“A Passage to India” is a 1924 novel written by E.M Forster set during the Indian Independence movement in the 1920’s. The novel was written during Forester’s time in India. In 1924. It won James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. It has also been adapted into two films and two Broadway plays. The novel revolves around four characters, Dr. Aziz, a Muslim Indian doctor, Cyril Fielding, an English college professor, and Mrs. Moore and Adela Questad, two English ladies all living in Chandrapore, India.
After coming to India to visit her son, Mrs. Moore befriends his fiancee Adele quickly as both women agree that the English mistreat the Indians. Fielding feels this way as well, and they become friends with a local doctor, an Indian man named Aziz.
Aziz suggests a trip to a local cave system for exploration when he and Adela are separated, and she suddenly leaves to go back to town with a friend. Aziz is confused by her departure and furious when he is later arrested before getting back home. Adela insists that Aziz assaulted her in the cave. Aziz insists that he did no such thing. A trial commences where Adela finally gives into her doubts and admits that she does not know who attacked her. Aziz is freed, but he forever distrusts the English and no longer wants to be friends with them. Adela returns home to England after her fiancee breaks off their engagement.
Much of the story revolves around the morality of the English’s presence in India and themes like racism and sexism in the 1920’s.
The novel begins in the Indian city of Chandrapore, a small, unassuming town. The city sits near the River Ganges and nearby is a series of caves called Marabar. The Marabar Caves are the only interesting part of Chandrapore. A doctor named Aziz is introduced as he is arriving late to his friend, Hamidullah’s house. When he arrives, Hamidullah and another friend, Mahmoud Ali are arguing about whether an Indian and an Englishman can every be friends with one another.
Hamidullah, a former Cambridge graduate, argues that such a friendship is possible in England. The men both agree that if an Englishman moves to India, he becomes utterly insufferable within only two years and that an Englishman in India will become insufferable within six months. Aziz contends that he prefers to ignore the English altogether. Hamidullah takes Aziz to the area where the ladies are chatting so that Aziz can say hello to Hamidullah’s wife. Hamidullah’s wife admonishes Aziz for not having remarried after the death of his wife, but Aziz insists that he is happier on his own and that his three children are happy living at his mother-in-law’s house. The men all sit down for dinner and Aziz recites poetry during the meal, and everyone listens very happily. However, the happiness is interrupted when Aziz receives a summons from his superior, the civil surgeon, Major Callendar.
Aziz is irritated with the timing of the summons but leaves the dinner as he is bid and travels to Callendar’s bungalow. But when he arrives he finds that the major has departed and not left a message for him. Annoyed, Aziz walks home, stopping at his mosque on the way home. Aziz appreciates the mosque for its beautiful architecture and how good of a symbol it is of Islam and love. Seeing an Englishwoman in the mosque, Aziz scolds her for trespassing on Muslim territory. But the woman is very humble and assures him that she knows how to observe the holy rituals of the place. Aziz is mollified and even impressed by her. The woman, Mrs. Moore, tells him that she is visiting her son, Ronny Heaslop who is the city magistrate.
Aziz and Mrs. Moore continue to talk and realize that they have a little bit in common, including a dislike for Mrs. Callendar, the major’s wife. Aziz escorts her up to the door of the nearby “whites-only” club.
Once inside the club, Mrs. Moore finds her traveling companion, Adela Quested. Adela is a young Englishwoman whom Mrs. Moore has brought based on her son’s request as Ronny and Adela are soon to be engaged. The club begins to get busier. Adela wishes to see the “real India,” or, the parts of India that the locals get to see. Overhearing this, Cyril Fielding, the principal of the nearby government college, suggests that she go see some Indians if she wants to see what “the real India” is like. Adela is hesitant about this, but Mr. Turton, Chandrapore’s local collector, promises that he will bring some Indian gentlemen for a “Bridge Party” so that she can meet them.
On the way home with Ronny, Mrs. Moore points out the mosque and tells him about Aziz. Ronny is suspicious of the meeting and assumes that Aziz was trying to get something out of her. Ronny tells her that he intends to report Aziz to Major Callendar and his mother begs him not to. In exchange, he asks her to not tell this story to Adela as he worries that she will start thinking that the English don’t treat the Indian’s fairly. Mr. Turton invites only the most respected Indian men to his bridge party at the club. Mahmoud Ali is invited as well as a very important Indian landowner named The Nawab Bahadur.
At the party, the Indians stay on one side of the lawn while the English guests stay on the other. Adela is confused by the separation, and Mrs. Moore is dismayed. On top of this, Ronny and Mrs. Turton ridicule the Indian’s clothing. Mrs. Moore finds herself surprised at how intolerant her son’s views have become. Mrs. Turton, Mr. Turton’s wife, reluctantly takes Mrs. Moore and Adela over to the Indian group to introduce them to some Indian women. She is surprised to find that the women know English. Mrs. Moore and Adela try their hardest to have a conversation with the women, and Mrs. Moore asked one of the women, Mrs. Bhattacharya, if she and Adela can visit her home. Mrs. Bhattacharya agrees, and her husband agrees to send a carriage for them.
A man named Mr. Fielding, who is also at the party, socializes just as freely with the Indians and is pleased to note that Mrs. Moore and Adela are being friendly to them as well. Fielding invites the ladies to tea, promising to invite Dr. Aziz as well.
That night, Adela begins to have doubts about marrying Ronny. Ronny asks his mother about her, and Mrs. Moore tells him that Adela feels that the English mistreat the Indians. Ronny dismisses these complaints, and his mother argues that God demands love for all men although she instantly regrets saying this as she has lost some of her religion lately.
The day after Aziz met Mrs. Moore, Callendar admonishes him for failing to report to the summons he sent. Aziz skipped the bridge party because it fell on the anniversary of the death of his wife. He hears that he was missed at the party and worries that the Englishmen will punish him for not attending. That day he receives an invitation to tea from Fielding and feels somewhat better.
Aziz arrives for tea at Fieldings, and though the two men have never met, they become fast friends. So much so that Aziz is disappointed when Mrs. Moore and Adela arrive because it breaks up the intimacy of his conversation with Fielding. However, the party’s informality does continue, and Aziz feels comfortable addressing the women in the same way he would a man.
The ladies relate that they are confused as to why the Bhattacharyas never sent the carriage that they promised that morning. Aziz denounces them for their rudeness and says that it is because they are Hindu. He invites the ladies to his house. However, he doesn’t intend for them to take him up on it. But Adela does not know this and asks for his address. Ashamed of his shabby house, Aziz tries to distract Adela. Aziz asks Adela if she intends to stay in India and she impulsively replies that she can’t. This makes her realize that she has admitted to strangers that she doesn’t intend to marry Ronny before she has even told him. Of course, this also flusters Mrs. Moore. Fielding breaks up the awkwardness by taking Mrs. Moore on a tour of the grounds.
After they are gone, Adela discusses going to Aziz’s house again, and he offers to take her to the Marabar Caves instead. Aziz tries to describe the caves but accidentally reveals that he has never actually been to them. Ronny arrives to bring Adela and his mother home and scolds Fielding privately for leaving Adela alone with Aziz. Driving home, Adela scolds Ronny for his rudeness. She discusses the trip to the cave, but Ronny forbids her from going. Adela and Ronny later go to the club, and Adela quietly admits that she has decided not to marry Ronny. He is disappointed but agrees that they can stay friends. However, during the evening they embark on a journey around town that leaves them broken down twice and ends with them having to get a ride from Miss Derek and Indian noblewoman.
The experience brings Adela and Ronny closer together, and she decides that she wishes to marry him after all. He agrees and although Adela is happy she is worried that she will not be the seen the same as all of the other married Englishwomen in India. After telling Mrs. Moore the news, Ronny and Adela tell her about their odd night, and she shivers and wonders if their car accident may have been caused by a ghost.
For three days after Fielding’s tea, Aziz is sick in bed. Fielding visits him to ask about his health, and all of Aziz’s Indian friends are surprised that an Englishman would visit him. Fielding chats with the Indian men for some time about politics and England’s position in India and the men are surprised by his candidness and his siding with England pulling out of India.
Once alone, Aziz shows Fielding a photograph of his dead wife and Fielding is flattered by the honor. Fielding wishes that he had something to share on the same level, but he does not have any family. Aziz teases him about marrying Adela, but Fielding responds that he finds Adela annoying for trying to learn about India as if it were a class in school. Aziz begins organizing the trip to the caves and decides to take Fielding along as well. Ronny gives his permission for his Adela and his mother to go once he knows that Fielding is going. However, Fielding arrives late to catch the train and does not make it on. Aziz momentarily panics but Mrs. Moore and Adela assure him that the trip can still continue without Fielding. Aziz feels grateful to the women for trusting him.
When the train arrives, Aziz reveals that he has procured them an elephant ride to the caves. Adela and Mrs. Moore are secretly worried but they fake excitement for Aziz’s benefit, and he is glad that they are happy, as the ride cost a great deal. The trio ride on the elephant to the caves and Aziz realizes too late that he does not know the area well enough to act as a tour guide. Luckily, he has brought along servants who prepare tea for the women.
The trio enters the first cave, but the darkness, and the crowd of villagers that follow them frighten Mrs. Moore and make her panic. The group leaves the cave, and Mrs. Moore decides to stay outside while Aziz and Adela go through the rest.
Aziz forbids the villagers from accompanying them. As they are also accompanied by a guide, at some point Aziz and Adela split up and get separated in the caves. Aziz tells the guide to stay with Adela, but later when he realizes that the guide did not obey him and that Adela is gone, he slaps the man.
The guide runs off, but Aziz finds Adela down the road talking to a woman. He notices her field glasses lying broken on the ground and picks it up.
Aziz goes back to camp and is happy to see that Fielding has arrived with the help of a friend, Miss Derek.
Fielding tells Aziz that Adela asked Miss Derek to drive her back to town and that he sensed that something was wrong with her. Aziz tells him that the guide brought Adela back down to the car. The group boards the train and rides back to Chandrapore but when they arrive at the city, the chief inspector of police, Mr. Haq, stops Aziz and arrests him. In a panic, Aziz tries to run, but Fielding stops him and calms him down, telling him that this must be a mistake and that they will straighten it out. When the two men approach the platform, Mr. Turton tells Aziz that he is going to prison. He tells the men that Adela has said that she was “insulted” (meaning sexually assaulted) in the Marabar Caves. Fielding protests that Aziz is innocent. Turton tells him that Adela is very ill and that he is shocked that Fielding isn’t as furious as all of the other Englishmen are.
Aziz is taken to jail where Mr. McBryde, the superintendent of police, receives him. McBryde feels that Indians have a tendency toward illegal acts because of the climate and that their behavior is not their fault. Fielding arrives to get the details of the case, and McBryde tells him that Adela claimed that Aziz followed her into a cave and made advances toward her. She then struck him with her field glasses and they broke. McBryde has found the broken field glasses on Aziz.
Fielding wishes to ask Adela if she is sure that it was Aziz who attacked her but the permission to ask is refused because of Adela’s condition. Fielding refuses to believe that Aziz is guilty and asks to see him. Outside McBryde’s office, Fielding runs into Hamidullah who has been to see Aziz and is now calmly planning defense teams and bail. When Fielding visits Aziz, he finds the man panicked and miserable. He leaves and writes to Adela.
That night there is an informal meeting at the whites-only club about the incident. The Englishmen and women are worried that they are not safe from Aziz and some even suggest military interference. Fielding tries to calm them. Callendar arrives and reports that Adela is feeling better. He tells Fielding that he believes that Adela’s servant was bribed to stay outside the caves to provoke Fielding. But Fielding doesn’t rise to the fight.
Fielding does announce that he believes that Aziz is innocent and that he will resign from service in India if Aziz is found guilty. He also resigns from the club right away. Many of the men become furious, but Ronny tells them to let him go. Fielding meets with Aziz’s friends who have hired a famous lawyer from Calcutta to represent him.
Meanwhile, Adela stays with the McBrydes while she is still in shock. Miss Derek and Miss McBryde treat her sunburn and pick out hundreds of tiny cactus spines that were stuck in her skin when she fled down the hill. Adela goes through an emotional breakdown. She tells the women that in the cave she saw a dark shadow move toward her suddenly which she hit with her field glasses. She then escaped down the hill. She admits that she was never actually touched.
When her condition begins to improve, Ronny comes to take her back to his house. Adela receives the letter from Fielding saying that Aziz is innocent which Ronny has already opened. Ronny tells her that Fielding has betrayed the English. Adela reunites with Mrs. Moore but finds the woman strangely withdrawn. She tells her that she has been hearing the echo from the caves in her mind and Mrs. Moore tells her that she will hear it forever.
Mrs. Moore tells her son that she intends to leave India and not testify at the trial. She intends to retreat from the world. Adela begins to wonder if she was wrong about Aziz being the one to attack her and Ronny urges her not to say such things out loud. Mrs. Moore, however, admits that she thinks Aziz is innocent because his character is good. Adela wishes that she could call off the trial, but she is scared to anger the men in charge of it.
Mrs. Moore leaves town shortly but feels only apathy about the journey. On the morning of Aziz’s trial, the Englishmen all meet together to discuss their hatred for Indians. No one pays attention to Adela who sits in the corner and worries that she will have a breakdown before the end of the trial. McBryde opens the trial by presenting his assertion that the darker races lust after the fairer races. An Indian in the audience shouts that Adela is ugly and this flusters the girl. McBryde says that Aziz lives as double life as a secretly depraved despot.
Adela takes the stand herself and while she is testifying she realizes that she does not remember Aziz following her into the cave. She tells the court that she has made a mistake and that it was not Aziz that attacked her. The courtroom riots. Callendar tries to insist that she cannot testify for medical reasons but Adela insists that she was wrong and is rescinding the charges. Mrs. Turton screams at Adela from across the room, and the police officially release Aziz. Fearing that she will be hurt in the crowd, Fielding takes Adela into his carriage to leave the courthouse. However, the Indians in the crowd only want to cheer her for doing the right thing. Aziz gets a victory procession but calls out for Fielding as he cannot find him in the crowd.
Fielding speaks with Adela about the incident, and she admits that she has been ill and may have hallucinated. She says that she still hears the echo from the caves and she suspects that Mrs. Moore was, too. They discuss the possibility that the guide may have attacked her. Hamidullah arrives and scolds Adela for nearly ruining Aziz’s life. Hamidullah tells Fielding that there is a party for Aziz at The Nawab Bahadur’s house and Adela says that she needs to go home. Fielding asks her to stay at the college.
Ronny pulls up outside. He announces that Mrs. Moore has died on the trip back to England. Distraught at this, Adela asks to remain at the college. Fielding settles her in and then leaves for the party. Hamidullah tells him that he thinks that Adela should be fined and Fielding worries that Adela will lose all of her money as well as her fiance, too.
That night after the party, Fielding has a long talk with Aziz. Aziz says that he knows that Fielding will ask him not to ask for reparations from Adela but that he intends to because he no longer cares what the Englishmen think of him. Fielding tries to tell Aziz that Mrs. Moore has died, but Aziz assumes that he is joking.
In town, a rumor soon arises that Ronny killed his mother for attempting to save Aziz. None of the Englishmen pay any mind to the rumor, but it still irritates Ronny. He wishes that Adela would leave India as his mother did as he does not want to back out of their engagement but hopes that she realizes that it would ruin his career to marry her now. Fielding finally manages to get Aziz to agree only to ask for Adela to pay his legal costs. Despite this gesture, the Englishmen still think that Aziz committed the crime. Ronny visits Adela at the college and breaks off his engagement with her.
Afterward, Adela tells Fielding that she is sad for all of the trouble she caused. He asks her about the incident in the cave again, and she indifferently agrees that it was the guide who attacked her. She feels that only Mrs. Moore knew for sure. Adela finally leaves for England and decides to look up Mrs. Moore’s other two children when she gets there. Over the course of the next few months, relations between the Muslim Indians and the Hindus become slightly better in Chandrapore. Aziz is commissioned to write a poem for a magazine, and this act makes him picture a better future for India. He reminds himself to be friendlier to Hindus but to hate the British.
Aziz tells Hamidullah that he intends to take a job out of town. Hamidullah tells him that there is a rumor that Fielding had an affair with Adela when she was staying at the college. This angers Aziz who believes the rumor to be fact and yells that everyone has betrayed him. Aziz addresses the rumor to Fielding but does so in a backhanded way so that Fielding does not expressly deny it. Fielding has to go to England for business and leaves shortly after this.
Two years pass and Aziz now lives hundreds of miles from Chandrapore in the Hindu city of Mau. His children live with him, and he writes poetry. He is very happy although the local police do watch him as a suspected criminal. Fielding comes to Mau on official business and Aziz does not wish to see him. He assumes that Fielding married Adela while he was in England. However, he bumps into them when out on the town with his children. Fielding is in town with a man that he introduces as his brother-in-law and Aziz addresses the man with Adela’s last name. Fielding is shocked by this and corrects him, telling him that he married Mrs. Moore’s daughter, Stella and not Adela. This pleases Aziz however he tells Fielding that he still feels betrayed by him. He tells him that he doesn’t want an Englishman as a friend and goes home with his children.
However, Aziz’s job as a doctor brings him in proximity to Fielding once again, and the two reconcile their friendship after a boating accident. When Fielding leaves Mau, Aziz is sad that he will probably never see him again. He gives Fielding a letter for Adela, thanking her for her bravery in admitting that he was innocent. The two men embrace and talk about their politics, differing more than even on their views of England’s occupation of India. Fielding hopes that they can be friends now and Aziz looks around his country and admits that they cannot be yet.
Dr. Aziz – one of the three main characters of the story. Aziz is a Muslim Indian doctor living in Chandrapore. He is an intelligent, emotional man who is also a widower. At the beginning of the novel, Aziz is a timid, meek man who is conscious of how the Englishmen view him and desperate to please them. However, after he is falsely accused of rape and the English of the town rally against him, he no longer wishes for their friendship and approval. In fact, he completely reverses his image of the English and decides that he hates them altogether.
Aziz is by all accounts a wreck of extremes and inconsistencies, an encapsulation of Forster’s thought of the “muddle” of India. Aziz is rash and whimsical, changing conclusions and distractions rapidly. His state of mind swings forward and backward between extremes, from untainted delight one moment to absolute depression the next. Aziz does not even seem content to stay in one profession, becoming both a doctor and a poet over the course of the novel. Notwithstanding his contradictions, Aziz is a tender character, as seen with his friendship with Mrs. Moore and Fielding. In the end, Aziz is a changed man because of the trial and the accusation, and in some ways, he is even a happier one.
Cyril Fielding – the head of the college near Chandrapore. Fielding is a free man who has believes in teaching the Indians as individuals- a great deal more thoughtful state of mind toward the local populace than that held by most English in India. He becomes a close acquaintance with Dr. Aziz, taking his side against the English in Chandrapore when Aziz is blamed for assaulting Adela.
Fielding’s character changes in the outcome of Aziz’s trial. He gets to be distinctly jaded about the Indians and the English. His English sensibilities, for example, his requirement for moderation and reason, become more pronounced and start to grind against Aziz’s Indian sensibilities. While Aziz remains an affable, if imperfect, character until the end of the novel, Fielding turns out to be less affable in his expanding identification and equivalence with the English.
Adela Questad – a youthful, keen, curious, yet fairly repressed Englishwoman. Adela goes to India with Mrs. Moore with the end goal to choose whether or not to wed Ronny. Miss Quested starts with a liberal craving to become more acquainted with Indians and see the genuine India. Later, she dishonestly blames Aziz for endeavoring to assault her in the Marabar Caves.
Adela begins the story by altruistically trying to befriend and understand the Indian’s and then the narrative almost seems to punish her for this action. After being attacked Adela starts to think that her assault, and the shocks that reverberate for a while after, are illustrative of something outside of the aegis of the natural world. Perhaps even something supernatural. She is tormented by her failure to relate the details of the incident. She discovers she has no reason to stay in – nor love for-India, and all of a sudden feelings of trepidation that she can’t love anybody. Adela is loaded with the acknowledgment of the harm she has done to Aziz and others, yet she feels deadened, not able to cure the wrongs she has done. In any case, Adela benevolently perseveres through her troubles after the trial, a game-plan that wins her a companion in Fielding, who considers her to be an overwhelmed lady instead of a double-crosser to her race.
Edward Morgan Forster Biography
Edward Morgan Forster was born on January 1st, 1879 in Marylebone, Middlesex, England. The son of an architect, Forster’s father died when he was only two years old, and after another death in the family, he received an inheritance that gave him enough money to live on while attempting to become a writer.
Forster attended King’s College, Cambridge in 1897 and became a member of a discussion society called the Apostles which later became the famous society called the Bloomsbury Group. After graduating, he traveled to Europe with his mother and began writing. In 1905, his first novel, “Where Angels Fear to Tread” was published followed by “The Longest Journey” two years later in 1907 and “A Room With a View” the year after that.
Two years later, Forster produced, “Howard’s End.” During World War I, Forster was a conscientious objector who volunteered for the International Red Cross. After the war, he spent some time in India as a private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas which gave him the inspiration necessary to write his most well-known novel, “A Passage to India” which was published in 1924.
After the success of the novel, Forster became a broadcaster on BBC Radio and something of a public figure. He was given a Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature in 1937.
A lifelong bachelor, Forster was openly homosexual to his friends, although not to the public at large.
In 1946, Forster was made an honorary fellow at King’s College and began living at the college. He turned down a knighthood in 1949 but was made a Companion of Honour in 1953 and a member of the Order of Merit in 1969. On June 7th, 1970, Forster suffered a stroke and died at the age of 91. He published five novels in his lifetime and a fifth novel, “Maurice” was published posthumously.