Study Guide

A Passage to India Contrasting Regions

By E.M. Forster

Contrasting Regions

Part 1, Chapter 5

But the force that lies behind colour and movement would escape [Adela] even more effectually than it did now. She would see India always as a frieze, never as a spirit, and she assumed that it was a spirit of which Mrs. Moore had had a glimpse. (1.5.48)

Adela is convinced that the "real" India will always elude her because she will always see India through the screen of official English culture. She's not far wrong as she constantly butts heads with Ronny about getting to see more of India.

Part 1, Chapter 8

But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge into something else. (1.8.43)

The narrator suggests here that India can't be "identifiable" – i.e., packaged up in a neat definition. It will always elude description. As in other passages (see Quote #3), the word "nothing" is constantly associated with India, as if nothing could possibly express the true identity of India – if there is such a thing.

Part 2, Chapter 13

[The visitor] finds it difficult to discuss the caves, or to keep them apart in his mind, for the pattern never varies, and no carving, not even a bees'-nest or a bat distinguishes one from another. Nothing, nothing attaches to them, and their reputation – for they have one – does not depend upon human speech. It is as if the surrounding plain or the passing birds have taken upon themselves to exclaim "extraordinary," and the world has taken root in the air, and been inhaled by mankind. (2.13.4) [see later: "Nothing is inside them …nothing, nothing would be added to the sum of good and evil]

The Marabar Caves have often been taken to be a metaphor for India in general. This is a figure of speech we call a "synecdoche," when a part of something (the caves) stand for a whole (India). As in Quote #2, the caves are indescribable, and there's that word "nothing" again. But just because they're nothing doesn't mean that they aren't anything. That is, it's because we don't have a conceptual handle on the caves that they happen to be – "extraordinary."

Part 2, Chapter 14

Trouble after trouble encountered [Aziz], because he had challenged the spirit of the Indian earth, which tries to keep men in compartments. (2.14.2)

The novel portrays India as a country that will always be doomed to be divided against itself, fissured by competing religious and cultural groups.

How can the mind take hold of such a country? Generations of invaders have tried, but they remain in exile. The important towns they build are only retreats, their quarrels the malaise of men who cannot find their way home. India knows of their trouble. She knows of the whole world's trouble, to its uttermost depth. She calls "Come" through her hundred mouths, through objects ridiculous and august. But come to what? She has never defined. She is not a promise, only an appeal. (2.14.22)

This passage again stresses how India eludes any attempt to grasp it – intellectually or geographically. India is so varied and vast that the mind can't possibly know it. Similarly, it is so diverse and so enormous that no one power can maintain its hold over it, including the British, like so many empires before it. This passage seems to play with an Orientalist stereotype. Here, India is seen as so alien to thought that it reinforces the stereotype of India as essentially foreign and exotic.

"Ah, dearest Grasmere!" Its little lakes and mountains were beloved by them all. Romantic yet manageable, it sprang from a kindlier planet. (2.14.27)

In contrast to India, Grasmere, a pleasant little place in England, is a source of comfort. It's not threatening in the way India is in its vastness: it's homey and sounds kind of cute with its "little lakes and mountains."

Part 2, Chapter 23

[Mrs. Moore] would never visit Asirgarh or the other untouched places […] she longed to stop, though it was only Bombay, and disentangle the hundred Indias that passed each other in its streets. (2.23.4)

The problem with viewing the Marabar Caves as a symbol for India is that the novel turns right back around and says that no, India is not reducible to the caves. Along Mrs. Moore's ride to Bombay, the novel keeps stressing that there's a whole world of Indias to discover along the way.

Part 2, Chapter 25

The Marabar Caves had been a terrible strain on the local administration; they altered a good many lives and wrecked several careers, but they did not break up a continent or even dislocate a district. (2.25.45)

If we were to follow the reading of the caves as a symbol for India here, this passage seems to revert back to the stereotypical view of the Oriental as passive and incapable of worldly action. Like Hamidullah's committees, the Marabar Caves can't really do anything against the British. It's no more than a momentary nuisance.

Part 2, Chapter 29

Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle; they could not tell. Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one. [Fielding and Adela] had not the apparatus for judging. (2.29.17)

This quote again reinforces the image of India as a "muddle," something confusing and hard to pin down, completely foreign to Westerners such as Fielding and Adela.

Part 3, Chapter 35

India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last comer to the drab nineteenth-century sisterhood! Waddling in at this hour of the world to take her seat! She, whose only peer was the Holy Roman Empire, she shall rank with Guatemala and Belgium perhaps! (3.35.27)

This quote expresses Fielding's opinion of Indian nationalism. It's sort of a backhanded compliment. He's basically saying that the whole idea of nationhood is a recent invention (thus his examples of Guatemala and Belgium), which seems inappropriate for a country with as rich a history as India. But if India is not a nation, how is it supposed to be taken seriously by modern nations such as Britain?

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