz, telling him that Fielding may have had an affair with Adela, but this does not faze Aziz, for he claims that he has no friends and all are traitors, even his own children.
This chapter serves to show how the political alliances in Chandrapore change because of the trial. The new political power that the Muslims gain from Aziz's victory leads to an alliance with local Hindus, while Aziz himself becomes a local hero to all Indians. While other characters convey a sense that the trial has forged a new Indian identity, Aziz correctly judges that this is merely an ephemeral shift in the political dynamic. Although Aziz's contempt for Adela Quested has clouded his judgment since the trial, he nevertheless can accurately see that the trial is an altogether divisive event in the long run. The inevitable rumors about Fielding and Adela Quested, earlier foreshadowed, reach Aziz in this chapter, but he appears unfazed by the gossip out of his newfound cynicism. However, part of this aggressive lack of trust seems forced and defensive; Aziz's true feelings on the matter are yet to be revealed.
The sequence of the events had decided Aziz's emotions and his friendship with Fielding began to cool. He assumes that the rumor about Fielding and Adela is true and resents it. Aziz speaks to Fielding about it, but Fielding tells him not to speak so melodramatically about "dismay and anxiety." Aziz speaks about enemies, but Fielding seems to dismiss the idea that either of them have great enemies. Fielding becomes angry that Aziz thinks that he and Adela had an affair during such a difficult time, but the two clear up the misunderstanding. Aziz and Fielding discuss their future plans. Fielding is conscious of something hostile against him. He leaves Chandrapore, with Aziz convinced that he will marry Miss Quested.
The rumored affair between Adela and Fielding causes an inevitable rift between Fielding and Aziz. Fielding has little conception that reputation matters and that his support of Adela placed him against those persons he originally supported, while Aziz, afflicted with great suspicion, can see only in terms of allies and enemies. In both characters there is a sense of naïveté, for Aziz assumes the worst must always be true and Fielding assumes that alliances do not matter in India. This again demonstrates the possibility for misinterpreting situations, for both character approach the situation in different ways. Aziz conceives of Fielding's behavior in terms of friends and enemies, while Fielding approaches it in terms of literal facts, which he believes are sufficient. This misunderstanding motivates Fielding's departure from India, which gives Aziz additional reason to believe that Fielding will marry Adela Quested.
Fielding leaves India for travels in other exotic parts of the world. Fielding found Egypt charming, as well as Crete and Venice. He felt that everything in Venice and Crete was right where everything in India was wrong, such as the idol temples and lumpy hills. Elsewhere there is form that India lacks.
Like Adela Quested, Fielding leaves India, yet while Adela was strengthened by her suffering in India, Fielding leaves in mere disgust. He idealizes each of the places that he visits, simply because they are different from India. Fielding's complaint that India lacks form relates back to the earlier comment that India is a muddle.' Both complaints about India have their basis in the idea that the nation does not conform to expectations and reveal the limitations of western interpretations of the country. Despite Fielding's liberalism and ability to appreciate India, he still lacks some ability to fully understand the culture and be entirely part of it. Fielding's escape from India is thus in some part an attempt to rejoin the western culture he abandoned during Aziz's trial.
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