A Passage To India Major Themes

A Passage To India

Major Themes

A Passage to India has four central themes: the difficulty of friendship between an Englishman and an Indian, the racism and oppression of the British who rule India, the "muddle" of Indian civilization and psychology, and the unity of all life. (See the concept of Brahman in Hinduism.)

The novel's second chapter opens with a discussion between Mahmoud Ali and Hamidullah about whether an Indian can be friends with an Englishman. They conclude that such a friendship is virtually impossible, especially in India. This foreshadows the future split between Fielding and Aziz, whose cultural and national differences keep them apart, even though they like each other. For no member of an occupied race can really be friends with a member of the master race. Despite all rationale, the former will unavoidably resent the latter, and the latter will despise the former. As Aziz says, until India is free from the British, an Indian and an Englishman cannot be true friends.

One of the most overt themes of the novel is the racist attitude of the British in India toward the native population, and the oppression of Indians that frequently results. The cruelty of Major Callendar, who boasts of torturing an injured Indian youth by putting pepper on his shattered face, is the most egregious example. But there are many others, from Mr. McBryde's supercilious views on Indians' lust for white women, to Mrs. Turton's vitriolic rantings, to Mr. Turton's arrogance, Ronny Heaslop's ignorance, and Miss Derek's scorn for her Indian employers. All the British (except Fielding) assume that Aziz is guilty before his trial, simply because he is an Indian. Yet even Fielding, who respects Indians more than any other white man, eventually comes to accept that British rule over India is the best thing for that country. As a result of British rudeness and arrogance, the Indians in the novel come to hate their foreign masters.

In Part Two of A Passage to India, E.M. Forster frequently refers to India as a "muddle." This is not necessarily because he is racist, but because his logical Western mind cannot accept the extreme diversity of Indian religion, society, wildlife, and even architecture. Westerners, Forster explains, are always trying to categorize and label things, but India defies labelling. But the Indians quietly accept this diversity, not as a muddle but as a "mystery," like the Catholic Trinity or Sacraments, things ordained by God that must be accepted but cannot be explained in terms of reason.

Additionally, Indians rely more on emotion and intuition in their judgements of people and events, whereas the British are always trying to make their opinions scientific and logical, like McBryde with his pseudo-scientific theory about dark men lusting after white women. These differences in outlook and psychology, Forster implies, are the ultimate differences between the British and the Indians. For British minds, shackled by reason and race, cannot understand the Indian psyche.

The Marabar Caves produce a pernicious echo, "Boum," to whatever noise one makes. To Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, this echo symbolizes the Dharmic belief in the fundamental oneness of all things. But this "realization" unhinges their Western minds, shackled by logic. Mrs. Moore abandons all interest in spirituality and in human relationships, and Adela Quested becomes panicky and feverish. But was their realization true, and were their reactions excessive? For most of the novel, Forster with his Western outlook suggests that the Dharmic doctrine of oneness or "Om," (Boum is a parody) devalues us and everything we hold dear.

But in Part Three, he seems to enter the Indian psyche and reveal to his readers that all things are one, perhaps, but they are not the same. Indians revel in this unity while retaining their differences. For are we not all members of the same species, made of atoms, containing the same organs, harbouring the same basic needs and impulses? Yet our behaviour and thoughts are highly individualized. Thus, Forster suggests that we accept our unity and our differences with equanimity, as Professor Narayan Godbole does. For oneness is not sameness.

No comments:

Post a Comment