A Passage to India Summary

Table of Contents

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 1-3

A Passage to India begins with a description of Chandrapore, the city where most of the story takes place, during the time of British rule in India. Chandrapore is an undistinguished city, except for the Marabar caves that are twenty miles away.

In chapter 2, an Indian Moslem, Dr. Aziz, arrives for dinner at the home of his uncle, Hamidullah. Mahmoud Ali, a lawyer, is also present. They are discussing whether it is possible to be friends with an Englishman, and there is some bitterness in their talk because they believe that the English insult them and look down on them. The Englishwomen are even worse, according to Hamidullah, who believes it is only possible to be friends with the English in England. Later in the conversation it transpires that Aziz is a widower with three children who live with his wife’s mother.

After Mahmoud Ali is called away, the others sit to eat. They are joined by Mohammed Latif, a cousin. Aziz, a well-read man, recites some poetry, delighting the company. But they are interrupted by a servant, who brings Aziz a note from Major Callendar, the civil surgeon and Aziz’s superior. Callendar wants to see Aziz immediately at his bungalow. Reluctantly, Aziz leaves on his bicycle. The bicycle gets a flat tire, and he has to be driven in a tonga (carriage). When he finally arrives at Callander’s bungalow, he is told that the Major is out and has left no message. Two English ladies come out of the bungalow, and take the tonga that Aziz had been using, without even asking his permission. Aziz decides to walk home. On the way, feeling tired, he stops at a mosque. In the mosque, he is surprised to find an old Englishwoman, who identifies herself as Mrs. Moore. As they converse, Mrs. Moore reveals that she has recently arrived in India to visit her son, Ronny Heaslop, the City Magistrate. A hint from Mrs. Moore that she does not much like Mrs. Callendar encourages Aziz to confide his frustrations about the English to her. He feels that she sympathizes with him. He escorts her back to the Chandrapore Club, which is an English club that does not admit Indians.

Mrs. Moore re-enters the club, where an amateur play production is nearing its end. Adela Quested, who has come to India with Mrs. Moore as a potential bride for Ronny, is expressing a desire to see the real India. Mr. Turton, the governor of the city who is known as the Collector, has high praise for Ronny, and he also wants to make sure that Adela is happy on her visit. He offers to put on a “bridge party,” which is a party attended by English and Indians in order to bridge the gap between East and West. A patronizing discussion ensues about Indians as “natives.” Almost every remark the English people make contains some disparaging reference to the Indians.

The evening at the club ends when the Collector and his wife depart. After this, Mrs. Moore tells her son about her visit to the mosque and her encounter with Aziz. Ronny disapproves, telling her she should not have spoken to the man. Over his mother’s protests, he says he will report Aziz’s remark that he did not like the Callanders. Ronny is also very anxious that Adela does not get caught up in the “native question” and start inquiring about whether the Indians are being properly treated.

Chapters 1-3 Analysis

The opening chapter sets the scene, describing the fact that Chandrapore is really two cities, or a city that can be experienced from two points of view, the Indian and the English. Chapters 2 and 3 then introduce the main characters on each side of this racial and cultural divide. Each talks obsessively about the other. The Indians (ch. 2) are aware of their own humiliation at the hands of the English and complain vigorously about it. This is then vividly illustrated in Aziz’s experience at Major Callendar’s bungalow.

The English (ch. 3) reveal their deep prejudice against the Indian population, whom they regard as inferior and untrustworthy. Their attitude of contempt towards the “natives,” as they call them, is clear from Ronny’s remark to his mother, regarding the fact that she had not told him that the man she met in the mosque was an Indian: “Why hadn’t she indicated by the tone of her voice that she was talking about an Indian?” (ch.3)

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 4-6

In a room near the Court, several Indians discuss the invitation they have received from the Collector to a “bridge party” the following week. A respected landowner, the Nawab Bahadur, is gracious about the invitation and plans to attend, although another man, Ram Chand, disagrees with him.

The bridge party takes place in the garden outside the club, but it is not a success. The English and the Indians stay apart from each other as much as possible. The Collector assumes that the Indians are present because they want some specific favor from him. Mrs. Turton can barely deign to shake hands with an Indian, but Mrs. Moore and Adela are eager to meet the Indian ladies. The Indian ladies are nervous and retiring. They try to be friendly, but the conversation is halting and awkward. Mrs. Moore asks one of the women, Mrs. Bhattacharya, if she and Adela might visit her and her husband some day. After a fair amount of cross-cultural misunderstanding, a visit is arranged for the next Thursday.

The Collector, who believes that a bridge party such as this does accomplish some good, does his duty and mixes with the Indian gentlemen for a while, before retiring to the English side of the lawn. He leaves varying impressions, from favorable to cynical, among the Indians. Cyril Fielding, an Englishman who teaches at the English-run Government College, makes a much better impression because he is spontaneously friendly to the Indians and does not share the prejudices of his fellow countrymen. He invites Mrs. Moore and Adela to tea, where they will be able to meet Indians in a more informal setting. After the party is over Ronny talks to his mother regarding his concern that Adela should fit in (she obviously does not), and he explains his practical approach to the question of how to rule India. He is simply there to do his job; it is not necessary for him to try to be pleasant to the Indians. Mrs. Moore disagrees, justifying her view with reference to her religious beliefs. She also wonders, to herself, whether Ronny and Adela will become engaged to be married, since that was really the reason she had brought Adela to India.

The following morning there is a quarrel between Aziz and Major Callendar about why Aziz did not arrive promptly when summoned. Some days after this, Aziz decides not to go to a party given by the Collector, because it is the anniversary of his wife’s death. Dr. Panna Lal, Aziz’s colleague, goes to the party without him. After tea, Aziz visits Hamidullah but finds he is out at the party. Aziz borrows his pony and tries his hand at playing polo. He teams up with a young English soldier who happens also to be practicing, and each gains some respect for the other. Dr. Lal arrives and complains to Aziz. Lal had called on Aziz to go to the party with him, but Aziz had been out. Aziz gives a lame excuse, which does not satisfy Lal. Irritated, Aziz deliberately rides his horse too close to Lal’s horse Dapple, and Dapple bolts. When Aziz gets home, he is pleased to find an invitation from Fielding to come to tea the day after tomorrow.

Chapters 4-6 Analysis

After Chapters 2 and 3 have shown the Indians and the English in their separate domains, chapter 5 shows them together, at the bridge party. Given what has been presented so far about how the two races regard each other, it is no surprise that the bridge party is a failure. There is little overt hostility (except on the part of Mrs. Turton), but the English exhibit a kind of benign contempt, and a failure to understand cultural differences.

Forster also uses the bridge party as a vehicle for social satire. This can be seen for example in his portrayal of Mrs. Turton, the “great lady” who will not put herself out for the bridge party because she is saving herself “for some vague future occasion when a high official might come along and tax her social strength.” There is more social satire, indeed high comedy, in the encounter between Mrs. Moore, Adela, and the Indian ladies. Here again, there are cultural misunderstandings, especially in the incident in which Mrs. Bhattacharya, at Mrs. Moore’s inquiry, invites Mrs. Moore and Adela to tea. Mrs. Bhattacharya accepts Mrs. Moore’s suggestion of Thursday, but sees no need to suggest a time: “Her gesture implied that she had known since Thursdays began, that English ladies would come to see her on one of them, and so always stayed in.” Lying behind the satire is the perception that the English and the Indians have different attitudes to time. The English are punctual, always running to a schedule, whereas the Indians have a more relaxed attitude and are more willing to take things as they come, not feeling they have to impose their will on events.

These chapters are also used to further develop the two English characters who do not fit into the closed, prejudiced world of the English Club that never questions its own rightness. These are Adela, with her insistence on meeting real Indians and finding the real India (as if there was such a thing), and Fielding, who simply does not share the assumption of superiority that the other English characters possess. Mrs. Moore is also an outsider. She and Adela have not been in India long enough to acquire the habits of thought that dominate the other English people. These attitudes are well illustrated in Ronny, who has quickly adopted the usual colonial stance, even though he has not been in his position as City Magistrate for long.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 7-8

Aziz arrives at Fielding’s house for tea. They have not met before but quickly discover that they get along well. Fielding breaks his last collar stud, and Aziz, out of Fielding’s sight, takes the back stud from his own collar and offers it to Fielding, pretending that it is a spare one. (The significance of this will become apparent later.) Aziz is disappointed to hear that Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested are also coming to tea, since he would prefer to keep his new friend Fielding to himself. But when the ladies arrive, Aziz finds them easy to talk to. He even invites them to visit him, but then is horrified at his own suggestion, since his bungalow is not an attractive house.

Professor Godbole, the learned Hindu Brahmin, arrives. He eats much and says little. Aziz chatters on. Adela confesses that she does not plan to settle in India. Fielding guides the conversation and ensures that it stays on light topics. After Fielding and Mrs. Moore leave for a tour of the college, Aziz corrects his mistake in inviting the ladies to his house; he suggests instead a trip to the Marabar Caves, even though he has never been there himself. Godbole starts to explain what the caves are, but he holds back and gives no details of why they are famous, despite Aziz’s efforts to draw him out.

Ronny arrives. He wants to take Adela and Mrs. Moore to watch a polo match. He is annoyed that Fielding is absent and has left Adela alone with two Indians. Fielding tries to mollify him. As the tea party breaks up, everyone is annoyed or upset by one thing or another. Professor Godbole sings a religious song about Krishna, one of the most revered of the Hindu incarnations of God.

On their way to the club, Ronny criticizes Aziz for forgetting his back collar stud. He thinks this shows how Indians lack attention to detail. Ronny does not approve of the proposed picnic at the Marabar Caves. Ronny and Adela do not get along, and Adela decides she will not marry Ronny. After the polo match, she informs Ronny of her decision. Ronny is disappointed but he accepts her decision. They agree to remain friends. The Nawab Bahadur arrives and interrupts their conversation. The three of them go for a ride in the Nawab’s chauffeur-driven car, and meet with a slight accident when they hit an animal ( a hyena, they decide) on the road. No one is hurt. A car approaches from the opposite direction, driven by Miss Derek, a young Englishwoman. Miss Derek drives them home, except for the chauffeur, who is left to repair the damaged vehicle. Ronny and Adela regain their warm feelings for each other, and after they get home they agree to become engaged. They inform Mrs. Moore of their decision, but she is tired from her visit to the college, and does not greet the news with much enthusiasm. She is thinking more of her own return to England. As they continue to talk, Ronny gives expression to his negative view of all Indians. They cannot be relied upon, and that is why he believes the British are necessary for India. They then amuse themselves with a game of Patience. Meanwhile, the Nawab Bahadur blames himself for the car accident. He believes that what they hit was not a hyena at all, but the ghost of a drunken man who the Nawab had run over and killed nine years previously.

Chapters 7-8 Analysis

Having established in the early chapters that East and West see things through very different eyes and fail to understand each other, Forster provides an example of how such misperceptions, once established, lead to misinterpretations of many details of day-to-day life. This is the incident that begins when Fielding breaks his collar stud. Aziz, wanting to assist his new friend in any way he can, offers him his own, from the back of his collar. But unknown to him, this generous gesture backfires on him, because later Ronny notices that the back of Aziz’s collar is too high on his neck. He thinks he forgot to put the collar stud in. This merely confirms for him that Indians do not pay attention to detail and are slack. Thus an act of generosity on Aziz’s part gets misinterpreted and merely feeds into the racial stereotype that Ronny has got stuck in his mind. It is a perfect illustration of how the English will never really understand Indians.

But there is also misunderstanding on the part of Aziz. He is too easily offended, too quick to perceive a slight when none was intended. When Aziz mentions Post-Impressionism, Fielding’s innocuous reply gives him the false impression that Fielding was slighting him by implying that an Indian had no right to know anything about such things. This shows that because he is a member of a subject race, with its regular humiliations, Aziz too often reacts in ways that are inappropriate.

In these ways, East and West continue to misunderstand each other and make true communication between them almost impossible.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 9-11

Aziz is slightly ill and rests at home. He is planning how he can get to Calcutta for a few days to spend time with some women. Hamidullah, Syed Mohammed, the assistant engineer, Mr. Haq, the police inspector, and Rafi, the engineer’s young nephew, come to visit him. It transpires that Professor Godbole is also ill, and the men discuss whether he may be suffering from cholera. This provides an excuse for these Moslem men to attack Hinduism (Godbole is a Hindu, as is Dr. Panna Lal, who is treating him.) Aziz recites some poetry, which reminds the men of the beauty of India.

Dr. Panna Lal arrives, nervous because he is a Hindu and he regards the other men as fanatics. He determines that Aziz has a slight fever and advises him to remain in bed. Questioned by Aziz’s suspicious companions, Lal informs them that Godbole does not have cholera. As the men begin to quarrel, Fielding enters. The atmosphere eases because Fielding is good at getting along with everyone, although he shocks them by admitting that he is an atheist. The discussion turns to whether the English have a right to hold India. Fielding refuses to give the usual answer that England rules India for her own good. All he knows is that he likes being there. After a few more minutes of conversation, Aziz’s visitors depart.

Aziz calls Fielding back, and comments sardonically on the poor condition of his bungalow. He then shows Fielding a photograph of his dead wife. Fielding is flattered by the trust Aziz shows in him, but he also realizes that he has no confidences to share with Aziz. His life has held few secrets, but he does tell Aziz that he was once engaged to be married, but he does not regret remaining single, since he has no desire for children. He further explains his attitude to life, and after he leaves, Aziz is satisfied. He regards Fielding as a friend and a brother.

Chapters 9-11 Analysis

These chapters serve to further characterize India, bringing out the hostility between Hindus and Moslems. The poetry recited by Aziz gives only a temporary, and illusory, feeling that India is one, and not divided against itself. The poetry is also a reminder, as was the song of Professor Godbole in chapter 7, of the deep spirituality of India, although this is presented as an elusive spirituality, never fully manifesting itself.

Forster does not spare his characters. If the English, except for Fielding, are presented in an unflattering light, the Indians are hardly paragons of virtue, as their back-biting and petty intrigue in chapter 9 shows.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 12-14

Part 2 begins with a description of how ancient the Marabar hills and caves are. The caves, which are dark and all alike, are about twenty feet in diameter. A narrow tunnel leads into them.

Aziz arranges the expedition to the caves that he had mentioned earlier. He does not really want to do this, but he has heard a story that Mrs. Moore and Adela are offended with him because no invitation has reached them. Fielding and Professor Godbole are also to come on the trip, but when the day comes they miss the early morning train from Chandrapore that goes to the caves. Aziz is distraught, because he thinks the expedition has been ruined. But Mrs. Moore encourages him, and he determines to ensure that he handles with trip competently, just to refute those who say Indians are incapable of responsibility.

On the train journey, Adela enjoys making plans for her future with Ronny, but Mrs. Moore has become apathetic about life. At sunrise, the train approaches the Marabar Caves. Aziz has gone to great trouble to arrange for the ladies to be transported the remaining distance on an elephant. When they are close to the caves, they stop to eat. Aziz is pleased because so far, everything is going well and according to plan. He entertains Mrs. Moore, to whom he is devoted, and Adela, with stories about Mogul Emperors of the past.

After Adela has confessed her desire not to adopt the mentality of the other Anglo-Indians she has met, they go inside the first cave. Mrs. Moore dislikes it. It is too crowded with villagers and servants, and she nearly faints. She also dislikes the echo in the cave. As a result of this bad experience, she decides not to visit another cave, and she gives permission for Aziz and Adela to go alone to the next one. They are accompanied by only one person, a guide. Mrs. Moore remains behind in a deck chair, but she is tired, and this soon turns into despair. She feels that nothing has value. She loses interest in everything and doesn’t want to communicate with anyone.

Chapters 12-14 Analysis

The visit to the caves is the key event in the novel. The first cave is significant for the effect it produces on Mrs. Moore. The echo is really a symbolic point about the Indian religious philosophy. A famous passage in the Upanishads, which are revered Indian scriptures, is “I am That, Thou art That, all This is That.” This means that everything in creation, from the highest to the lowest, is an expression of Brahman. All the diverse forms of life are really only manifestations of the one life, the divine consciousness, that takes on different forms. So in the cave, whatever sound is made, the echo sends it back as a “boum” sound. It makes everything the same. This is too much for Mrs. Moore, who has been brought up on Protestant Christianity, with its concern for ethical conduct, for distinctions between right and wrong. As Forster wrote elsewhere, “The Hindu is concerned not with conduct, but with vision. To realize what God seems more important than to do what God wants” (quoted in Wilfred Stone, “The Caves of A Passage to India,” in A Passage to India: Essays in Interpretation, edited by John Beer, Barnes and Noble, 1986, pp. 18-19). This invasion of Mrs. Moore’s mind by a philosophy that is so different from what she has been brought up to believe is her undoing.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 15-19

Aziz and Adela continue their expedition, but the caves they visit are not very interesting to either of them. Adela’s mind is occupied by her approaching marriage, and she realizes that she does not love Ronny, which vexes her. She asks Aziz whether he is married, and he tells her of his wife (pretending she is still alive) and his three children. She asks him whether he has more than one wife, a question which shocks Aziz. Feeling confused, he mutters an answer and disappears into a cave. Adela, unaware that she has offended him, follows him and also goes into a cave.

When Aziz comes out of the cave, he finds the guide outside, alone. Down below he sees a car approaching, and runs back to tell Adela. But the guide says she has gone into a cave. He does not know which one. Aziz is horrified because he assumes Adela is lost. Then he sees her down in the gully, and assumes she has joined up with whoever was in the car. He is relieved. As he starts to return to his camp, he finds Adela’s field glasses lying at the verge of a cave, with the strap broken. He puts them in his pocket. When he reaches the camp, he finds Fielding there, who had come with Miss Derek in the car. No one knows where Adela is, until Miss Derek’s chauffeur announces that Adela and Miss Derek have returned to Chandrapore. Aziz is not disturbed by this news, but Fielding feels that something is wrong. When he had arrived with Miss Derek, there had been no talk of a speedy return to Chandrapore. Fielding asks Aziz how and where he left Adela. Aziz explains what happened, not realizing that he is misremembering the facts. He thinks he saw Adela climb down from the cave with the guide and go off to meet her friend. Happy with this version of events, he feels content because he has given his guests a good time. It does not bother him that Adela left early.

The train arrives, and they all return to Chandrapore. When they arrive, Mr. Haq, the Inspector of Police, arrests Aziz. He will not say what the charge is. Fielding assumes that a mistake has occurred, and restrains Aziz, who has tried to escape. All is confusion in the railway station. Fielding wants to accompany Aziz, but he is called away by Mr. Turton, and Aziz goes to prison alone.

The Collector (Mr. Turton) tells Fielding that Miss Quested has been “insulted” in one of the caves, and has accused Aziz of the crime. Fielding insists that Aziz is not capable of such an act; he must be innocent. But the Collector will not disbelieve the word of an Englishwoman, and he is worried about the consequences. He thinks the good name of his District will be sullied for a generation because of what has happened. While the Collector gives way to his emotions, Fielding decides that he must search for facts.

He goes to see Mr. McBryde, the District Superintendent of Police. McBryde explains the charge against Aziz: he is alleged to have followed Miss Quested into the cave and made “insulting advances.” She hit him with her field glasses, and he pulled at them, breaking the strap. The glasses have been found in Aziz’s pocket. Miss Derek says there was no guide with Miss Quested when she came down from the gully (contradicting Aziz’s account).

In spite of the apparent evidence, Fielding continues to believe in Aziz’s innocence. McBryde is taken aback. Fielding tries to get to see Miss Quested, to see if he can persuade her to recant her story before the trial, or at least to ask her if she is absolutely certain it was Aziz who followed her into the cave. But first McBryde and then Callendar denies him permission to see her. McBryde tells Fielding that all the English should stick together because the situation in Chandrapore over the next few weeks is going to get very nasty. He refuses to let Fielding visit Aziz.

Outside McBryde’s office, Fielding and Hamidullah discuss how to get bail for Aziz. Hamidullah also wants to get a prominent anti-British Hindu lawyer, Amritao, to defend Aziz, but Fielding worries that this will be seen as a political challenge by the English.

Fielding then finds himself drawn into a tedious conversation with Professor Godbole, who wants to return to his birthplace in Central India and start a school there. When Fielding asks him whether he thinks Aziz is guilty or innocent, Godbole gives a rambling answer about everyone being involved in the good and evil actions of everyone else; good and evil are both aspects of God. Fielding neither understands or sympathizes with this belief.

Chapters 15-19 Analysis

These chapters reveal that Aziz (and, by extension, India) has a different attitude to truth than what English people would expect. He tells Adela that his wife is alive, simply because “he felt it more artistic to have his wife alive for a moment.” Aziz is not consciously aware of telling lies. He just has a capacity for making the truth what he needs it to be-a talent he uses to the full when he explains to himself what happened regarding Adela’s disappearance and sudden departure. But the novel does not make a simple contrast between Aziz, for whom facts are malleable, and the English. For all the English concern with justice, and a trial at which the truth would be established, all the English people, with the exception of Fielding, prejudge Aziz. Like Aziz, they too have the capacity to manipulate the truth into what they believe it to be.

These chapters further characterize Fielding as the one Englishman who can stand apart from the collective mindset of his “tribe.”

But there is also a gulf between him and the Indians whose side he takes. They always do something that disappoints him. He finds old Professor Godbole’s conversation almost unbearable and his religious views incomprehensible. The fact that even Fielding has difficulty establishing ideal relationships with Indians shows how wide the gap between the two cultures is. Fielding’s developing relationship with Aziz will further illustrate this point.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 20-23

Adela is confined to a sickroom, and all the English are very solicitous of her welfare. That night there is a meeting at the club. It is decided that in view of the explosive situation in the town, the English women and children should be sent away to a settlement in the hills. The Collector tells the men that they must not carry arms; everyone should behave as if the situation is normal.

Major Callendar reports that Miss Quested is feeling better. Callendar is upset that he allowed Aziz some leave from his job to go on the expedition to the caves, and he tries to pick a quarrel with Fielding. He also relates the burgeoning case against Aziz. The English now believe that Aziz bribed his servant Antony to stay behind; he bribed Godbole to ensure that Fielding missed the train; and he arranged for natives to suffocate Mrs. Moore in one of the caves so that he could go on with Miss Quested alone. Fielding, who does not believe a word of any of this, realizes that evil is spreading in every direction. When Ronny enters, Fielding remains seated while everyone else stands. The Collector asks him why, and Fielding responds with a statement that he believes Aziz is innocent. If Aziz should be found guilty, Fielding says he will leave India, and he resigns from the club on the spot. The Collector demands that Fielding apologize to Ronny, but Fielding side-steps the demand. The Collector orders him to leave the room.

Fielding spends the evening with Nawab Bahadur, Hamidullah, and Mahmoud Ali. The news is that Amritrao has agreed to defend Aziz, and another application for bail is to be presented.

Adela stays for several days in the McBryde bungalow. She recounts what she believes happened in the cave, how she was pulled around the cave by the strap of the glasses, but the man had never actually touched her. She oscillates between common sense and hysteria, and is often sunk in depression. She is told she will have to testify at the trial, and be cross-examined by an Indian lawyer. The judge in the case will be Das, Ronny’s Indian assistant.

McBryde delivers a letter to Miss Quested from Fielding. He has already opened it. In the letter, Fielding suggests that she has made a mistake in accusing Aziz, but Miss Quested dismisses the idea. Ronny takes her to see his mother, but Mrs. Moore is not sympathetic to her. She has taken no interest in Adela’s plight or the accusation against Aziz. She just wants to be left in peace, and she refuses to testify at the trial. Ronny tells her she ought to, since her testimony is important. But still Mrs. Moore refuses. After she leaves the room, Adela suddenly says that Aziz is innocent, and that she has made a mistake. She believes she heard Mrs. Moore say that Aziz was innocent, but Ronny assures her that this is not the case. She is suffering from an illusion, and is mixing Mrs. Moore up with the contents of Fielding’s letter. Adela accepts his explanation, and admits that she is neurotic. When Mrs. Moore returns to the room, she confirms that she thinks Aziz is innocent. She is testy and disagreeable to Ronny, who thinks she ought to leave India at once.

Mrs. Moore returns to England in comfort. Lady Mellanby, wife of the Lieutenant -Governor of the Province, offers her accommodation in her reserved cabin on an ocean liner.

Chapters 20-23 Analysis

Chapter 20, set in the English club, provides a devastating insight into the psychology of the people who wield imperial power. It would be hard to better the description Forster provides of how the English react to the perceived threat from the “natives,” as the tensions in the city build up. Although the English pride themselves on remaining rational and in control, they in fact give way to a group emotion. They exaggerate the danger and talk of evacuating women and children. The use of the phrase “women and children” summons up some subterranean martial spirit in these men: “that phrase that exempts the male from sanity when it has been repeated a few times.” In other words, a dangerous spirit of irrationality has already taken them over. The passage continues: “Each felt that all he loved best in the world was at stake, demanded revenge, and was filled with a not unpleasing glow, in which the chilly and half-known features of Miss Quested vanished, and were replaced by all that is sweetest and warmest in the private life.

Here is a collection of the primal, even primitive group emotions that unscrupulous politicians and demagogues have exploited for centuries. In one deft paragraph, Forster analyzes the psychology of how rational people ready themselves to do irrational things in what they believe is the defense of their group, culture or nation, in the name of which (as history shows) they will do almost anything.

The idiocy of the judgments the English make about the Indians is revealed in a fine piece of irony. At the club, the English subaltern says that the “natives” are fine if they are alone. He remembers an Indian he played polo with a while back. “Any native who plays polo is all right,” he says. The Indian in question is, of course, Aziz, the very man whose name the English cannot now even bear to utter.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 24-25

The hot season arrives in India, and the day of the trial dawns. Adela fears she may break down on the witness stand. As the English party drives to the court, the town is restive, and some workers are on strike in protest against the trial. Some of the English blame Fielding for the bad feeling in the city, and Callendar takes the opportunity to make a series of vicious racist remarks against the Indians.

At the trial, Mr. McBryde opens the case for the prosecution. There is an interruption, and the English party demand to be seated on the raised platform. They intimidate the magistrate, Das, and virtually take charge of the courtroom. But the defense, led by Amritao, soon succeeds in getting all the English removed from the platform, with the exception of Miss Quested.

McBryde continues with the prosecution case, attempting to demonstrate that the assault was premeditated. He mentions Mrs. Moore, whom he does not intend to call as a witness, and the rumor goes around the court that the prosecution has smuggled her out of the country because she would have proved Aziz’s innocence. Mahmoud Ali demands that Mrs. Moore be produced. He gets excited by his own rhetoric, then walks out of the court, saying the trial is a farce. The Indians in the court invoke Mrs. Moore’s name, and the chant is taken up by the crowd in the street outside.

After order is restored, Adela is called to testify. But as McBryde prompts her to say that Aziz followed her into the cave, she balks. She cannot find any memory of Aziz being present. She replies that she is not sure. When pressed by McBryde, she says she made a mistake, that Aziz never followed her into the cave. As bedlam breaks out in the courtroom, Adela says she withdraws her charge. Stunned, McBryde is forced to drop the case. The court breaks up in confusion.

Outside, as the authorities declare that a riot is taking place, Fielding takes charge of protecting Adela. They are carried along in a carriage together while the Indians throw garlands on them and applaud them. They end up at Fielding’s Government College, where they rest.

Meanwhile, a triumphal procession carries Aziz along, although for him there is no pleasure in it, because he has suffered too much. Fired up by the excitable Mahmoud Ali, the mob is about to attack the hospital to free Nureddin, the grandson of the Nawab Bahadur, whom they claim is being tortured. Only an intervention by Dr. Panna Lal, who retrieves Nureddin from the hospital, saves the day. The Nawab declares that he will renounce his British-conferred title.

Chapters 24-25 Analysis

The trial scene combines drama with farce. It seems to bring out the worst in both sides. Each has contempt for the other, and every action, on either side, merely confirms the racial stereotypes already well established. The English act as if they own the court, and McBryde’s remark that the darker races are attracted to the fairer, but not vice versa, is presented (as racism often is) as a simple matter of scientific fact, not prejudice. It is McBryde’s belief in this kind of science that enables him to regard the Indians as an inferior race, and still think of himself as a fair-minded man.

Adela’s sudden reversal comes as a surprise, but she has had her doubts all along about Aziz’s guilt, and she finally finds the courage, at the last minute, to speak honestly. What really happened in the cave has still not been established; it remains a mystery.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 26-29

Fielding and Adela discuss what happened in the courtroom. Adela says that she has been ill since before the expedition to the caves. Fielding believes that Adela was alone in the cave all the time, and merely suffered a hallucination that made her think she was being attacked. The hallucination only broke down in the face of McBryde’s direct question. Another possibility they consider is that the man in the cave was the guide. But they cannot know for certain. Hamidullah arrives and utters some reproachful words to Adela. There is some discussion about where Adela should stay, and while that matter remains unresolved, Ronny arrives, but he will not come in the house, he and Fielding being on bad terms. Fielding informs Hamidullah that Ronny has heard that his mother has died at sea. Adela returns from speaking with Ronny and says she would like to stay where she is, at the college, for the next few days.

That night, after Aziz’s victory banquet at the home of the Nawab, who is now known as Mr. Zulfiqar, they all talk on the roof. Fielding has joined them. He tries to persuade Aziz not to seek damages from Miss Quested. Aziz is reluctant to do this, and certainly not without an apology from her. He also says he will consult Mrs. Moore, his friend, but Fielding has to tell him that she is dead. Aziz does not believe him.

In Chandrapore a legend springs up around Mrs. Moore. It is said that an Englishman killed his mother for trying to save an Indian’s life. It is even reported that the remains of Mrs. Moore, who is now known locally as Esmiss Esmoor, have been found in a tomb nearby. Meanwhile, Ronny decides that he cannot marry Adela, since it would mean the end of his career.

The Lieutenant Governor of the Province visits Chandrapore, applauds the outcome of the trial, and insists that Fielding rejoin the club. Fielding starts to appreciate Adela’s best qualities, and she tries to write a letter of apology to Aziz. Fielding still tries to get Aziz to drop his claim of damages against her. Aziz eventually agrees to do so. Fielding and Adela again talk of what happened in the cave. She says the truth will never be known, although Mrs. Moore knew it, possibly by telepathy. Fielding rejects this idea scornfully. Ten days later, Adela begins her journey back to England.

Chapters 26-29 Analysis

No rational explanation is ever offered for what happened in the cave. Fielding is baffled by Adela’s vagueness and her talk of telepathy. He is a man who believes in facts, and is uncomfortable with anything mystical. He proposes the idea of the long hallucination, caused by Adela’s illness. This is not a very satisfactory explanation, but it is the best Fielding can do.

The caves in fact serve a philosophical function in the novel. For Mrs. Moore, they symbolize an immersion into an alien religious philosophy that adversely affects the stability of her personality. For Adela, it is probably more useful to think of the caves as symbolizing the unconscious mind. What she thinks happened in the cave may well have been a reflection of her subconscious fears.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 30-32

One of the consequences of the trial is that relations between Hindus and Moslems improve. Das the Hindu and Aziz the Moslem have a friendly exchange. Aziz tells Hamidullah he wants to leave British India and go to a Moslem province. Hamidullah tells him of a rumor going round that Adela and Fielding were lovers. After a few days have gone by, Aziz believes the rumor. There is also another local scandal, which Aziz informs Fielding of when they next meet: Mr. McBryde has been having an affair with Miss Derek, and is divorcing his wife. Fielding is not interested, and nor does he care much when Aziz tells him of the rumor about himself and Adela, although he does tell Aziz that the rumor is untrue. The friendship between Fielding and Aziz has cooled.

Fielding goes back to the club, where there are some new members with whom he talks. Later, at dinner, he tells Aziz he will never return to the club, and that he intends shortly to return to England. Aziz talks about how he wants to be a poet. Their conversation is affectionate, but the friendship has not recovered fully. Aziz is suspicious of his friend, and thinks that Fielding intends to marry Adela for her money. By the time Fielding departs for England, Aziz has convinced himself that the wedding had actually taken place.

Fielding returns home by way of Egypt, Crete, and Venice.

Chapters 30-32 Analysis

The breakdown in the relationship between Aziz and Fielding, which had started so brightly, suggests the incompatibility of two cultures, the English and the Indian, West and East. This is further emphasized when Fielding returns home via Venice, where he admires the beauty of the Italian churches, contrasting them with what he believes is the lack of proper form in Indian architecture.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 33-35

Two years have passed. In Mau, several hundred miles west of Chandrapore, a ceremony is taking place at a Hindu temple. It is led by Professor Godbole, who is the Minister of Education in the state. The Rajah, the ruler of the state, is brought on a litter to witness the culmination of the ceremony, the symbolic birth of Lord Krishna, an incarnation of God in Hindu belief. This takes place at midnight, and produces great rejoicing in all those present.

After he leaves the temple, Godbole talks to Aziz, who is now physician to the Rajah, telling him that Fielding has arrived. Aziz does not want to meet him. He believes Fielding has married Miss Quested, and he has destroyed all Fielding’s letters unread. Aziz now has his children living with him all year round, and he has remarried. However, the local authorities still keep him under observation, because of what happened in Chandrapore.

As the religious festival continues, Fielding and his brother-in-law climb a slope to visit the tomb of a saint. Aziz and Fielding greet each other coolly. It then transpires that Fielding in fact married Mrs. Moore’s daughter, Stella, not Miss Quested. Fielding is amazed at how Aziz could have made such a mistake, since he wrote at least a dozen times, mentioning his wife by name. Aziz cannot bear to hear the name Moore, and he explains that he never read Fielding’s letters. He refuses to have anything to do with Fielding and his wife.

Chapters 33-35 Analysis

The Hindu festival at Mau is an example of exactly that lack of order and form that Fielding had complained about in the previous chapter: “this approaching triumph of India was a muddle (as we call it), a frustration of reason and form” (chapter 33). The altar is a chaotic jumble, including the comic error in the inscription “God si love.” And yet in spite of all this, the occasion is one of great life and joy. The celebration of the birth of the god, Lord Krishna, is perhaps the most positive image of India and Hinduism presented in the novel.

A Passage to India Summary Chapters 36-37

As the religious festival continues, two of the English guests go out on a boat. After he sees them, Aziz goes to the European Guest House, where the guests are staying. No one appears to be there, and he reads two letters, one from Ronny to Fielding, and one from Miss Quested to Mrs. Fielding. The letters do nothing to improve his feelings about the English. Then Ralph Moore, Mrs. Moore’s son, enters the room. He has been stung earlier by bees, and Aziz offers to take a look at the stings. He speaks roughly to the young man, but then he relents, remembering that Ralph is the son of his friend. He offers to take Ralph out on the lake for half an hour, and as he does so his old sense of hospitality returns. The sights and sounds of the continuing festival are all around them as they row out on the lake. Then a storm comes up, and in the confusion, Aziz’s boat hits the boat which contains Fielding and his wife. The boats capsize, but the water is shallow, and no one come to any harm.

The next day, Aziz and Fielding, friends again, go for their last ride in the Mau jungle. Aziz produces a letter he has written to Miss Quested, praising her bravery. As the two men talk, it becomes clear to both of them that they will not meet again. There is no social framework in which Fielding, an Englishman, can continue to see Aziz, an Indian.

Chapters 36-37 Analysis

The predominant mood in the last two chapters is one of reconciliation. This happens because of the chaotic Hindu festival, which neither Aziz (a Moslem) or Fielding professes to understand. But the festival produces a wave of love and reconciliation between people. It reconciles Aziz and Fielding, Aziz and Mrs. Moore’s son, and even Aziz and Miss Quested (since he writes her an appreciative letter). However, the final image presented by the novel is not one of union but of separation. Individuals may be reconciled to each other, but the gap between cultures remains unbridgeable, at least for the time being

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Rate
SHARE