General thoughts on A Passage to India

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the novel. Unlike many of the literary work I’ve read concerning Imperialism, A Passage to India pays attention to the interior life of both the whites and the natives, which I found to be very refreshing. I don’t know if the Indians are misrepresented here, but they are definitely not under- represented. While Forster is obviously critical of the British, he does create, in readers, rather mixed reactions towards all the characters. Characters comment/ reflect on other characters and the different perspectives we get of the various characters at different moments serve only as a rough gauge, and not a complete synthesis, of who they really are.

At times, Forster’s writing style reminds me of Woolf’s. For example, on page 70 (penguin classics edition), Ronny’s thoughts on ‘the spoilt westernized’ blends seamlessly into Aziz’s thoughts on his own conduct and then we get an almost disorienting perspective from Fielding who, as we read on and then realize, is seeing them from across the garden like ‘a scene from a play’. Even reading the chapter on the Bridge Party, I got a sense of things being multifarious yet ‘shapeless’. I was overwhelmed by how quick the narrative moved from one person to the next, and how abruptly these thoughts and sensations ended.

Perhaps this murky, dream-like quality of the novel ties in well with the motif of the mysterious Marabar caves. Many of the characters’ desires and anxieties are half-articulated. Forster uses the notion of ‘namelessness’ or ‘formlessness’ throughout the novel: we have the nameless bird, the unidentified hyena/ghost, Fielding’s religious song which had the illusion of a Western melody and which ceased casually halfway through a bar.

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