A Passage to India Summary and Analysis
by E.M. Forster
Part Three, Chapters 33-37
Part Three: Temple
Hundreds of miles west of the Marabar Hills, Professor Godbole stands "in the presence of God" during a Hindu birth ceremony. Godbole prays at the famous shrine at the palace at Mau. Godbole is now the Minister of Education at Mau. He sings not to the god who confronts him during the ritual, but to a saint. The ritual does not one thing that the non-Hindu would consider dramatically correct. By chance, while thinking about a wasp that he sees, Godbole remembers Mrs. Moore, even though she was not important to him.
Forster releases the dramatic tension that had built concerning the Marabar Caves expedition in this chapter, which takes place removed from the conflict in Chandrapore. This chapter, with the exception of the reference to Mrs. Moore, exists entirely in reference to Indian culture. Forster makes the important point that the birth ceremony is dramatically incorrect for westerners, but nevertheless is appropriate for its particular context.
Godbole's sudden remembrance of Mrs. Moore is an odd intrusion into the specifically Hindu ceremony, but not entirely inappropriate. Mrs. Moore remains the only English character in A Passage to India who proved herself able to fully interact with Indian culture. It is she, and not Fielding, whose pragmatism and independence make him unsuitable for both eastern and western culture, who best achieved reciprocity between the two cultures.
Dr. Aziz, who had taken part in the ceremony, leaves the palace at the same time as Godbole and sees the Professor, who tells him that Fielding arrived at the European Guest House. Fielding is making an official visit; he was transferred from Chandrapore and sent on a tour through Central India to see what the more remote states are doing with regard to English education. Fielding had married; Aziz assumes that his bride is Miss Quested. In Mau the conflict is not between Indians and English, but between Brahman and non-Brahman. Aziz had destroyed all the letters that Fielding had wrote to him after he learned that Fielding had married someone he knew. Unfortunately, Aziz never read any letters past the phrase "someone he knew" and automatically assumed it was Miss Quested. Aziz still remains under criminal investigation since the trial. Colonel Maggs, the Political Agent for the area, is committed to investigating Aziz, still convinced that he must be guilty based on events in Chandrapore. Aziz receives a note from Fielding, but he tears it up.
Forster bases this chapter on a misunderstanding between Aziz and Fielding. Aziz remains angry at Fielding for supposedly marrying Miss Quested, but there is no definitive information that it is actually Miss Quested that he has married. In fact, for Fielding to do so and expect friendship with Aziz seems quite unlikely. Rather, the identity of the person whom Fielding has married will soon be revealed. There is some irony in the situation. Aziz deliberately causes this rift between him and Fielding by refusing to finish a sentence.
Aziz remains bitter and cynical because of the events at Chandrapore, but upon leaving the area his temper has cooled significantly. There is still a core of resentment, but Aziz is no longer obsessed with revenge against the English in general and Adela Quested in particular. The different political dynamic at Mau contributes to this greater sense of repose; the omnipresent conflict between the English and the Indians in Chandrapore cedes to different lines of faction in Mau. This new balance of power shows that the problems in India are not part of irreconcilable lines of conflict between east and west; rather, the problem stems from the natural human tendency for factions. In Mau, the English-Indian differences are secondary to other alignments. This is significant because it shows that there is no irreconcilable rift between the English and Indians.
There are two shrines to a Mohammedan saint in Mau. These commemorate a man who, upon his mother's order to "free prisoners," freed the inmates at the local jail, but whose head was cut off by the police. These shrines are the sites where the few Mohammedans in Mau pray. Aziz goes to the Shrine of the Head with his children, Ahmed, Jemila and Karim. The children see Fielding and his brother-in-law, and tell Aziz. They suggest throwing stones at them, but Aziz scolds them. Aziz, who is fortunately in a good temper, greets Fielding, although he had not intended to do so. Aziz greets the brother-in-law as "Mr. Quested," but he says that his name is Ralph Moore. Fielding had married Stella, the daughter of Mrs. Moore. Fielding blames Mahmoud Ali for the ill will between them, for he knew definitively that Fielding had married Stella. Aziz behaves aggressively and says that he forgives Mahmoud Ali. He tells Fielding that his heart is for his own people only. He leaves Fielding and returns to his house, excited and happy, but realizes that he had promised Mrs. Moore to be kind to her children, if he met them.
Although the reason behind Aziz's anger toward Fielding disappears once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Aziz cannot let go of his long-held dissatisfaction against Fielding. Aziz has been so prepared to think of Fielding as married to Adela that he can barely comprehend that he is mistaken. However, part of the anger that Aziz shows toward Fielding must certainly stem from both pride and embarrassment. Aziz must justify that he has been so angry with his good friend for so long, but feels somewhat foolish for the absurd mistake, for the deception by Mahmoud Ali, and for behaving poorly toward the son of the beloved Mrs. Moore. Also, having been angry at Fielding for so long, Aziz finds it difficult to let go of his bitterness so hastily. Once again, however, Mrs. Moore proves to be the factor that motivates Aziz to behave with more kindness.
The birth procession had not yet taken place, although the birth ceremony finished earlier. All would culminate in the dance of the milkmaidens before Krishna. Aziz could not understand the ceremony any more than a Christian could, puzzled that during the ceremony the people in Mau could be purged from suspicion and self-seeking. Godbole tells Aziz that he has known that Fielding was married to Stella Moore for more than a year. Aziz cannot be angry with Godbole, however, because it is not his way to tell anybody anything. Aziz and Godbole continue in the procession as it leads out of town. Aziz becomes cynical once again. He thinks that the pose of "seeing India" is only a form of conquest. Aziz goes to the Guest House where Fielding stays and reads two letters lying open on the piano. In the East the sanctity of private correspondence does not exist. The letters primarily concern Ralph Moore, who appears to be almost an imbecile, but there is a letter from Adela to Stella in which she says that she hopes Stella will enjoy India more than she did and says that she will never repay a debt. Aziz notices the friendly intercourse between these people, men and women, and believes that this is the strength of England. Ralph Moore enters, and Aziz claims that he is there to bring salve for his bee stings. Aziz abruptly prepares to leave, but apologizes. Ralph tells him that his mother loved Aziz, and Aziz claims that Mrs. Moore was his best friend in the world. Aziz offers to take Ralph Moore out on the river, as an act of homage to Mrs. Moore. Ralph is curious about the procession, which marks him as Mrs. Moore's son. The boat which Ralph and Aziz are in collides with another boat carrying Fielding and Stella.
Forster juxtaposes the Hindu birth ceremony that culminates in this chapter with the rebirth of the Dr. Aziz of the first chapters of A Passage to India. Aziz begins to demonstrate once again those characteristics he showed toward Mrs. Moore when he behaves kindly to Ralph Moore and offers to show him Mau. Nevertheless, like the Hindu birth ceremony, the rebirth' of Aziz's generosity is a slow process.
Godbole's random revelation to Aziz that he has known about Fielding's marriage to Stella Moore highlights how absurd the conflict between Aziz and Fielding really is. If he had bothered to inform Aziz, or if Aziz had bothered to read the entirely of the letter Fielding had sent to him, there would be no conflict. This in turn shows the absurdity of Aziz insisting on remaining angry at Fielding. Other than pride and stubbornness, there is no reason for Aziz to feel any ill will toward Fielding. Fortunately, Aziz finally relents and abandons his aggressive stance toward the Fieldings and Ralph Moore. The impetus for this is the memory of Mrs. Moore, who still pervades the events in A Passage to India long after her death. When Aziz takes Ralph Moore on the river, this recalls Aziz's first meetings with Mrs. Moore in which he attempted to show her Indian culture out of pure kindness.
The crashing of the two boats forms the climax of A Passage to India. The event proves a sharp confrontation between Aziz and Fielding, but one that is more foolish and absurd than dramatic. The melodrama of the clashing of two cultures, east and west, that drives the majority of the novel gives way to a comic clashing of two boats. This is an ironic event, for the reconciliation between Aziz and Fielding occurs only after a comedic mishap. This also serves as a reminder of the foolishness of most of the dramatic events in A Passage to India. The mini-tragedy of the crashing of the boats occurs out of misunderstandings and understandable errors in judgment. The major difference between the crashing of the boats and the other events of the novel is that Fielding and Aziz choose to accept the event as comedy rather than tragedy.
Fielding and Aziz are friends again, but aware that they can meet no more. After the funny shipwreck there is no bitterness or nonsense. Aziz admits how brave Miss Quested was, and claims that he wants to do kind actions to wipe out the wretched business of the Marabar forever. Fielding realizes that his wife does not love him as much as he loves her. They realize that socially the two men have no meeting place. Fielding cannot defy his own people for the sake of a stray Indian, and Aziz is but a memento. Aziz explains what he can of the birthing ceremony to Fielding. They discuss who should rule India. Fielding mockingly suggests the Japanese, but Aziz wants his ancestors, the Afghans, to rule. To Aziz, India will then become a nation. Aziz cries "down with the English. That's certain," then states that only then will he and Fielding be friends.
Forster ends A Passage to India with a bittersweet reconciliation between Aziz and Fielding, but also with the realization that the two cannot be friends under contemporary conditions. Aziz makes an important concession when he admits that Adela was brave to withdraw her charges, and expresses regret for the aftermath of the Marabar expedition. Aziz thus completes a movement from kindness and generosity of spirit to bitter and cynicism and back. Fielding, in contrast, realizes that he is in fact a true Englishman and belongs among his own race; to defy his race and maintain an active friendship with Aziz would be just, but not pragmatic. This brings back the theme of responsibilities and limitations of racial identity, as Fielding accepts the sacrifices he must make to retain his English identity. In this manner Forster ends A Passage to India as a tragic but platonic love story between the two friends, separated by different cultures and political climates.
Forster does not express any definitive political standpoint on the sovereignty of India in this chapter. Fielding suggests that British rule over India, if relinquished, would be replaced by a different sovereign that would be perhaps worse than the English. However, Aziz does make the point that it is British rule in India that prevents the two men from remaining friends. Forster thus indicates that British rule in India creates significant problems for India, but does not offer an easy or concrete solution.
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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