Study Guide

Cyril Fielding in A Passage to India

By E.M. Forster

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Cyril Fielding

Fielding, the principal at the local college, is your quintessential, tweedy English professor. Think Dumbledore without the beard and flowing cloaks, the Robin Williams guy in Dead Poets Society, or that other Robin Williams guy in Good Will Hunting. Sympathetic, wise, funny in a dad-humor kind of way, he's got just a touch of irritability that all good teachers seem to have because of their conviction that you – yes, you – are better than that. It's this very human irritability that differentiates him from Godbole, who's too high up in the stratosphere to be troubled by the struggles of the puny individual. If Fielding gets irritable, it's because he cares.

Even though Fielding styles himself as the "holy man without the holiness," Fielding isn't as above it all as he makes himself out to be (1.11.64). The novel tells us that Fielding arrives in India having seen that, done that: falling in love, hitting rock bottom, picking himself up again. He views himself as beyond both the petty human emotions of jealousy and spite, and the lofty idealism of the "civilizing mission" of imperialism or Christian orthodoxy.

Fielding is basically an old-fashioned humanist: he believes that all human beings, regardless of race, are the same. Because of this, he believes that we could all get along if we could just have a rational discussion about things. According to him, education helps us do so by freeing us from our prejudices. Thus, unlike the other Anglo-Indians, Fielding is open to having friendships with Indians. Because of his level-headed rationalism, Fielding doesn't get swept away with the rest of the Anglo-Indians who are howling for Indian blood when charges are filed against Aziz.

For much of the A Passage to India, you could say that Fielding is the voice of the novel; his thoughts and feelings seem closest to the third person narrator, and "Fielding" sounds like a pun on "Forster" ("Field"-ing and "For[e]st"- er, get it?). (For more on the narrator, see our discussion of narrative voice in "Narrator Point of View.") But the novel doesn't leave Fielding alone. Fielding sails off to England and falls in love. And marries. No longer "traveling light," Fielding's views also change – according to the novel, they "harden" (3.37.19). No longer so even-tempered, he scoffs at Aziz's hopes for an Indian nation, and classes India with Guatemala and Belgium (and what's he got against Guatemala and Belgium?).

So is the novel saying that marriage always contaminates a bachelor? Is it confirming the stereotype that it's the women who make things difficult – not only empire, as Mr. Turton would claim, but also friendship? Or is Fielding's newfound conservatism a latent component of his humanism, brought out by the experience of marriage? What do you think about these issues? The Fielding we get at the end of the novel certainly brings up some thorny questions about a character who seemed to speak and act with such moral clarity for most of the novel. While we may be left with more questions than we had at the beginning, A Passage to India certainly gives us interesting conflicts to think about in the character of Fielding.

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