The Structure of E. M. Forster's "A Passage to India"

Seminar Paper, 2005

19 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Location

3. The Three Parts of A Passage to India
3.1 “Mosque”
3.2 “Caves”
3.3 “Temple”

4. Interpretations of the Tripartite Structure
4.1 The Seasons
4.2 Ethnic Groups
4.3 Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis
4.4 Prefatory Chapters

5. Motifs and Reoccurring Themes
5.1 The Wasp
5.2 The Echo and the Caves
5.3 Friendship
5.4 The Sky

6. Conclusion

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

E.M. Forster published his novel A Passage to India in 1924, after he visited India beforehand in 1912 and in 1921. The novel deals in large parts with the political occupation of India by the British army and the concluding relations between the English and the native population. It is also about the friendship between the two main characters, Cyril Fielding and Dr. Aziz, with all its obstacles. Forster argued that his book was about the human race's attempt to find a “more lasting home” (Stallybrass 25): that it was at its core about religion, metaphysics and the universe. The novel has a certain structure as well as many motifs and themes that draw attention to this position. A Passage to India wants to describe the differences between the Eastern and Western culture and how they might find together. In this seminar paper I will discuss the relevant parts of the structure of this novel, which help Forster to create the gap between the cultures and the struggle of them getting together. These structural means are the use of a tripartite structure, specific locations and motifs in the novel.

2. Location

The novel's setting is the fictive city of Chandrapore, a small Indian city on the Ganges and near the Marabar Caves. Chandrapore is based on Bankipore, one of the cities which Forster visited in India (cf. Forster 338). The city of Chandrapore is predominantly Moslem, and its unique attraction is the Marabar Caves, which is a short train ride away from the city. The caves of the book are based on the real Barabar Caves (cf. Forster 347). Forster put them near Chandrapore, so that they were visible from his fictive city, aiding the atmosphere and to simplify the travel to the Caves.

In the third part of the novel the story moves to Mau, which is also a fictive city, based on Chhatarpur (cf. Forster 355), a more Hindu town in India, where Aziz starts a new life after the trial, away from the Europeans. There he makes a new beginning, away from the evil atmosphere at Chandrapore and the Caves. The location of A Passage to India is very important, because the different sceneries are crucial to the plot. The club, for example, is the setting for the typical English culture and its characters in the first part, showing their condescending attitude towards the natives. The Caves are important, because here the echo implants itself in the mind of Adela and Mrs. Moore, influencing the lives of all characters. So each location drives the plot onwards.

3. The Three Parts of A Passage to India

3.1 “Mosque”

A Passage to India consists of three parts. Each part centres on a particular setting or location. “Mosque”, the first part, takes place in Chandrapore, which is at the time of the novel occupied by both the British and the native Indians. During this part the central problem is explained and set up: The city itself and therefore India is described like a muddle and there is a huge gap between the Indian people and the English occupants. The first chapter shows this in detail by describing the two sides of the divided city: in the Indian part “[the] streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest.” (Forster 31) On the other hand, the English part of “Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. […] It is a tropical pleasance, washed by a noble river.” (Forster 31) This already shows the gap between the two cultures. It is emphasized by the attitude of the English people towards the Indians. Natives are not allowed in the club, the Indians meet only themselves and vice versa. Attempts of getting together usually fail, as Forster shows with the Bridge Party: the British hardly communicate with the Natives, and “bridges” are not built.

There are only few attempts of getting together: the only ones who want to cross this “border” are the protagonists Aziz, Fielding, Mrs. Moore and Adela. With them East and West meet in a friendly way. They engage in friendships and decide to intensify these relationships on a trip to the Marabar Caves: “At the end of the section, it seems that brotherhood is about to triumph. The omens are auspicious: East and West have met and embraced; friendship and love are in the ascendant.” (White 56)

3.2 “Caves”

The second part is entitled “Caves”. It centres on the Marabar Caves, the site of Adela's dramatic experience and the trial against Aziz. In the caves Mrs. Moore panics because of the echo; she is haunted by it until her death. Adela is also confused by the echo; she loses her sense of reality and imagines that Aziz insults her. He is then accused of raping her. This ruins his life in Chandrapore and his future, leading him to move away. The accusations destroy the friendly relationships that were beginning to build up before. This chapter shows that hostility, evil and negation triumph. There is frustration and alienation between the cultures. Adela realizes her mistake during the trial through the echo of the people chanting “Esmiss Esmoor” (Forster 228). The spirit of Mrs. Moore therefore averts the ultimate disaster by reasoning Adela in the end.

Still, nothing good is left at the end of this second chapter: Mrs. Moore is dead, Adela is hated and rejected by all, and Fielding is also cast out by the English community and misunderstood by the Indians. Aziz leaves Chandrapore and moves to Mau. The spirit and the echo of the Caves brought misery to all, especially to the relationship between the cultures: “It is a shattering experience, calamitous to everyone: it destroys Mrs. Moore both spiritually and physically; it drives Adela to the brink of madness; it threatens ruin to Aziz, and actually alters his entire future; it imperils all relations between English and Indians; and it destroys all constructive relationships between individuals." (White 56f)

3.3 “Temple”

The third part is set among the Hindu people in Mau during a religious festival, two years after the other parts, emphasizing again the contrast between the cultures. The Temple is the symbol of the Hindu religion: it stands for reconciliation, regeneration and hope. The celebration of the Birth of Shri Krishna in the first chapter of the part stands for the belief that all sorrow is annihilated and that infinite love prevails. This attitude reflects through the whole third section of the novel.

During this part friendship is again established between the two individuals Fielding and Aziz, when everything between them is explained. Aziz finally forgives Adela and realizes his mistakes of the last two years. He also befriends Mrs. Moore’s children, who bring a spirit of love and friendship to both cultures, almost like their mother did. The new relationships cancel the bad effects of the Marabar Caves; but real friendship between the two cultures cannot be established, there is only reconciliation: “Reconciliation, not real union; that is not possible on earth, whatever may be the truth about that universe of which earth is only an atom. The hundred voices of India say, “No, not yet,” and the sky says, “No, not there”.” (White 62) This is Forster’s final view: the two cultures are not yet ready for real friendship.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Structure of E. M. Forster's "A Passage to India"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
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Structure, Forster, Passage, India
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Wolfgang Bürkle (Author), 2005, The Structure of E. M. Forster's "A Passage to India", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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