A Passage To India
First published in 1924
Penguin Books, 1974
The story tells about Adela Quested, who travels to India with Mrs Moore, the mother of the man she is about to marry. Ronny Heaslop, her husband-to-be, works in India and she wants to see what he is like in working circumstances before she decides whether she is really going to marry him or not. India is being colonialised by Great Britain and the English behave in a superior way towards the Indians. However, Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore are very interested in India and the Indians at first and want to see more of it.
In a mosque, Mrs. Moore meets a young doctor, Dr. Aziz. He immediately likes her because she treats him like a normal human being, instead of like an inferior species. At a tea party at Mr. Fielding’s, the school principal who can get on with both the Indians and the English, he is introduced to Miss Quested as well. The women have had some bad experiences with Indians but still want to see the real India. Dr. Aziz decides to make up for the behaviour of his fellow-countrymen and invites them on a trip to the Marabar caves, that have a good reputation in the area. He spends all his money on hiring numerous servants, a train and an elephant. Mr. Fielding misses the train and the women have to go alone with Dr. Aziz and the servants. When they have finally arrived at the caves, Mrs Moore falls ill because of the enormous echo they produce. Dr. Aziz, Miss Quested and a guide decide to go to another cave by themselves. Somehow the trip makes Miss Quested realise she doesn’t love Ronny at all and that she shouldn’t be marrying him. She runs off in shock, and when Dr. Aziz arrives home again he is arrested and charged for the alleged rape of Miss Quested. Aziz is embittered by it. The trip cost him all his money and did not only prove to be a big mistake, but also put him in jail.
The case is enforced by the English to make a statement about the Indians and to increase their power over them. Mrs. Moore falls ill because of the whole situation and Ronny decides to send her back to Britain before the beginning of the trial. On the trip home, Mrs. Moore passes away. She seems to have been the only one who could witness that Aziz was innocent. But luckily for him, when Miss Quested is brought to witness, she realises that Aziz never touched her and that she was simply shocked by the understanding that she oughtn’t marry Ronny. Aziz is released in an instant and decides to turn his back on British India. Miss Quested is abandoned by the British society, but Mr. Fielding, who was a very good friend of Aziz, decides to take care of her until she goes back to Britain.
Mr. Fielding too returns to Britain and writes in his letters to Aziz that he married an acquaintance of Aziz. Aziz thinks he married Miss Quested and never wants to speak to him again. But when Fielding returns to India with his new wife a couple of years later, Aziz finds out he married the daughter of Mrs. Moore, Stella. When they part for the last time, they are good friends again.
The story takes place in the time it was written in, about 1925. India was still being colonialised by the Britons, who tried to bring their own culture to India.
Dr. Aziz is the first main character. He is about thirty years old and he’s a highly regarded doctor. He lives in a small house in town with some of his friends and a servant. It may sound luxurious to have a servant, but Aziz is very poor. His wife died a few years ago and he has three children, who live somewhere else with other family, because they can take better care of them. Unlike what you would expect from an Indian, he’s not a Hindu but a moslem. He wants to be on friendly terms with both the English and the Indians, which is virtually impossible due to the aversion ‘the English’ and ‘the Indians’ have against one another. In spite of all the difficulties, he’s still sincerely interested in the English, especially when he meets Mrs. Moore and Mr. Fielding, who are very friendly towards him.
However, there is a downside to his desire of having contact with the English. He alienates from his fellow-coutrymen because they start to distrust him for all the contact he has with the English. But he will never completely fit in with the English, because he still has an Indian way of behaving. The will to be friends with everyone puts him between the two groups.
So when Miss Quested simply starts accusing him out of the blue, the difficult situation he is in forces him to make a choise between both worlds: he decides to simply drop all his contacts with the English and to go somewhere in India where the English haven’t come yet. He feels as if his trust in the English, which he wanted to prove by taking them on a very expensive trip, is not valued at all and he ends up being very disappointed in other people.
Adela Quested is a young and perhaps even a naieve woman. She tends to change her mind all the time. For example, when she comes to India, she’s pretty sure she wants to marry Ronny. But when she has seen him at work, her enthusiasm wears off and she starts to question herself whether she really wants to spend the rest of her life with him. But when they both get involved in a car accident, she is overwhelmed by emotions and is very eager again to marry Ronny. And last she is overwhelmed again in the caves and after having made some senseless accusations, she realises that deep down inside, the only thing she wants is to return home. But at the end of the trial she shows that, despite of her inconstancy, she does have the courage to admit her mistakes, even if that means being rejected by the British society.
Mrs. Moore is a very friendly and wise old woman. She has three children and has had two husbands, who both have died. She still carries the name of her first husband. Over the years, she has gained a lot of insight in people´s characters. When she meets Dr. Aziz, she immediately knows that he’s an honest and friendly man. So when Adela charges him with rape, she knows that he can´t have done it. But she and Mr. Fielding, who also believes Dr. Aziz doesn´t have the character to rape someone, stand alone in their opinion: all the other Britons believe Adela and see the charge as a fantastic opportunity to confirm their power over the Indians.
Cyril Fielding is the Headmaster of the Government College. He seems to be the only British official who treats the Indians with decency. Unlike most of the other Britons, he doesn’t feel connected to any group. So when he has to make a choise between the biased English and his own values and sense of justice, he chooses the last.
The titel, ‘A Passage To India’, refers to the ‘passage’ Adela Quested made to India when she went there to see her husband-to-be. The theme is ‘the British colonisation of India’. The story is built up fairly chronologically and told by an omniscient narrator.
To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy reading this book. Somehow the story just didn’t affect me the way most other books do. Especially the last 50 pages seemed quite useless to me: the trial had ended, Mr. Fielding had moved back to England en Aziz was very happy somewhere else. But somehow the story just wouldn’t end. Even after I had read the last pages, I still wondered why Mr. Forster had included them. Maybe he didn’t want Fielding and Aziz to live the rest of their lives as enemies, but I don’t think he should have taken so many pages to get them back together and make peace again.
Even though I didn’t like the end of the book, I did find it very interesting to read about the way the British treated the Indians. The colonisation hasn’t ended very long ago, but still I didn’t know much about it. The book describes everything very well and that was something I did like about it!
The character I liked most was Mr. Fielding. He has seen so many places and so many people that he has learned that it’s best to be faithful to your own opinion and values if you want to do things the way that feels right to you. All the other British and even the Indians acted the way they thought others wanted them to. I admire him for that and I hope that, if I ever have to make the same decisions he had to make, I will behave in the same way.