Friday, May 7, 2010

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Every week by Saturday morning...
* Read 100 to 150 pages.

* Write 300+ words a week in response to your reading.
* Respond analytically and personally to what you have read.
* Discuss the significance of at least one passage/quotation.
* Discuss the relationship between what you are reading and something(s) else you have read this year.
* Respond to a comment made by a peer (after the first week).


nFrye said...

Nancy F.
pp 100

E.M. Forster's "A Passage to India" is a novel that explores India through the eyes of English colonists in the country. However, the story is not one-sided. The natives of India also get a taste of what England brings to them.

While the older English people view the Indians as a lesser people, the young people, as well as one special woman, Mrs. Moore, that come to the land are enchanted by the unknown aspects of India. When they meet the natives, they believe that they are discovering things that they never would have known about the country. Little to they realize that the natives do not even know about where they live. This is exemplified in Chapter 7, page 79 when Dr. Aziz, a native of Chandrapore where the story is set, invites Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore to visit the Marabar Caves. He is dismayed to learn that they have not yet visited them, and yet he himself has never seen them. This irony explores the truth of what living in a certain country is truly about: certainly not visiting tourist destinations. Rather, it is about being from that country, understanding its customs and being a part of its history.

While the English believe that they are getting a taste of India by having lunch with the natives, so too do the Indians believe that they are viewing the social aspects of true Englishmen. At the Bridge Party (a pun on the game of bridge that women play in England) where the English hope to make a connection to the Indian people, the natives believe that they are seeing what it is like to have a party in England. However, the English as well as the natives are awkward and the party is considered a failure. Neither of the peoples learn about one another. This further extends Forster's statement about the gap between the conquered people and their conquerers. While this "Bridge Party" was supposed to bridge this chasm, it only succeeded in making people uncomfortable with their own lives. No additional understanding was developed between the peoples.

"But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge in something else," (pp 91). This quote establishes exactly how the English that have come to colonize India feel about their new home. While they are curious about its beauty and culture, they are unable to learn much about where they are. The Indian culture, in attempting to please others, often shifts to accommodate. Because of this, the English people are able to get few straight answers. Even the way that one person views India differs from the point of view of another. Thus, there is no one way to learn about the country except to explore it on one's own.

"A Passage to India" is similar to Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". The same theme of imperialism runs through the entire novel. However, Forster's tone conveys sympathy for both the colonizers and the colonized while Conrad criticizes the colonizers for changing people's culture.

nFrye said...

Nancy F.
pp 101-end

In the last part of Forster's "A Passage to India", the gap between the English and the Indians is widened by the incident at the Marabar Caves. When Miss Quested claims to have been molested by Dr. Aziz, the entire area is transformed into a chaotic mess, divided between English and Indians. The only people who manage to see that Miss Quested is mistaken about her attacker are Mrs. Moore and Mr. Fielding, the only people who had truly taken the time to acquaint themselves with Aziz and his India. Every other English person sees the accusation of Aziz as a chance to humiliate and dominate the natives while the Indians anticipate the chance to undermine the authority of the English.

As the political battle between the colonizers and the colonized rages, Fielding is pushed further from Anglo-Indian life and hangs in a sort of limbo between his own culture (or a culture that has been called his own) and the Indian culture. He no longer is able to sympathize with the English and they manner in which they treat their prisoner and the Indian people around them. They turn to fear to "defend" themselves instead of attempting to give a fair trial. If not for Miss Quested's last-minute realization that Aziz had not perpetrated the crime, the English would have sent the innocent man to prison. However, although Dr. Aziz does not face the shame of prison, damage had been done to his name, a serious slight in Indian culture.

Of course, the Indians are not the only victims of extreme racial bias. The English are also faced with situations that force them to be made to feel anyplace but home in India. When Aziz wins the case, Miss Quested is forced to flee from a mob of people, celebrating and not. She is shunned by her own people and considered an enemy by the Indian people. Her only shelter is with Fielding, who understands what it is like to be ostracized from both societies. Both must learn to walk a fine line between the two groups. Sometimes they tread too far onto one side and are pushed out entirely. Ultimately, however, they earn the respect of their fellow human beings and are at home within themselves.

What is very amusing about the novel is the prejudice that both the English and Muslims hold towards the Hindus. Neither group understands the Hindus. They merely coexist. As Aziz states on page 358 of the novel "It is useless discussing Hindus with me. Living with them teaches me no more." It appears that Aziz believes that the English, people from another world entirely, are easier to comprehend than people that have always inhabited their very land with them. Once again, Forster shows that, while one may live in an area, it is so difficult to understand the complexities of one's homeland. There is much more to the world than the eye can see.

"A Passage to India" sometimes reminded me of King Lear. As one becomes acquainted with the Indian culture, it is possible to see that the desire to have one's name carried on for many more generations is incredibly important to all father figures within India. As Aziz's name is damaged by the scandal at the Marabar caves, his primary concern is what the damage will be for his name and for his children. In a culture where a name and heritage is incredibly important, smudges on family names do not bode well for future family members. In other words, one must choose carefully what one does in life in order to carry on a successful "dynasty".