Power relations in A Passage to India

What struck me most when I started reading A Passage to India were the complex power relations that underpinned most of the text. Everyone in the text is in relatively more or less power than everyone else, whether it is between the two broad camps of ‘natives’ and ‘English’, or within the two groups. The relationship between Major Callendar and Aziz, and Aziz and Dr. Panna Lal is just one example of this: Callendar resents Aziz’s superior skills, and expects Aziz to come immediately when “summoned” (p.48), not even considering that he may be otherwise occupied in his free time. In the same way, Aziz thinks about his quarrel with Panna Lal in terms of whether or not Panna Lal is a person of importance, and whether it was “wise to have quarrelled even with him” (p.54). There seems to be at all times an unspoken but constantly-referenced hierarchy that governs all relationships that is present but only in a rather unobtrusive way—it is a default lens through which all interactions are viewed.

All this later changes with Adela’s accusation of Aziz—the underlying power relations burst to the forefront, with the clear—and symbolic—split between the British and the Indians, in which power rests clearly with the British. The fact that Aziz is arrested simply based on Adela’s accusation and later set free based on her admission of her mistake illustrates this quite clearly, as do the closing lines of the novel.

For me, this was all complicated by the issue of which side I as a reader stand on: Forster is clearly sympathetic to the Indians, which for me added a whole new complicated dimension to the issue of power relations in the novel. If the author is so clearly on one side of the issue, is it the British or the Indians who are really disempowered in the novel?

One thought on “Power relations in A Passage to India

  1. Good. But if Forster is sympathetic to Indians, does this mean that Indians would appreciate his description of them?