Marabar caves

There seems to be a striking parallel between the experience of india and the experience of the Marabar caves. When beheld from a distance, the caves exude extraordinary beauty and vastness, the entire landscape is rendered exciting and fascinating. However, as discovered by the main characters (both british and indian), a journey to explore the caves only prove to be a gruelling and unpleasant affair. Every cave looks like the other, yet they are never the same. It is difficult to pinpoint or fathom one’s position within, or the relation that one truly bears to the surroundings. This overwhelming sense of ‘muddle’ that one experiences in an attempt to explore or grasp the Marabar caves can be applied to the various characters’ understanding and experiences of India.
For instance, the newly arrived Adela and Mrs Moore express romantic illusions and fascination with the country and are ever eager to ‘see the true India’. This initial attitude stands in stark contrast with the ‘anglo-indians’ or more seasoned white inhabitants of the place. To the latter, years of experience within the country have instilled the idea that India is a place without ‘order’ or ‘reason’, and represents a ‘muddle’ that they do not even bother to solve, just as the Marabar caves. While India is vast and magnificient, it is also divided and rooted in diverse traditions and customs. Like the caves that appear to be same but are never the same, the indians do not always identify with each other despite bearing the same nationality. Aziz himself proves to be critical of his fellow indians who are hindus. Therefore, even the natives themselves struggle to identify their position within society, a situation that is further complicated by the presence of the British.

Treatment of the Marabar Caves in Forster

Forster provides us with amazing descriptions of landscape in his novel. India is seen through various representations- the Himalayas, the Ganges, Chandrapore, holy spaces, and the Marabar caves. Yet, there is undeniable ambivalence when it comes to his depiction of the Marabar caves. For example, Forster calls ‘the visitor’ of the caves ‘uncertain whether he has had an interesting experience or a dull one or any experience at all’ (116), and while this might echo his own ambivalence towards India (or more specifically, British imperialist attitudes in India), it suggests that the caves are so overwhelming that it numbs and confuses the senses. Visitors simply will not be able to decide how they feel about the caves (perhaps as a holy space). The Marabar caves as a suggestion of elusiveness and mystery is an important motif in the novel- we are unclear about whether Adela’s experience is an ‘illusion’, reality, or simple misunderstanding. The caves are also a place of uncertainty, as even Aziz admits that he will never find the same place within the caves again; despite the fact that he is their official “guide”, he is also not spared by the ability of the caves to confuse and trick.

 

Forster links the cave to a ‘holy place’, as does Aziz, thereby accepting the mystery that surrounds it, but Adela and Ronny both express a need to put ideas and events into neat categories. Adela laments that ‘good, happy, small people. They do not exist, they were a dream’ (193), and Ronny expresses his frustration with the fact that the caves are ‘notoriously like one another’. Also, his suggestion that ‘in the future they were to be numbered in sequence with white paint’ (188) suggests that he possesses a strong desire to simplify what he cannot understand/identify, resulting in a loss of meaning.

 

The source and existence of the echo that Adela hears in the cave is also never resolved for us. Moran suggests that it is a reminder of the evil she has done (both towards violating the cave, and for falsely accusing Aziz). I think that the ambivalent space of the caves, along with the suggestion of violence (and perhaps crime?) wrecked against India by the British, is very effective as a motif in the novel.

 

References: http://muse.jhu.edu.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/journals/modern_fiction_studies/v034/34.4.moran.html