A Passage to India
by E.M. Forster
When Dr. Aziz is introduced to us, we don't see him. We see the bicycle he throws on the balcony, and we see the servant missing the bicycle before it hits the balcony. We know that he is "all animation" without being told exactly how he is being "animated." And we hear him calling out his friend's name before we find out his name, before we see his face, or get to know a single detail about his appearance or background.
The opening scene is just a wind-up for the rest of the novel, as it turns out. Impulsive, talkative, gregarious, spontaneously affectionate, Aziz is the Energizer Bunny of the story, rushing into conversations and situations without really thinking too hard about what he's saying or doing. And given the fact that he's so extroverted, it would probably be easy to assemble his profile on a dating site: widowed doctor, father of three, seeking casual relationship or companionship with attractive female. Hobbies include riding horses, waxing nostalgic about the Mughal Empire, and reading and writing Urdu poetry. Peeves include trekking to dark and mysterious caves.
But despite the fact that Aziz talks so much, or perhaps because of the fact Aziz talks so much, you might find it hard to get a handle on who he really is. His behavior can seem so contradictory. Aziz can be incredibly friendly and out-going in one moment, and suddenly turn suspicious and rather nasty the next. For example, Aziz seems to like Fielding. Yet he's so ready to believe the rumor that Fielding had an affair with Adela and that Fielding actually plotted to keep Aziz from suing Adela so that Fielding and Adela could enjoy her money together. It's also hard to reconcile the high, romantic idealism that we see when he's contemplating his dead wife, for example, and a matter-of-factness about sexuality that can be hard to stomach, as when he makes plans to see prostitutes.
Our difficulties with Aziz may have something to do with the fact that we learn everything about Aziz through the filter of a narrative that is dotted with the racial stereotype of the "Oriental" (see our discussion of Orientalism under the theme "Race"). Of course, the narrative of A Passage to India isn't as racist as the Turtons or McBryde; it's enlightened enough to satirize these characters. But even when it's championing the Oriental/Indian, it still can sound offensive. This is usually signaled when the narrator suddenly stops talking about Aziz the individual, and leaps to all "Orientals." Thus we learn, for example, that "[s]uspicion in the Oriental is a sort of malignant tumor, a mental malady, that makes him self-conscious and unfriendly suddenly" (2.31.88). Instead of Aziz just being a suspicious guy, the novel wants us to think that Aziz is naturally suspicious because he's Indian.
Be that as it may, the novel represents a sincere attempt to inhabit Aziz's mind, to show the effects of living as an Indian under British rule, and to show how the racism of a Turton or Callendar prevent them from recognizing not only Aziz's innocence, but also the validity of Indians' appeal for an independent nation. Perhaps in the end the novel gives us the tools to critically examine itself so that we might finally read Aziz's last gesture to Adela not as the illogical, inconsistent gesture of an illogical, inconsistent Oriental, but as the expression of a generous spirit.