Study Guide

A Passage to India Life, Consciousness, Existence

By E.M. Forster

Life, Consciousness, Existence

Part 1, Chapter 3

Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually. (1.3.9)

Here, Forster brings up the idea that life never fits in our neat little plans. This passage compactly summarizes what happens to Adela and the rest of the characters in the novel. Adela doesn't get thrilling, romantic India: she gets a hallucination in a cave and a rape trial.

Part 1, Chapter 7
Cyril Fielding

"A mystery is only a high-sounding term for a muddle. No advantage in stirring it up, in either case. Aziz and I know well that India's a muddle." (1.7.71)

In this passage, Fielding challenges the idea that India is a "mystery." A mystery implies that there's some truth to discover that will clear up the mystery. In India's case, the mystery could be cleared up by some definitive conclusion as to what India really is. Instead, Fielding says India is a "muddle." There's no truth that can possibly clear up what India is because India isn't anything: it's a muddle.

Part 2, Chapter 14

The crush and the smells [Mrs. Moore] could forget, but the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment when she chanced to be fatigued, it had managed to murmur, "Pathos, piety, courage – they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value." If one had spoken vileness in that place, or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same – "ou-boum." (2.14.98)

In the cave, Mrs. Moore experiences an echo that reduces all of her values to nothingness. Earlier in the novel, she had chastised Ronny and preached the Christian virtue of love. But here in the cave, Mrs. Moore experiences a kind of sonic confusion roughly similar to what happens to you after standing next to a speaker at a rock concert for four hours. Everything becomes muffled and muddled. "Pathos, piety, courage" are no longer elevated words that celebrate human endeavor; they are just the same as "filth."

Part 2, Chapter 19

[Fielding] foresaw that besides being a tragedy, there would be a muddle; already he saw several tiresome little knots, and each time his eye returned to them, they were larger. Born in freedom, he was not afraid of the muddle, but he recognized its existence. (2.19.18)

After Aziz is arrested, Fielding realizes that the whole situation is a "muddle" in addition to being a "tragedy." The tragic part is that an innocent man (Aziz) is ruined. The muddle part? Well, in addition to the general panic and turmoil in Chandrapore, nothing redeeming is going to come out of the whole situation. And the novel bears him out. When Adela withdraws her charge, she isn't any happier, and nobody thinks of her as a heroine: she's just a girl who messed up a whole lot of lives. When Aziz is cleared, he doesn't experience any profound improvement in his circumstances. In fact, he ends up working for a lot less money in Mau. Fielding's comment alerts the reader to the fact that the novel isn't going to be coming out with any happy endings.

Professor Godbole

"[…] All perform a good action, when one is performed, and when an evil action is performed, all perform it [….] Good and evil are different, as their names imply. But, in my own humble opinion, they are both of them aspects of my Lord. He is present in the one, absent in the other, and the difference between presence and absence is great, as great as my feeble mind can grasp. Yet absence implies presence, absence is not non-existence, and we are therefore entitled to repeat, 'Come, come, come, come.'" (2.19.45, 50)

Godbole's ethical philosophy presented here sounds like a huge muddle. We normally think of good and evil as polar opposites; how could they both be "aspects" of God? How can presence and absence, another set of opposites, be different and the same at the same time? When Godbole says that "absence is not non-existence," he's not totally off his rocker. For example, just because your classmate is absent from class does not mean that he doesn't exist. He's just not existing in a place where you can see him. What Godbole is offering here is a way of looking at the world that includes, rather than excludes, the muddle, a way of looking at the world that doesn't deny that the muddle exists, but embraces the muddle as a necessary part of life.

Part 2, Chapter 23

But in the twilight of the double vision, a spiritual muddledom is set up for which no high-sounding words can be found […] What had spoken to her in that scoured-out cavity of granite? What dwelt in the first of the caves? Something very old and very small. Before time, it was before space also. Something snub-nosed, incapable of generosity – the undying worm itself […] The unspeakable attempt presented itself to her as love: in a cave, in a church – Boum, it amounts to the same. Visions are supposed to entail profundity, but – Wait till you get one, dear reader! (2.23. 2-3)

The consequences of Mrs. Moore's sonic confusion in Quote #3 are spelled out in more detail in this passage. The novel directly addresses the reader here for the only time in the novel – it seems to drive home the point that sometimes, profound insights don't offer a higher sense of purpose or meaning in life. It could just be a glance into the deep abyss of meaninglessness. Thus the "unspeakable attempt" – Adela's alleged rape – is confused with love, and caves may as well be churches – everything's the same because everything is nothing, meaningless, senseless.

Part 2, Chapter 24

Men yearn for poetry though they may not confess it; they desire that joy shall be graceful and sorrow august and infinity have a form, and India fails to accommodate them. The annual helter-skelter of April, when irritability and lust spread like a canker, is one of her comments on the orderly hopes of humanity. (2.24.1)

Here, India is described as something so vast and chaotic that no "form" can encapsulate it. Human beings need "form," i.e., poetry, to impose order and meaning on the world, but India is so impossibly formless that no poetry can be written to adequately describe it. The passage could be referring to the novel itself, which, as a work of fiction taking place in India, is attempting what it alleges to be the impossible task of giving form to India.

Part 2, Chapter 32

[T]he harmony between the works of man and the earth that upholds them, the civilization that has escaped muddle, the spirit in a reasonable form, with flesh and blood subsisting […] The Mediterranean is the human norm. (2.32.1)

In contrast with the muddle of India (see Quote #7), Fielding finds in the Mediterranean a "reasonable form." Here, in an area many consider to be the cradle of Western civilization, Fielding finds a way of looking at the world that balances man and the world, spirit and flesh in harmony, rather than conflict. Ironically, Fielding's insight into the "reasonable form" of the Mediterranean doesn't help him deal with the muddle of India when he returns in Part 3 of the novel.

Part 3, Chapter 33

They loved all men, the whole universe, and scraps of their past, tiny splinters of detail, emerged for a moment to melt into the universal warmth. Thus Godbole, though she was not important to him, remembered an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days […] Completeness, not reconstruction. His senses grew thinner, he remembered a wasp seen he forgot where, perhaps on a stone. He loved the wasp equally, he impelled it likewise, he was imitating God. (3.33.3)

As in Quote #5, Godbole offers here a way of celebrating the muddle. Nothing is too insignificant to be embraced in the "universal warmth": God loves all things, from the old woman (Mrs. Moore) down to the teeny tiny wasp.

Part 3, Chapter 34

Illogical poems – like their writer. Yet they struck a true note: there cannot be a mother-land without new homes. In one poem – the only one funny old Godbole liked – he had skipped over the mother-land (whom he did not truly love) and gone straight to internationality. (3.34.6)

This passage describes Aziz's attempt to step outside his Muslim identity and celebrate all of India, including all of its religious groups. Yet the only one that strikes a chord with his Hindu friend Godbole is one where Aziz doesn't celebrate India as a nation, but India as a fundamentally international entity. They're illogical poems because they're trying to describe India as an international nation – how can a country be a single nation and international at the same time? What a muddle! But Aziz's muddled poems strike a "true note" because they are in essence trying to work with the muddle, just as Forster's novel is trying to do.

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