Discussion questions from A Passage to India

(List of content AP2I)

1. What is Cyril Fielding's relationship with Indians at the beginning of the novel? How do his views of them change during and after the trial?


Cyril Fielding is very fond of the natives right from the beginning of the novel. He likes them and this is a reciprocal relationship that keeps both sides happy. He likes India and sees its culture with respect and love. Fielding has seen a uniqueness in India and it is why his relationship with Indians appears most balanced throughout the novel. Mrs Moore is an angel but Fielding is a friend. Mrs Moore is appreciated for her kindness and nobility and Fielding is loved for his friendship and strong association with India. His relationships with them towards the end grow weaker but still remain balanced and healthy. His views change with the trial. It is for the first time that  he sees Indians with an eye of genuine criticism and finds them complicated. Aziz's behavior especially does not amuse him and Hamidullah and party also look contaminated by the same difficult feelings.  He wants to be friends with Aziz again but he is difficult to persuade. India is difficult to understand and this complexity while on the one hand is its attraction, on the other it is also its weakness. Fielding remains lost in it and by the time the novel ends he has understood how to maintain a balanced relationship with India and Indians and exist at a safe distance from their volatile emotions. His relationship with Aziz gives him a  lesson and he understands that Indians are a stubborn race and should be left to themselves.

2. Describe Dr. Aziz—what kind of person is he? Is his fondness for Mrs. Moore, Adela Quested, Fielding and other British well placed? Is his disillusionment at the end justified? Or were his affections naive and overly trusting to begin with—yes...no?

Answer: Aziz's disillusionment at the end shows that his fondness is not well placed. His love for Mrs Moore, Adela Quested, Fielding and other British shows him in a different light. At first he appears a plain and simple Muslim who loves everybody around him. Later, he seems like a person who has compromised with the situation, and whose emotions keep fluctuating. Even towards the end, he looks confused and naive. His naivety is a sign of childishness that continues to bother him and the people around him.  He likes Mrs Moore and Adela and behaves hospitably with them but his hospitality is not well accepted by his guests. Mrs Moore behaves like a mother and they create an impression of a mother son duo when they are together.  He thinks of Adela as a guest but he cannot understand her emotions or reciprocate them which leads to a kind of suffocation in their relationship and leads to more trouble for him. Their relationships remain strained till close to the end.  Fielding wants to see a balanced person in him but Aziz is always fluctuating between good and bad; childish and mature. This thing does not inspire Fielding much and he looks at Aziz as a good Muslim who has messed up his own emotions. Aziz finds himself betrayed by Adela which shows he is confused about her. He has misplaced his affections because he cannot love or hate a person and the person he loves feels hated and the person he hates feels loved. This kind of imbalance keeps him confined to his own.  He has married a Muslim girl later and loves his family and kids. His disillusionment was bound to happen as he was trying to fit into a  picture and fabric he did not belong to.

3. Fielding and Dr. Aziz become friends. On what is their friendship based—what draws the two men together? The friendship is strained in the aftermath of the trial, why? Is Aziz justified in his anger toward Fielding?

Answer: Fielding and Dr Aziz become friends and their friendship is based on some important points. The two share a common dream. Both share the same dream of a happier and stabler India. Aziz is educated and respects those who respect him.  Fielding respects the natives and is therefore appreciated by the people around him. Aziz and the Muslim community respect him for his balanced attitude. However, in the aftermath of the trial, his attitude towards the English people has changed and the strain in relationships is caused by the stress he has undergone during the trial.  Adela gives rise to fury and frustration in Aziz. He wants the English people as dear friends but when he tries to remain friends with them, he cannot find the same ideals in them. His anger towards Fielding is not justified. The case and trial had resulted from a misunderstanding but Fielding became the target of his frustration. Aziz becomes even suspicious of the English because they cannot change their attitude. Fielding wants him to return to the point he was at before the trial but Aziz finds it very difficult because his emotions have become even complex after it. He is even confused about himself and his friends and sees salvation in history and the path his predecessors have showed him. He wants Babur and Alamgir to be back in India but it is not possible. He has been chasing a mirage in his life but the mirage is over with the trial. The fury reduces a bit after the second meeting with Fielding. The anger against the British remains. To an extent this anger will also look justified which is because the  English have given nothing but trauma to the Indians whether Muslims or Hindus. This is why Fielding feels both rejected and accepted by the Indian community.

4. What do you think of Adela Quested? Why does she, along with Mrs. Moore, reject the standard British attitudes toward the Indians? What does that say about her character? Is her desire to experience the real India genuine...or does she wish merely to "taste" or skim the surface of India? Do your feelings toward Adela change during the book?

Answer: Adela is a character that Forster has used to bring out the attitude in Muslims. She arrives to India as a simple girl betrothed to Ronny. She lacks the physical attraction which could make her valuable in the eyes of the Indians. It is why Forster frequently compares her with the Indian notions of beauty like the half naked fan puller whom Adela sees in the courtroom.  Her desire to see the real India is a result of her confusion. She wants to find clarity in life but finds it nowhere. It is why she just reaches the surface of India and never gets to see, feel or understand its reality. Her confusion and her swaying between clarity and confusion shows how she is shaking like a pendulum between two kinds of emotions. A reflection of the same reality can be felt in the people around him. Readers' feelings towards her change as the novel progresses. She starts looking an innocent woman who has been trying to handle her chaotic emotions. Her restive emotions start settling as she finds a new direction from India. She is feeling enlightened and her heart is full of peace once she has left to be back among her people. Her overall impression changes where she appears more composed and a better person towards the end.

5. Adela breaks off her engagement to Ronny Heaslop. Why? What do you think of Ronny? Why does Adela change her mind after the Marabar accident?

Answer:  Adela has broken off her engagement to Ronny Heaslop after the Marabar accident thinking Ronny was never a  good match for her. He has kept proving himself unsuitable for her. Ronny and Adela are two very different creatures. Ronny is devoted to the English rule and cannot move far from it. He never thinks from the human angle that Mrs Moore or Adela do.  Adela is already feeling bad about the attitude of the English people towards the natives.  Ronny too starts looking like a fool standing with the herd and brings back the same chaos and confusion to her mind. She wanted a gentleman who could understand her feelings but could not find anything in him of her kind. She is forced to change her mind after the Marabar accident and thinks differently of Ronny. The drift that had begun with the Bridge party has continued and brought her to a point  where she knows it is better to part with Ronny than bear the weight on her conscience.

6. What do you think happens in the Marabar Caves? As an author, why might Forster have purposely left the incident open-ended, never providing an answer—the truth—to what took place?

Answer: The Marabar caves are a mystery. The Indians see them as a holy place but the caves look deserted and hollow. These caves are hollow and create an illusion making people feel like they are full to the brim. Indians feel bound by the illusion inside these caves and have created stories about them as they do about Mrs Moore. Forster has left the question open to be understood because nature is a complicated thing in India and plays games with human psychology and conscience. These caves defy the laws of physics and make people feel small. Nature is seen as both a  bad and good force in India - something larger than people's understanding. The truth of the caves has always remained in dark and Forster could never find an answer to the muddle. His exploration of India always ended at nature. What came against Adela - a halluccination, something else, she could never know. Her logic failed to understand the forces living inside the caves. Frightened, she felt touched by some force which according to her was Aziz. Adela felt suffocated and when mind feels suffocated it feels confused and starts seeking answer to unknown questions. This must have been the reality inside the caves.

7. Talk about the caves' symbolic imagery. As an imaginative writer, why would Forster have chosen to set the incident in caves rather than than some other remote spot? What do caves suggest symbolically?

Answer: Caves evoke the picture of a difficult point in people's lives. They hold some mysterious force inside them but Forster has used them to help his readers' understand people's nature. He places his characters in the context of nature. On the one hand people feel spellbound by it and on the other teased. Caves seem a very good point for teasing people's minds. Symbolically they suggest a hollow sphere. A hollow sphere represents the hollowness of people's minds and conscience. These caves suggest a point where the laws of physics and cosmology stop working and where some paranormal force remains hidden teasing people's minds and nature. Rather than any other spot, Forster chooses the caves to suggest that people cannot run very far from their conscience and they always come against points where they feel that they have touched eternity but then the illusion happens. There are forces in nature that can be understood with difficulty but can help with knowing the biggest dilemma in people's lives.

8. What about Mrs. Moore? Is her interest in India genuine? Why does she, along with Adela, refuse to support the typical British attitude toward the Indians? Why doesn't she support Adela in the aftermath of the Marabar Cave incident?

Answer: Mrs Moore's interest in India is genuine from two different points. First, Aziz proves it genuine and second, Ronny proves it. She has made an impression on native's minds. The natives are happy about her motherly attitude and her care for the natives. Mrs Moore feels good about how these natives make her feel so loved. Her interest in India is genuine for other reasons too and  she is trusted by the local people at Chandrapore. She starts loving its beauty and simplicity and is bound by its love. She cannot support the British attitude that is to rule the local Indian people by force. Her love is expressed in various forms and particularly the night when she meets Aziz at the Mosque. She finds perfection in India and loves it for the care it expresses for her.  This is the reason that she cannot support Adela's confusion  and keeps away from the issue. Moreover, she founds herself getting sucked into a black hole when she tries to stand with the rest of the herd. Adela has brought a difficult confusion back from the caves and Mrs Moore knows the situation is too difficult to handle for her. She wants peace and rest but cannot find it among the English. The typical British attitude is absolute nonsense and a noble lady cannot support such nonsense.

9. Why does Adela recant during the trial?

Answer: Adela's recantation means that  she has reached the turning point in her life from where she needs to select a new direction for herself. The more she tries to find peace and love, the less she finds it in her life. Life keeps throwing difficult problems before her.  Her mind gets burdened with conflict when she is standing in the court. Adela cannot help it but to release herself from the suffocation she has to stop chasing the mirage. She knows Aziz is a kind character and the fuss she has made about him is now making her feel bitter. Adela therefore takes her allegations back. She knows the natives are innocent and that  somewhere she has erred. Her recantation during the trial represents a point in the novel where Forster proves that you cannot win Indians with hatred. Adela knows somehow she has missed doing the right thing and so corrects her mistakes. She has left her herd but found her mental peace.

10. Why does Fielding come to respect Adela? Do you?

Answer: Fielding's respect for Adela is genuine which is because he understands her problem just like he could understand that  of Mrs Moore. He comes to respect her for the girl looked genuinely lost and somehow managed to avert the catastrophe she had given birth to by taking her allegations back with courage. Fielding sees that  the girl has made a major sacrifice in her life and is being chased by its echo. He decides to take her away from the chaos so she can restore her mental peace. While talking to her he gets to know that the girl has profound respect for humanity and so cannot help being sympathetic towards her. She is not cruel like the other English. This also gives birth to respect for Adela in Fielding's heart and mind. At last readers too cannot help sympathizing with Adela. She is a nice creature and proves it during the course of the novel.

11. A Passage explores differences in religious beliefs, primarily Christianity and Hindu. How are those faiths expressed in the novel. Think for instance of Mrs. Moore's respect for the wasp in her bedroom? What about Professor Godbole's philosophy—what is meant by the "unity of all things"? How might that ideal offer redemption for Indians and British? How does the novel's use of imagery or descriptive prose express the unity concept?

Answer:  Religion can be the source of the biggest confusions in this world and Forster has highlighted this fact in the context of India.  He explores these differences born of religious beliefs in A Passage to India. Religion gives birth to different attitudes and different perspectives and these perspectives clash at various points.  Christian beliefs clash with Hindu beliefs and Hindu with Muslim. These faiths are different and so are the lifestyles of their followers. A thing that Christianity sees with respect, Hinduism sees with disdain and one that  Hinduism respects Islam takes as a curse. The concept of unity in Hinduism is particularly highlighted at various stages.  Unity is a central concept in Hinduism and is compared with godliness. God is one and everything becomes one with God in India even nature. Professor Godbole's philosophy of unity of all things means seeing and seeking God in everything. In the ideal of unity Godbole expresses his faith in equality. The Indian perspective of equality differs rom the English perspective. If the British want to find respect and prosperity in India then they must try to treat Indians as equal. The English are acting like  a lost race, comic in attitude and difficult. The image of the wasp and Mrs Moore's respect shows that she loves innocent Indians. Professor Godbole again remembers in connection with the wasp at the time of 'Krishnastami'. Both Indians and British can find redemption in this concept of unity of all things because it helps heal the pressure that otherwise teases human conscience.

12. The echo of the cave haunts both Mrs. Moore and Adela: no matter what one calls out, the returning echo is always "boum." The echo seems to suggest what can happen when all of life merges into one—things become indistinguishable from one another, individualism disappears. What is the echo's effect on Mrs. Moore? Does Professor Godbole (or Forster, for that matter) embrace absolutely the concept of total and complete unity? Or do they hold some reservations about the concept?

Answer:  Echo inside the caves haunts all the people including Mrs Moore and Adela.  Whatever one calls out, the result is always Boum'. It is a sort of confusion that happens when one enters the cave. Light seems to have merged with dark and the result is all seems to be coming down to cipher.  Mrs Moore has been loving India and wants this love to reflect but then when she enters the caves, it seems she has touched eternity and the sound terrifies her as if she has made some deadly mistake.  Professor Godbole talks of unity and eternity but to embrace the concept completely is not possible even for him. His behavior shows that he holds reservations about the concept because it is a complicated concept. In this way, when Forster shows how powerful culture and religion are in India, you can understand these characters and the effect of echo on these creatures.

13. How do the British characters feel about—how do they treat—the Indians? How do the Indians feel about—how do they respond to—the British colonists? Locate specific passages that exemplify both sides. 

Answer: Indians are a complicated species and Forster has duly noted this point in his novel. When you try to understand them, they defy being understood. The less you touch them, the more they feel touched. They feel differently about different British characters. Fielding and Mrs Moore are loved and considered noble. Adela Quested on the other hand, is a simple and yet confused girl who always wreaks havoc with her misunderstanding. Ronny treats Indians as inferiors and animals who lack understanding and need to be held by force.  They represent two different kind of forces. Indians are innocent and simple people who are being held captive by the English because of their innocence. India and Indians captivate by their beauty and then are captivated by nature.

14. How does Forster portray his countrymen and their values in A Passage to India? The author was criticized by the British for what they perceived as his biased treatment of them in the novel. Is their criticism justified, or not? Are his portrayals black and white of both British and Indians? Or does he give equal weight to each? Have you read other accounts of the British Raj (rule)? If so, how does Forster's treatment compare?

Answer:  Forster portrays his countrymen and their values in 'A Passage to India' as a greedy force which has colonized India and is plundering its beauty and wealth. India's beauty is its culture and while English may have felt his treatment as biased,  Forster has portrayed that the English have sinned by holding India with cruel force. It was difficult for Forster to show India in a different light because it is not possible to run from India which according to him was a sacred land. Other textbooks of history also show that the British had cheated India of its wealth and happiness. The same is true about Babur and other Mughal forces. Forster is biased on the Indian side and this bias is a result of his true love for India. Forster's treatment of the British rule on a  social and cultural level is far more enlightening than the other accounts of the English Raj. To say that Forster is biased in his novel would be wrong because you cannot understand India without giving it an honest look. Forster's attack on British attitude is fair because he had seen how they are using their sick methods to inflict a bitter wound on Indian conscience.

15. One of the novel's central concerns is the possibility or impossibility of friendship between Indians and the British. On which side of the issue do the various characters—Fielding, Aziz, primarily, but others as well—fall? Whose positions change by the novel's end...and why?

Answer: Indo British relationships are a central concern in Forster's novel. Forster can see that the British have brought India to a turn where it is difficult for these relationships to take a new turn. Whether Indo British relationships would ever bloom was a complex question because Indians were a simple and innocent race which felt suffocated by the British occupation. Fielding and Aziz fall on the positive side of the issue and so do Mrs Moore and Adela and even Professor Godbole. However, Ronny, Turtons and Burtons and other members of the club are pushing a different line which could have taken these relationships somewhere from where there was no return. Forster shows that Britain could have grown better relationships with the  local people. By the end Fielding and Aziz have changed their positions about India.

Aziz knows there is no possibility of a good relationship with India and Fielding believes that Indians would never grow wise enough to govern themselves. The changing attitudes prove one thing. India is seeing towards a better future and the thing happened some years later in the form of Indian freedom. Moreover, the way Aziz and Fielding part at the end of the novel also shows that there is no possibility of a strong relationship between the Indians and the British.  Aziz's cooperation during the initial stages is seen as a submission by the Britishers. He was happy following the rules and doing as the British wanted and lending them company in good and bad. The only character with whom Aziz's relationship does not change till the end of the novel is Mrs Moore. She remains a noble old lady in the eyes of Aziz, much like a mother whom he respects deeply.

The same respect and care is not visible in Ronny for his mother. There are two kinds of British characters in the novel- some are wise and understand the Indians' pain whereas there are others who try to rule them and act as Gods. Mrs Moore, Stella, Ralph and Fielding belong to the first category whereas the rest to the second. Adela finds relationships difficult to understand and sustain. It is why her relationship with Aziz and Indians suffers. British Raj makes it difficult for a relationship between Indians and British to bloom.

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