A Passage to India By E. M. Forster Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapters 17-24

Forster shows his attitude toward a nation that dominates another as he directs bitter satire toward the British Raj. Adela's supposed assault becomes an excuse for the British officials to exercise authority over their Indian subjects with Aziz as the "example." Feelings that have smoldered between the two nationalities suddenly burst into flame. Forster shows the strength of mob psychology when emotions that have been held in check have something to feed upon.

Because Fielding always thinks first of the individual, and because he knows Aziz is incapable of the crime of which he is accused, he feels he must defend Aziz; his stand earns him the hatred of his countrymen. He tries to temper his defense of Aziz to Mr. Turton with courtesy, but the collector is crazed with emotion and cannot understand Fielding's lack of the "herd instinct," his failure to rally to the cause.

McBryde, the superintendent of police, is less emotional about the incident but comes to the same conclusion as the others. He has a theory that the climate makes the Indian criminal; he believes Aziz is guilty and refuses to accept any evidence to the contrary. He is upset by Fielding's defense of Aziz primarily for official reasons: if Fielding refuses to come into the English camp, he will weaken English rule, and McBryde says they can afford no "gaps."

Fielding wants to see Adela himself, because he believes she is being abetted in her accusation of Aziz by people whose only desire is to see him convicted. But he is not allowed this privilege.

Every scrap of evidence available is brought in against Aziz. A letter is found addressed to Aziz from a friend in Calcutta who is believed to keep a brothel. When Fielding objects to this, McBryde changes the subject. The later revelation that McBryde's wife is divorcing him for adultery reveals the irony in this conversation. The crowning insult to Aziz is the confiscation of his wife's picture, which he has kept hidden from all except those he calls "brother."

As the Indians begin to gather their forces, Fielding realizes just how much in the middle of things he is. While the English are coldly furious with him for standing by Aziz, the Indians frustrate him with their illogical thinking and their fear. Forster states that "fear is everywhere and the British Raj rests on it." As long as the Indians can be kept in fear and ignorance, British domination will remain intact. Fielding has been busy fighting ignorance by educating the Indian; now he sets about to give him courage. As a result of Fielding's talk with him, Hamidullah turns from obsequiousness to aggressiveness, to the unfortunate extreme of insisting on hiring a notoriously anti-British Hindu lawyer for Aziz's defense.

To understand in any measure the strange dialog between Fielding and Professor Godbole, the student must understand something of a central dogma of Hinduism. Essentially it is this: All the universe, animate and inanimate, is one perfect design or image. This image is seen perfectly only by a few holy men, or Brahmins, when the activity of the mind is brought to complete stillness by the practice of Yoga. After seeing this complete image of the universe, the mind once more returns to activity, but ever after the Brahmin sees everything as a part of the whole and every part is equal in the sight of the Divine Spirit, for every part is necessary to complete the divine image.

In a sense then, good and evil are both a part of the same thing and the people who perform good and evil acts are not only a part of the whole scheme, but also a part of each other. Likewise, cows, stones, mud, and wasps have a part in the whole design and are as sacred as any other part. This concept is hard for the Western mind to grasp, for to the Western mind only man is of God.

Chapter 20 is characterized with the greatest quantity of fine irony in the book. Adela Quested, who had been condemned as not belonging — not being "pukka" — suddenly becomes the "darling" of the English Club circle. The men become charged with chivalry and the women take her to their bosoms. Mrs. Blakiston, formerly ignored because her social standing is not equal with that of the wives of the British officials, is now the symbol of all that is good and pure which must be protected from the colored horde of India.

Collector Turton now finds himself in a quandary. He must keep a precarious balance between righteous indignation toward Aziz and a full-scale riot. It is not only that a riot might be difficult to control, but also that the lieutenant governor would most certainly look with disfavor upon it.

Fielding, who prides himself on maintaining a neutral position between the Indian and the English, is forced to make an open break with the British when he is provoked by accusations leveled at him by the subaltern. Though his "understanding heart" senses Ronny Heaslop's distress, he is made to appear discourteous and unfeeling to the city magistrate in maintaining that Aziz is innocent. After resigning from the club, Fielding goes to join his Indian allies. On the way he resolves to examine some of the cave incidents — the echo and the guide — further.

There is much activity in Chandrapore in preparation for the Moslem festival, Mohurram, a one-time sacred worship of Allah, which has degenerated into a hassle over the height of the floats in the parade. The festival also serves to heighten the emotional pitch brought on by the arrest of Aziz.

Godbole, whose training as a Brahmin has taught him to be detached and indifferent, refuses to be drawn into the controversy and leaves quietly for his new job in an outlying Hindu state.

Chapter 22 is essentially Adela's inner struggle. The reader should note especially the many references to the echo she keeps hearing, which disappears when she suddenly cries that Aziz is innocent. Ronny does his best to convince her that she is mistaken and confused, and that his mother's defense of Aziz is just as mistaken. Adela is an intensely honest person in an emotional crisis, and her inability to think logically of what actually did happen in the caves distresses and horrifies her.

Mrs. Moore, to whom Adela turns, repudiates her. Forster chooses specific expressions to show that Mrs. Moore withdraws from the situation, much as Godbole has done except that his withdrawal is peaceful. Mrs. Moore says that when she settles the marriages of her children she will "retire . . . into a cafe of [her] own." In another instance she remarks, "Oh, why can't I walk away and be gone?" Godbole has already gone.

Although Ronny fears that his mother will probably help Aziz if she remains in India, it is Mrs. Moore who decides to return to England before the trial. She sails for England as the guest of Lady Mellanby, wife of the lieutenant governor of the province. Ronny, always impressed with rank and station, basks in the glow of this unexpected honor.

As the omniscient author, Forster reveals Mrs. Moore's meditations. He shows her pondering immorality. She had come to India satisfied with her view of man and his relation with infinity. She played her game of "patience," secure in the traditions of her Christian belief. Her experiences in India, and particularly her experience in the cave, resulted in a change of attitude. The evil of the Marabar was for her "the undying worm" itself. This presumably has reference to Mark 9:44, "where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." The subject is hell, for Mrs. Moore, the hell of meaninglessness.

It should be noted that the caves do not effect everyone equally. Mrs. Moore reacts violently to her experience in the first cave; Adela does not react until she reaches the second one, and her reaction is different; and Aziz and Fielding seem unaffected.

In Chapter 24, Forster brings together many of the forces upon which he has been focusing his attention.

First there is the weather. Just as the trial brings emotions to fever pitch, the heat descends upon the city of Chandrapore.

The British officials turn out in force to convict Aziz; by his conviction they hope to get a tighter grip upon their Indian subjects.

The Indians, strengthened by the friendship of Fielding and a growing discontent, show an unusual spirit of rebellion. There are strikes, and some Moslem women have declared a fast until Aziz is free. Stones drop on, or near, the car of the collector. At the beginning of the trial, through the calculating wisdom of the Hindu lawyer, the English are humiliated by having to come down from the dais in the courtroom where they hoped to lend superiority to their position by being physically above the Indians.

In the midst of the political struggle, Adela, who has started the whole thing, is nearly forgotten. On the strength of her testimony against Aziz, the English expect to put down the "changing tide" in Chandrapore, and this is almost the extent of their regard for her.

Mrs. Moore, safely on her way to England, still lends the spiritual impetus that changes the complexion of the trial. Adela's buzzing echo, which becomes worse as the trial approaches, has kept her mind confused and wavering; but when she thinks of Mrs. Moore and hears the chant ("Esmiss, Esmoor") of the natives who have deified Mrs. Moore, she is suddenly able to remember the day in detail, in a sort of vision, and she exonerates Aziz.

The unexpected exoneration sets the courtroom in an uproar. As the English lose their grip, the women who have clasped Adela to them lash out at her in uncontrolled fury. (Forster sometimes tempers his criticism of the English officials with mercy — that of their wives, almost never.)

The strikingly handsome young outcaste who operates the fan is apparently a symbol of the gods' disregard of man. Men come, create a furor, and go, and he continues to fan the air.

Glossary

punkah A large fan made from the palmyra leaf, or a large, swinging fan consisting of canvas stretched over a rectangular frame and hung from the ceiling.

quod Prison (slang).

tazia See Mohurrarn (Chapter 5).

mali Member of the gardner caste.

chota hazri Breakfast.

peg An alcoholic drink, usually brandy and soda.

punkah wallah The operator of a punkah, usually a coolie or person of a low caste.

Andamans Group of islands in the Bay of Bengal; formerly the site of a prison.

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