A Passage to India
E. M. Forster
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Forster's 1924 masterpiece, A Passage to India, is a novel about preconceptions and misconceptions and the desire to overcome the barrier that divides East and West in colonial India. It shows the limits of liberal tolerance, good intentions, and good will in sorting out the common problems that exist between two very different cultures. Forster's famous phrase, "only connect," stresses the need for human beings to overcome their hesitancy and prejudices and work towards realizing affection and tolerance in their relations with others. But when he turned to colonial India, where the English and the Indians stare at each other across a cultural divide and a history of imbalanced power relations, mutual suspicion, and ill will, Forster wonders whether connection is even possible.
The novel begins with people very much desiring to connect and to overcome the stereotypes and biases that have divided the two cultures. Mrs. Moore accompanies her future daughter-in-law Adela Quested to India where both are to meet Mrs. Moore's son Ronny, the City Magistrate. Adela says from the outset that she wishes to see the "real India" and Mrs. Moore soon befriends an Indian doctor named Aziz. Cyril Fielding, an Englishman and the principal of a local government college, soon becomes acquainted with everyone, and it is his uneasy friendship with Dr.Aziz that constitutes the backbone of the novel.
Although the primary characters all take pains to accept and embrace difference, their misunderstanding, fear and ignorance make connection more difficult than any of them expect. Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested find that surpassing their preconceived notions and cultural norms entails confronting frightening notions about the contingency of their beliefs and values. Getting to know the "real" India proves to be a much more difficult and upsetting task than they had imagined. For Aziz, the continued indignities of life under British rule and the insults-intentional and unintentional-of his English acquaintances make him suspect that although friendship is desired, the two cultures are not yet ready for it.
Forster's keen eye for social nuance and his capacious sympathy for his characters make A Passage to India not only a balanced investigation of the rift that divides English and Indian but also a convincing and moving work of art. Written in 1924, two years after the publication of Eliot's The Waste Land and Joyce's Ulysses and one year before Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Forster's masterpiece was produced during one of the most remarkable periods of achievement in English literature since Wordsworth's day.
Great read, but hard to grasp at the beginning
The book was great overall, although I did have some trouble understanding what was going on in the beginning.