Study Guide

A Passage to India Gender

By E.M. Forster

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In addition to race, gender also divides colonial society . British colonial society in India, made up as it is of administrators and their wives, is not exactly English society in miniature – it tends to aggravate whatever is most conservative and traditional about English culture, including a traditional attitude toward women as the much weaker sex. The stereotypical idea is that Englishwomen need white knights in shining armor to save them from lusting Orientals; thus Adela, as an Englishwoman, needs to be saved from Aziz by Englishmen. Englishwomen further demonstrate their weakness by being far more racist than their men: a character like Mrs. Turton doesn't have the benefit of her husband's education or civic-mindedness. On the other hand, British colonial society dismisses the Indian practice of purdah, or of segregating women from men, as backwards and unenlightened.

Despite its criticism of the British colonial attitude toward women, A Passage to India seems to harbor sexist attitudes. In fact, some critics have argued that female characters such as Adela and Aziz's wife are reduced to pawns who are exchanged between men to establish relationships between men, excluding the possibility of equal relationships between men and women.

Questions About Gender

  1. Take a look at the female, English characters who have spent some time in India, including Mrs. Turton, Mrs. McBryde, and Miss Das. Do you agree with Hamidullah's claim that Englishwomen are far worse than Englishmen when it comes to dealing with Indians?
  2. How are Adela and Mrs. Moore different from the other female, English characters? Do you think of either of them as feminist heroines? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think the novel favors the male characters (such as Aziz and Fielding) over the female characters (such as Adela, Mrs. Moore, and Stella)? Can you point to specific passages in the novel that supports your view?

Chew on This

The racism of Englishwomen in A Passage to India is far worse than that of the Englishmen because the women lack the men's commitment to England's "civilizing mission" in India.

Adela's courageous retraction at the trial defies the belief shared by the British and Indians alike that women inevitably become racist during their stay in India.

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