On Passage, Fielding and modernism

The tendency to read Forster’s novel in political lens, in the legacy of the colonial history that determines our ‘post’ existence today, is an inherent and unavoidable complicity on our part. Yet to read Passage outwardly from the start in the binaristic terms of “East versus West” or “Black versus White” is to miss the subtle nuances, complexities and intricacies of the novel, for while modernism at one level does not outwardly criticize colonialism, Forster’s novel nonetheless put forth a means to understanding the multiple relationships between the colonizer and the colonized, and in turn provides the platform for the questioning of attitudes towards the self-righteous hegemony of Empire.

Fielding’s problematic relationship with his colonized other Dr. Aziz in a sense emblematizes the Forster’s troubling attitude towards Empire, as in throwing his lot with the Indians and in turn becoming an outcast from the white members of the Club, he is able to empathize with his Other. Yet empathy is about as far as Fielding could push his relationship with the Other, since the colonial mentality is so deeply embedded within each party that both Fielding and Dr. Aziz needed to see one another as enemies at the very end in spite of their personal friendship. The role of Fielding in the densely psychological novel may thus be seen as a mirror of Forster’s unconscious – his superior position as the empowered colonist, which does not dismiss the feelings of complicity, guilt and empathy towards the colonized.

The nationalistic outcries by the end serve to show how modernism acts as the gateway to further postcolonial sentiments by providing that necessary rupturing of consciousness and highlighting the now shaky foundations on which Empire is build (“upon sand”), with hints of further violence to come.

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