A Passage to India By E. M. Forster Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapters 4-6

The central event of these chapters is the Bridge Party. When the Indian gentlemen receive their invitations, Nawab Bahadur, a wealthy landowner, makes a significant statement about long-distance sympathy. Some of the Indians believe that the invitation to meet the English socially is due to pressure brought to bear by the lieutenant governor. Nawab Bahadur announces his intention to accept the invitation, believing that it is local in origin; he says, in effect, the governor is too far away to understand the problem of Chandrapore. A problem that is too uncomfortable to face can always be ignored if one maintains a safe distance from it.

By this time, the actions and reactions of the two large groups are generally evident. One is accustomed to the feeling of suspicion that the groups hold for each other, with nothing accepted at face value.

A part of the English colony that is seldom mentioned is the missionary compound on the outskirts of the city. To lead into the discussion of the work of the missionaries, Forster writes, "All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps . . ." The missionaries, Mr. Sorley and Mr. Graysford, are trying to teach that God loves everyone. The Hindus question if that includes monkeys, jackals, and even the lowly wasp? (Recall Mrs. Moore's appreciation for the wasp, one of the least-appreciated creatures of India.)

The younger of the missionaries, Mr. Sorley, though he will admit mammals to a heaven, cannot quite bring himself to include wasps; and he balks completely at plants, mud, and bacteria. Forster seems, by implication, to be indicating another difference between the cultures. First, from the missionaries' (and the Western) point of view, everyone must omit something from his consideration: if everyone and everything is equal, how can there be anyone or anything to look down upon to increase one's sense of self-importance? Second, from an opposing standpoint, Forster emphasizes an important Hindu concept, that the Divine excludes nothing and no one.

The term "Bridge Party" is an ironic one, for the party serves only to intensify the division of peoples. Fielding, who chooses to socialize with the Indians, does so at the cost of alienating himself from the English. The English use of "they" in speaking of the Indians again demonstrates that the English think of the Indians en masse, not as individuals.

In describing the party, Forster presents many types of women. Mrs. Turton typifies the "official Englishwoman." She is the acknowledged leader of the British social class system. She considers herself superior to Indians, even to those who surpass her in knowledge. Contrast her Indian dialect for underlings, for example, with the Indian ladies' command of English.

Miss Quested, the newcomer, is the inquiring woman who is too much of an individual to accept the conformity required by the British group. To many of the Englishwomen in the strange world of India, conformity and security become companions. Conformity assures the insecure of a standard of thought and behavior, thus relieving them of the anxiety of making their own decisions. The insecure person feels threatened by new or different ideas, and the individual who questions, as Adela does, poses a threat. She is immediately set down as not being "pukka," or one of the right sort to live in India.

The Indian women, only recently liberated from purdah, are a puzzling combination of giggles, shyness, and unexpected knowledge. The purdah custom was subject to bitter discussion within Indian ranks for many years. At the time of this book, 1924, many women were emerging into a fuller life. Many more of the women were urged, often by their men, to forsake purdah. For example, the forsaking of this custom was often the subject of Aziz's poetry two years later, in Mau, though he still respects it in the earlier sections of the book. One realizes the rapid transformation of the Indian woman's status since 1924 by remembering that in 1966 a woman, Indira Nehru Gandhi, became India's prime minister.

Mrs. Moore emerges as a still more important figure. In her is centered what may be termed the "mystical" aspect of this novel — that aspect which makes it much more than a propagandistic story about the problems of Anglo-India. She is an enigmatic character, and her significance has been the object of much critical discussion. Her sympathy with a wasp (and by implication with Hindu theology), has been indicated in the preceding chapters; here she shows the beginnings of her alienation from Christianity. She tells Ronny that "God is Love" and quotes to him the familiar passage from the New Testament (Corinthians 13) which emphasizes the importance of charity (love).

But the chapter ends with the statement that, although she thinks of God more as she grows older, Mrs. Moore has found Him less satisfying and more remote since she entered India. And, as will be seen later, her actions after the incident in the caves can by no means be termed "charitable."

Note the allusions to the weather, the sky, and the echo, which are recurring symbols throughout the novel. The weather has much to do with the temperament of both British and Indian in India. The sky, with its arches above and beyond it, relates the human condition to the infinite and indicates a quality of remoteness in the infinite. The echo, only casually mentioned here, becomes increasingly important in ensuing chapters in a mystical and highly complex manner.

Aziz, whom Forster chooses as the spokesman and principal representative of the Moslem faction in Chandrapore, is shown to be a man of excitable and changeable temperament. He is highly affectionate by nature and extends this affection to Indian and English alike when they exhibit traits of understanding and sincerity. This accounts for his quick acceptance of Mrs. Moore and Cyril Fielding. By the same token, he is quick to condemn both Indian and English for insincerity and lack of courtesy.

Some authorities see the name Aziz as symbolic: Aziz represents the range of human emotion from A to Z. He loves his children and makes great material sacrifices for them; and though the memory of his dead wife, with whom he had enjoyed an intellectual companionship, saddens him, he does not think of her often, and arranges to visit a brothel in Calcutta. His religion is important to him only for patriotic reasons, in relation to the past glories of Islam. He is tormented and delighted in turn by his ability, or inability, to relate adequately to other people.

An example of Aziz's acceptance of persons whose humanitarian instincts prompt them to disregard nationality and creed is the affection he feels for Mrs. Moore following their encounter at the mosque. Later, when Cyril Fielding invites him to tea, even though Aziz had ignored an earlier invitation, the English professor is firmly established in Aziz's friendship. His tendency to act on impulse — as his heart, rather than his head, dictates — is indicated when he does not attend the Bridge Party; he had arranged to go with Dr. Panna Lai, but at the last minute was "seized with a revulsion" and decided to send a telegram to his children instead, since this was the anniversary of his wife's death.

Glossary

Mohurram Moslem religious festival, celebrated only by Indian Moslems, which commemorates the death of the grandson of Mohammed. It is similar to the Hindu Ganesh festival in which a clay figure of the elephant god is immersed in water when the worship is completed. In Mohurram, a replica of Iman Hussein’s tomb, or “tazia,” is erected of bamboo and decorated with paper. At the completion of the ten days of mourning and prayer, the tazia is buried in sand near a riverbank.

bhang A narcotic and intoxicant made of dried leaves and young twigs of the hemp plant; used for chewing, smoking, or drinking (when infused in water).

gram Certain leguminous plants grown especially for their seed.

tum-tum A dog cart.

chukker A period of play in polo.

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