Study Guide

A Passage to India Gender

By E.M. Forster

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Part 1, Chapter 6

[The women] disliked [Fielding]. He took no notice of them, and this, which would have passed without comment in feminist England, did him harm in a community where the male is expected to be lively and helpful. (1.6.3)

This passage explains Fielding's experience with British India's much more conservative attitude toward women than that in England. In British India, women are viewed as weak, requiring the protection of men.

Part 1, Chapter 11

"[…] Any man can travel light until he has a wife or children. That's part of my case against marriage. I'm a holy man minus the holiness[…]" (1.11.64)

Early in the novel, Fielding advocates the bachelor life. As soon as you're tied down with a family, you lose the freedom and flexibility to do adventurous things like leave England to teach in India. Because he doesn't have a family to think of, Fielding is free to do things like go against Anglo-Indian society and defend Aziz later on in the novel. His own courage surprises Fielding at the end of the novel when he finally does get married to Stella Moore.

Dr. Aziz

"She was my wife. You are the first Englishman she has ever come before. Now put her photograph away." (1.11.9)

This passage is often cited in support of the view that women are just pawns to be exchanged between men. Significantly, Aziz's wife is dead, not a live, breathing person – she is a thing, basically reduced to a photograph. Aziz shows her picture to Fielding as a way to establish their friendship; her picture is, in effect, a Facebook friend invitation.

Part 2, Chapter 14

[Adela] was particularly vexed now because she was both in India and engaged to be married, which double event should have made every instant sublime. (2.14.2)

Adela's "attack" in the caves brings up the interesting question of what actually happened in there. This passage supports the view that her attack was a hallucination on her part. Why? Her encounter with India, this wonderful exotic place that's supposed to be utterly exciting, is closely linked to her thoughts about love and marriage, so closely as to be inseparable. She wants "sublime" experience, and because the actual fact of her engagement is boring, she needs to find sublime experiences – make them up, if necessary. This does bring up the question of whether the novel is portraying Adela as just another weak female, prone to hysterical flights of fancy.

Part 2, Chapter 15

Not to love the man one's going to marry! Not to find it out till this moment! Not even to have asked oneself the question until now! (2.15.4)

This passage links the equation between India and love for Adela that we saw in the previous quote. This passage occurs right before she walks into the cave and gets "attacked." The closeness of Adela's insight into her loveless marriage and her "attack" in the caves suggests that her attack is just a hallucination, something her over-wrought imagination thought up in the heat of disappointment at her own unromantic existence.

Part 2, Chapter 20

They had started speaking of "women and children" – that phrase that exempts the male from sanity when it has been repeated a few times. (2.20.21)

This passage really lays into the Anglo-Indians for losing their heads in the days leading up to the trial. The phrase "women and children" is viewed not as a noble cause, but as an excuse for persecuting Indians.

Part 2, Chapter 24
Mrs. Turton

"Exactly, and remember it afterwards, you men. You're weak, weak, weak. Why, they ought to crawl from here to the caves on their hands and knees whenever an Englishwoman's in sight, they oughtn't to be spoken to, they ought to be spat at, they ought to be ground into the dust, we've been far too kind with our Bridge Parties and the rest." (2.24.41)

Mrs. Turton reveals here a much nastier racism than her husband's. "Ground into the dust"? That sounds like genocide. Mrs. Turton's comment also happens to be a reference to the British reaction to the supposed attack on a white missionary woman in 1919, which led to the infamous Amritsar massacre, where hundreds of innocent Indians were killed. (See "Setting" for more on the Amritsar massacre.)

Mr. Turton

"After all, it's our women who make everything more difficult out here," was his inmost thought […] (2.24.23)

Turton airs a common cliché at the time that women made governing India difficult for the British. As objects of erotic temptation for Indians, white women cause conflicts, such as Adela's trial. (See Quote #8 under "Race" for more on this idea.)

Adela had always meant to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, and she had rehearsed this as a difficult task – difficult, because her disaster in the cave was connected, though by a thread, with another part of her life, her engagement to Ronny […] Smoothly the voice in the distance proceeded, leading along the paths of truth, and the airs from the punkah behind her wafted her on … (2.24.117)

This passage shows Adela at her finest moment, but also at one of her most problematic. Note that it's the punkah wallah's fan that "waft[s]" her to the truth. (Recall that the punkah wallah is really good looking.) Is Adela freed of her hallucination because she's being guided by her desire for the "darker" race? Is this a twisted version of Adela getting her groove back? Wouldn't that be an equally patronizing view of women? Instead of rationally thinking through her experience like a man would (like Fielding), Adela can only come to the truth via her sexual desire for somebody else?

Part 3, Chapter 36

The shock was minute, but Stella, nearest to it, shrank into her husband's arms, then reached forward, then flung herself against Aziz, and her motions capsized them. They plunged into the warm, shallow water, and rose struggling into a tornado of noise. (3.36.69)

This scene seems to repeat the scene earlier in the novel where Aziz shows Fielding his wife's photograph (see our discussion of Quote #2). This passage appears to cement their relationship when Fielding returns the favor by chucking his wife in Aziz's lap.

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