Overcoming Divisions in A Passage to India

by , 2004

E.M. Forster shows in his novel A Passage to India that even when people try to overcome their divisions from nature, from divinity, and from each other, they are unable to do so. He also shows that people often do not even try to overcome the divisions; they are happy to remain isolated in their own existences. Mrs. Moore's experience in India serves as an example of how people are unable to overcome nature. Forster also includes several different examples of how divinity is hindering the lives of the characters. The divisions between different groups of people seem to be the most difficult to overcome. Many people do not even try to overcome the divisions, and those who do try, like Mr. Fielding and Dr. Aziz fail. The novel as a whole suggests that even though these divisions are unconquerable in the present, they will be able to be overcome in the future.

Through the experience of Mrs. Moore, Forster shows that people are unable to overcome their divisions from nature. Although Mrs. Moore embraced the Indian environment more than any other European character in the novel, it eventually killed her. Concerned for the elderly woman's health, Aziz asks at the beginning of the novel, "Why do you come to India at his time of year, just as the cold weather is ending?" (19). This early introduction to India's heat is a suggestion of the problems that it will cause later on in the novel. Mrs. Moore explains that she intended to visit earlier, but was delayed, and decided to brave the heat. She, in other words, believes that she can overcome the harsh Indian climate. Mrs. Moore is more in touch with nature than the other European women, but that is not enough for her to overcome it. As she was sitting outside, avoiding the club and enjoying the evening, a "sudden sense of unity, of kinship with the heavenly bodies, passed into the old woman and out" (28). She seems here like she had overcome her division from nature, but it becomes apparent as the novel goes on that she actually had not. After the incident at the caves, Mrs. Moore's health begins to decline; the heat begins to take its toll. Mr. Heaslop reports that, "[t]he old lady had not been well" (215). She continues lying on a sofa, not getting up, when Adela finally returns from the hospital because she is still ill. Her sickness, a reaction to both the heat and the events that had been taken place, continues to get worse until finally she decides to leave India. Through unexpected circumstances, Mrs. Moore secures a luxurious ride home and it seems as though she "had all she wished; she escaped the trial, the marriage, and the hot weather" (230). But, she does not actually escape the hot weather. Lady Mellanby says to her, "We are safely out of the frying-pan... it will never do to fall into the fire," (233) but that is precisely what happens to Mrs. Moore. After escaping the dry Indian heat, "[s]he died at sea" (274) from the heat while traveling over the Indian ocean. Mrs. Moore attempts to overcome her divisions from nature. She travels to a foreign country even though her body is not adapted for it. Even though she tries to experience the true India and embrace nature there, she eventually is overcome by the heat. Through her example, we see that people cannot overcome their divisions from nature.

Likewise, people are unable to overcome their divisions from divinity. Forster shows throughout A Passage to India instances of people remaining divided from divinity. The religions that are supposed to help people lead better lives actually limit them. Aziz explains that he is unable to act fearlessly like Fielding because, unlike Fielding, he was "rooted in society and Islam" (131). His religious ties, instead of allowing him to live a better life, actually keep him from acting fearlessly as he would like to. Later on, after the trial, Mrs. Moore's "Christian tenderness had gone, or had developed into a hardness, a just irritation against the human race" (221). Forster shows that the "Christian tenderness" had transformed into "hardness" and "irritation." The Christian ideals that Mrs. Moore holds are not strong enough to protect her tenderness from the harsh actions of the world. Instead of protecting her, her Christianity dissipates into irritation. And later, a conversation between two Indians shows that their religion is keeping them separated from each other. One says about a magazine, "It is not for Hindus, but Indians generally," and the other responds, "There is no such person in existence as the general Indian" (296). The divisions between Muslims and Hindus prevent them from unifying as a national group. Divinity, which is supposed to aid people through their difficulties, actually hinders the lives of many characters throughout the book. They are unable to overcome the division between themselves and divinity because divinity and religion seem to be forces acting against them.

Throughout the novel, Forster displays a division between Englishmen and Indians that is not overcome by anyone, even when attempts are made at doing so. Much of the division between the two races comes as a result of the Europeans refusal to interact with the Indians. Miss Quested is speaking to the Collector at the club and asks about the Indians that he comes upon socially. To her question, he replies, while laughing, "Well, we don't come across them socially" (26). The idea of social interaction between the English and Indians seems comical to the Collector. However, not everyone is content to allow divisions between the races exist. Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore, upon their arrival, ask to see interact with the local Indians and have a 'Bridge party' organized. Several prominent Indians are invited to the English club for a gathering, but it does not go as well as planned because the Indians are overeager to please their employers and the English act so condescendingly towards the natives that the newcomers are made uncomfortable by their rudeness. Mrs. Moore comments, "I think my countrymen out here must be mad. Fancy inviting guests and not treating them properly!" (47). The Europeans' failure to treat the natives with respect keeps them from overcoming the divisions between them. Instead of appreciating Eastern culture, the Europeans force the Indians to try and westernize themselves. The result is "not picturesque; the East, abandoning its secular magnificence, was descending into a valley whose farther side no man can see" (39). The lack of respect shown at the 'Bridge party' continues throughout the novel and can be seen clearly during the trial of Dr. Aziz when the Europeans move their seats to the platform at the head of the courtroom. By doing so, they attempt to separate themselves from the rest of the people present. Mr. Fielding is "the only European who remained in the body of the hall" (244). Other than Mr. Fielding and the two newcomers, the English refuse to interact with the Indians on the basis of equality. Their action in the courtroom was typical of the way in which they constantly elevate their own status at the expense of the natives. They do not overcome the divisions between themselves and the Indians because they do not even try to do so.

Forster also shows us that the divisions between people cannot be overcome even when people are trying to overcome them. Throughout the majority of the novel, Mr. Fielding and Dr. Aziz build a strong interracial friendship, but it quickly dissolves over a mere misunderstanding. We first see interaction between Mr. Fielding and Dr. Aziz in Fielding's house while they are waiting for Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested to arrive for tea. Fielding tells Aziz, "Please make yourself at home" (66). This seemingly natural remark had significant impact on Aziz, who was honored that an Englishman was offering such familiarity. He responds, "May I really, Mr. Fielding? It's very good of you" (66). His response seems exaggerated for such a simple comment, but it is appropriate considering how coldly the rest of the Europeans treat Indians. This casualness sparks a friendship that at first seems a promising sign that members of the two races could overcome their divisions. When Aziz becomes sick, Fielding goes to his house and visits him. Again, this seems like a natural thing to do, but it is contrary to the way most of the Europeans acted towards the Indians. They would not have bothered to pay a visit to a sick Indian. Fielding covers his visit with the formality of business at first by suggesting that he was there only to determine if Aziz was really sick or just faking, but then he stays to discuss politics and religion with the other callers and stays with Aziz after they leave. Aziz then returns familiarity to Fielding by showing him a picture of his wife. He says, "She was my wife. You are the first Englishman she has ever come before" (125). For an Indian man to show a picture of his wife who observed Purdah her whole life to another man is a very significant act of closeness. According to Aziz's thinking, it makes them brothers in a sense. During the trial, Mr. Fielding remains loyal to Aziz even though all the other Europeans blindly assume that he is guilty. For this loyalty to his friend, Fielding isostracized from the English community to such a degree that he decides to leave Chandrapore after the trial concludes. These acts of intimacy and loyalty seem at first to be Forster's way of showing that divisions between people can be overcome.

However, the way in which this strong friendship is discarded so quickly over a small misunderstanding shows that, in fact, even when people try to overcome the division between them, they are unable to do so. After Fielding returns to England, Aziz begins to think because of what was written in a vague letter that Mr. Fielding had married Adela. His reasons for believing that were not concrete. "Aziz had no sense of evidence. The sequence of his emotions decided his beliefs, and led to the tragic coolness between himself and his English friend" (302). The miscommunication leads to uncontrollable emotions and since Aziz refuses to open any further letters from Fielding, the mistake is not cleared up until the bad feelings towards Fielding had settled on Aziz's mind permanently. Forster describes the distance between the two friends as "tragic" because after it seemed like they had been able to overcome their divisions and conquered the race barrier, their friendship quickly disappeared. In other, more poetic words, "They had conquered but were not to be crowned" (302). Even though they had "conquered" their divisions for a time, they were not able to remain "crowned" as victors over the racial boundaries. At the end of the novel, Forster brings Fielding back to India and offers one final chance for the two friends to reconcile to each other. Aziz welcomes his old friend coolly and remains distant even after the original miscommunication is cleared up. After another miscommunication between the two friends, Forster notes that "Tangles like this still interrupter their intercourse. A pause in the wrong place, an intonation misunderstood, and a whole conversation went awry" (305). The division of language is too dominant for the friends to overcome. Even after they clear up the first misunderstanding, another slight mistake caused their conversation to go awry. Finally, in the final scene of the novel, Aziz and Fielding seem to be about to reconcile their differences and again become good friends. Aziz talks about driving the English out of India and says to Fielding that afterwards, "you and I shall be friends" (362). The word 'shall' suggests that they are not friends in the present. Mr. Fielding responds to this by asking, "Why can't we be friends now?... It's what I want. It's what you want" (362). Both Fielding and Aziz want to be friends with each other. They have tried to be friends throughout the entire story, but some force has been keeping them separated. Forster explains what that force was in the final paragraph: "But the horses didn't want it--they swerved apart; the earth didn't want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file" (362). It was the earth itself, a force greater than any person, that was keeping the two friends separated. Forster shows through this passage that the natural divisions placed between people are too strong to overcome, even when people try to.

Throughout the course of A Passage to India, Forster shows that people are indeed unable to overcome the divisions between themselves and nature, divinity, and each other. Sometimes, people do not even attempt to overcome any divisions. In other cases, when they do try to overcome the divisions, they are unable to do so. However, this inability to overcome divisions is not as bleak as it may seem at first because Forster does not suggest that it is permanent. In the final line of his novel, he describes the reaction to a friendship that would overcome divisions: "they said in their hundred voices, 'No, not yet,' and the sky said, 'No, not there'" (362). Although the divisions cannot be broken down in the present, there is a suggestion that they will be able to at another time and place in the future.