A Passage to India By E. M. Forster Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapters 7-8

Fielding's tea party presents a contrast to the Bridge Party in that, without pretending to, it bridges the gap successfully. Present are English (Mrs. Moore, Adela, Fielding), Moslem (Aziz), and Hindu (Professor Godbole). There is mutual respect and tolerance, and the conversation is rewarding.

Several incidents and developments are noteworthy:

  • Aziz has a chance to reciprocate Fielding's friendliness. At a risk to his own dress (which Ronny Heaslop speaks of disparagingly later), Aziz removes his collar stud and gives it to Fielding, saying, out of courtesy, that it was in his pocket.
  • Adela mentions the Bhattacharya incident, which Fielding thinks is better forgotten. Perhaps the Bhattacharyas did not expect the Englishwomen to take the invitation seriously, or they became too worried about the visit to carry it through.
  • Professor Godbole is introduced by Forster as the enigmatic representative of Hinduism. He eats apart from the group, as becomes a Brahmin, but is included in the conversation. His quiet wisdom is contrasted with Aziz's quick judgments. One would do well to review the contrast between the two men. Note, in particular, their discussion of the Marabar Caves: Aziz tries to persuade Godbole to reveal concrete information about them, with the feeling that the Hindu is, probably unconsciously, concealing something — but he does not succeed.

It is important to notice Mrs. Moore's interest in Professor Godbole. She is quick to sense the wisdom he represents. The song that Godbole suddenly sings is especially important. In it he takes the role of a milkmaid and appeals to Krishna, who refuses to come to him alone, or to a multitude of his companions; in fact, Godbole — calmly says the god does not come in this or in any other song, despite appeals. (See the discussion of Chapter 33 for the role of Krishna in Hindu theology.) This song is a factor in furthering the apathy of Mrs. Moore — an apathy the beginnings of which have already been indicated, and which becomes more prounounced after her visit to the caves.

Fielding, as host, is the broadminded man who embraces all ideologies, because, in a sense, he embraces none. He is the worldly man whose "understanding heart" judges only on the basis of the worth of the individual. He professes to being interested only in education. As such he poses a threat to the smug English community: as Fielding educates the Indians, he gives them a view of a better life. This is what the British Raj' cannot countenance. Forster emphasizes the point that only a people kept in ignorance can be kept in submission.

Under the influence of the social compatibility she shares with the Indians at Fielding's tea, Adela sees her place in the English Club circle as impossible and inadvertently states that she does not intend to remain in India.

When Ronny Heaslop appears, he sounds a discordant note and all the old animosity returns. Aziz becomes irritable and rude. Mrs. Moore is embarrassed, Adela is resentful, and Godbole retreats into silence, breaking it only to sing his song. On the way home from the tea the annoyance deepens; Ronny's chief concern seems to be that his mother and Adela have not behaved as the British in India should.

Forster indicates the influence of new locale on human behavior:

  • Ronny criticizes Aziz for what he calls the "fundamental slackness" of the race because Aziz, otherwise impeccably dressed, has apparently forgotten a collar button (the one which he gave to Fielding). On the other hand, when they are away from the Indians, he shows great tolerance and understanding when Adela tells him she cannot marry him.
  • Adela is disturbed because she acts so "British." She seems to feel that she should act differently now that she is in India.
  • Forster introduces the little green bird which neither of the young people can identify to remind them and the reader that in spite of their British attitudes, they are in an India which they do not really know and cannot understand, and India will continue to intrude.
  • Mrs. Moore shows further traits of her affinity with Hindusim when she abruptly withdraws from Adela and Ronny's quarrel. Remember how Godbole withdraws into himself at any mention of dissension.

Ronny and Adela are shown interacting in the incident of the quarrel and the subsequent ride, which ends in an accident. They are shown almost as half-characters who, although they are reasonably honest and reasonably fair, are coolly restrained and not capable of any depth of feeling or real involvement. The main difference between them is that Adela is more perceptive about herself and others, and basically therefore more honest with herself; Ronny, whose notions are those of the accepted group, seldom questions his motives.

Ronny and Adela's ride in Nawab Bahadur's car and the subsequent accident bring out several interesting points:

  • The uninspiring scenery seems to call out "Come, come" in vain, as in Godbole's song.
  • Ronny and Adela's engagement is brought about by the slight sensual thrill that they feel, showing once more the lack of depth in their affection.
  • Miss Derek is introduced as another quite different part of the English community in India. Ronny feels that her position in the household of a maharani is detrimental to English prestige.
  • Mr. Harris, the half-English, half-Indian chauffeur, expresses the despair of so many of his kind; he feels that he belongs to neither group.
  • Nawab Bahadur's condemnation of superstition following the accident is defensive rather than deeply felt; he secretly believes that the cause of the accident was the ghost of a drunken man whom he had run over and killed years earlier.
  • When Mrs. Moore, after being told of the incident, mentions a ghost, she exhibits once more her unconscious affinity with the Oriental mind.

Forster makes a facetious play on words as Ronny's servant Krishna (like the Krishna in Godbole's song) does not come, although Ronny storms angrily at him.

Glossary

babuism A disparaging term applied to the English written or spoken by natives of India. Derived from babu, a Hindu title which corresponds to our “Mr.”

hammam A building or room designed for bathing, either public or private.

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