A Passage to India By E. M. Forster Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapters 9-11

When Aziz becomes mildly ill, he exaggerates his illness and is visited by representatives of the many groups of Indians. This meeting gives Forster an opportunity to demonstrate subtle humor in conjunction with inter-racial tensions in India. Should the British depart, there would be no Indian unity. The Indians would lose their only bond — their common dislike for the English. Now, the Indians blame the English for their problems, rather than seeking understanding and agreement within their own ranks. In a sense, the British save the Indians from themselves. The widely differing opinions of the group around Aziz's bed show the dissension within the groups of Indians and their opinions of the causes.

Into this group comes Fielding. His blunt answers to the Indians' questions demonstrate the Englishman's highly valued virtue of honesty, which often seems impolite to the Indian mind. Recall earlier chapters where the Indian, as a courtesy, has gone to great lengths to give an answer that "saves face" for himself and embarrassment for his listener. This is part of the reason that the Indian will sometimes refrain from saying what he means; instead he will say what his listener wants to hear. In his viewpoint courtesy takes precedence over honesty.

Another reason for the vague answer with which the Indian skirts the truth is that, when the Indian admits something, he is often judged by the British on the basis of his race and is then penalized without further investigation. After a number of episodes such as this, the Indian becomes cautious and self-protective. This characteristic is not limited to the Indian. People who are dominated by a person, or a group, tend to be elusive to save some particle of independent thought or action.

For further contrasts in the Indian-English viewpoint, look to Aziz's thoughts on sex and his comments to Fielding. Aziz holds that it is wrong to offend God or a friend, but that there is no wrong deceiving society because society is not injured unless the wrong is discovered. Later, Aziz implies that having an illegitimate child to carry on one's name is preferable to having no children. In contrast, Fielding is content to let his name vanish.

Time, as pointed out previously, is not naturally important to the Indian. However, under the influence of Western thinking, the educated Indians realize that this lack of attention to time is one of their problems.

When Aziz's guests leave him they are conscious of the heat; even the thought of it is oppressive. Forster makes it plain that the A Passage to India 26

weather governs India. The hot weather of April saps man's strength and taxes his disposition; it is a period when tempers flare and troubles increase.

Fielding, who has been purposely detained by Aziz, is paid the highest compliment that an Indian can bestow upon an Englishman. He is shown a picture of Aziz's dead wife. This is equivalent to lifting the purdah and Aziz says that this is done only for a man whom he can call "brother." The mutual trust and affection that Aziz and Fielding feel for each other is the beginning of a strong friendship. Both have understanding hearts and educated minds, and each has some knowledge and appreciation of the other's cultural and social customs. This is a firm basis for friendship and only time and circumstance will tell if this is enough to withstand the differences that exist between them.

Through the eyes of Fielding, the individualist and the objective observer, the reader may see more clearly the emotional events into which the Indians and English will be plunged in Part II. While Fielding is objective, he is also human and capable of error in judgment. Realizing this, the reader can more clearly understand what happens when a subjective, highly sensitive, and insecure person such as Aziz is faced with disaster.

Glossary

saddhu A Hindu ascetic or holy man.

chunam Plaster or stucco made from lime and sea-sand.

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