Cyril Fielding didn’t come to India until he was forty. He has traveled to many places and had many experiences, so he has a broader worldview than the other Englishmen in India. He has always been an educator, and was promoted to principal of the college at Chandrapore. He likes his job, but notices a wide “gulf” between his countrymen and himself. He gets along well with both the English and the Indians, but is slightly distrusted by his countrymen for educating the Indians as equal individuals.
The novel will now begin to shift its focus until Fielding becomes one of the main protagonists. He is a sort of stand-in for Forster himself, as an Englishman who feels out of place among his countrymen (as Forster did because of his homosexuality) and finds himself sympathetic to the Indians, making many Indian friends.
Fielding has no “racial feeling,” and believes that the people of all countries are just “trying to reach one another and can best do so by the help of goodwill plus culture and intelligence.” He once distressed the Englishmen at the club by remarking that “whites” are actually “pinko-grey.” Despite this, the English men tolerate and respect him. It is the women who dislike him. Fielding doesn’t mind this, as he finds that he cannot be friends with the English women as long as he has Indian friends.
Fielding’s worldview is essentially Forster’s humanist ideal—that true friendship can overcome racial and cultural boundaries—although Forster will later prove pessimistic about this possibility. For the Anglo-Indians, “white” signifies superior culture, religion, and morality, and justifies their colonial rule. If “white” is just a color, then there is no real difference between the English and the Indians, and so no reason for one country to rule the other.
Aziz arrives at Fielding’s house for tea as Fielding is still getting dressed. Fielding invites Aziz to “make himself at home,” which delights Aziz. The two men have never met, but they have heard a lot about each other, and they speak informally and cordially. Fielding breaks the collar stud for his shirt, and Aziz discreetly removes his own and gives it to Fielding, pretending that he has a spare. Aziz is pleased by the untidiness of Fielding’s room, as he finds most Englishmen to be coldly organized.
The two men feel an instant connection, and Aziz is delighted to find that Fielding lacks the qualities that most repel him about the English—unlike his compatriots, Fielding is messy, informal, and friendly. The effusive Aziz immediately makes an offer of friendship through an act of generosity: by lending his collar stud.
Fielding tells Aziz that Mrs. Moore and Adela are coming to tea as well, and Aziz remembers his encounter with Mrs. Moore at the mosque. He is disappointed that there will be other guests, as he wants to be alone with Fielding. Fielding and Aziz’s rapport does sour briefly when Aziz misinterprets a disparaging comment Fielding makes about Post-Impressionism and thinks that Fielding is implying that knowledge of painting is reserved for “the Ruling Race,” but then he feels Fielding’s “fundamental goodwill” and grows cheerful again. Aziz is very sensitive and emotional.
The relationship between Aziz and Fielding brings up the important tension between practical truth and emotional truth—a great source of cultural miscommunication in colonial India. Forster portrays the Indians as being especially perceptive of the “truth of mood.” They judge the intention behind one’s words, and often say something different than what they mean. The English, however, take things more at face value. Fielding gets along well with Aziz because he is better able to perceive this “truth of mood.”
Mrs. Moore and Adela arrive and Aziz is pleased to find that he is still able to be informal around them. The fact that Mrs. Moore is old and Adela is unattractive makes him feel comfortable addressing them like men. The ladies are disappointed because the Bhattacharyas never sent their carriage that morning as they had said they would. They fear that they have unwittingly offended the Bhattacharyas and are responsible for the misunderstanding. Aziz accuses the Bhattacharyas of being lazy Hindus, and says that they probably were ashamed of their house.
We see here that Aziz is also quite snobbish regarding beauty, as he treats Adela entirely differently because he finds her unattractive. The Englishwomen’s interaction with the Bhattacharyas ended up in cross-cultural miscommunication—perhaps because of the English tendency to take things at face value. Aziz is quick to disparage Hindus, showing an important division within India itself.
Adela pronounces the situation a mystery, and says “I do so hate mysteries.” Mrs. Moore says that she likes mysteries, but dislikes “muddles.” Fielding responds that all of India is a muddle. Aziz doesn’t comment, but invites the ladies to his house. He is then horrified when they accept his invitation, for he is ashamed of his small, ugly residence. He tries to change the subject by commenting on the Indian architecture of the room.
This exchange helps clarify the important theme of “muddles” and “mysteries.” Fielding (and often Forster himself) views India as a muddle of confusion and chaos, while Mrs. Moore is associated with the view of India as a “mystery,” or confusion with an underlying purpose or meaning. Aziz intends to convey a feeling of hospitality with his invitation—he is not actually inviting the women to his home—but the literal-minded English accept.
Aziz starts getting emotional talking about justice and kindness, and he waxes poetic about architecture. Fielding knows that some of Aziz’s facts are wrong, but unlike someone like Ronny or Turton, he doesn’t correct him. He recognizes that the “truth of mood” is more important in that moment than factual truth. Adela is fascinated by Aziz, and considers him an encapsulation of the “real India.”
Fielding proves himself unique among the English with this “Indian” quality of recognizing the intention behind words as much as the words themselves. Adela still wants to see India as a kind of cultural experience for herself.
Fielding’s fourth guest arrives: Professor Godbole, a Hindu Brahman. Professor Godbole is quiet and elderly, and takes his tea at a little distance from the others, as he is of the highest Hindu caste. Aziz asks Adela if she plans to stay in India, and she spontaneously answers that she cannot do that. She then realizes that she has basically told strangers that she won’t marry Ronny, without discussing it with Ronny himself first. Mrs. Moore seems flustered, probably by Adela’s admission.
Professor Godbole appears as an important character somewhat similar to Mrs. Moore. He is mysterious and mystical, and represents the Hindu India that has not yet been shown in the novel. Adela is suddenly carried away by this exposure to what she sees as the “real India,” and she spontaneously decides not to marry Ronny.
Mrs. Moore asks to see the college grounds, and Fielding takes her for a tour. Aziz, Adela, and Professor Godbole remain. Adela mentions coming to Aziz’s house again, but Aziz deflects the subject by inviting her to the Marabar Caves instead. Adela is curious about the caves, which are the most famous landmark of the area. Aziz tries to describe them, but it soon becomes clear that he has never been to the caves either.
To escape the awkwardness of the English again coming to his house, Aziz lets himself be lured into Adela’s desire to see India, and he sets himself up as a tour guide—which places him into the “helper” role that fits into the power dynamic of English control at play in India. The Marabar Caves finally enter the story, and immediately they seem indescribable, famous for some reason that cannot be expressed. That Aziz is now serving as a tour guide who has never seen the destination hints at the underlying tensions that will ultimately mar this tourist trip to the unfathomable caves.
Professor Godbole teases Aziz for never having been to the Marabar Caves, but when he then tries to describe them he is unable to explain what makes them so extraordinary. Aziz senses that Godbole is withholding some information about the caves. In discussing the caves, Aziz’s orderly Muslim worldview starts to come up against something mysterious and indescribable, an “Ancient Night.”
Aziz shows his sensitivity to the intention behind words as he can tell that Godbole is withholding something about the caves. Aziz’s Islam, like Mrs. Moore’s Christianity, is unable to encapsulate the “Ancient Night”—the meaningless void of existence—that the caves will come to represent.
Ronny suddenly arrives, hoping to take Adela and Mrs. Moore to a polo match at the English club. He ignores the Indians and speaks only to Adela, surprised at finding her alone with two Indian men. Ronny only knows how to deal with Indians in an official capacity, so he is ruder than he intends to be. Aziz is unwilling to be ignored, and tries to provoke Ronny to a reaction with his tone. Aziz grows even more excitable and talkative, and everyone in the room is uncomfortable or angry by the time Fielding returns with Mrs. Moore.
Ronny’s appearance disrupts the cordial tea party, but he only aggravates tensions that were already there to start with. Aziz becomes overly familiar and confrontational, intoxicated by his new closeness to Fielding and Mrs. Moore. Ronny overreacts to such familiar Indian/English relations, as he has learned from his superiors, and treats the Indians as inferior.
Ronny takes Fielding aside and scolds him for leaving Adela alone with the Indians. Fielding doesn’t see anything wrong with it, but Ronny is uncomfortable because it’s an unconventional situation. The group starts to break up, with everyone feeling irritated, as if “irritation exuded from the very soil.” Professor Godbole alone remains unflustered. Just as the ladies are about leave, Godbole decides to sing a Hindu song. His song sounds strange and haunting to the Western listeners, often without rhythm or melody.
Ronny’s fear of being gossiped about or ostracized by the club leads him to be especially rude and prejudiced. We see the inherent fear many Englishmen hold regarding Indian men and English women—regarding one as “savage” and the other as “pure,” and seeing the pure women as needing to be protected. Godbole’s song is the first intrusion of the “mystery” of Hinduism in the novel.
When the song is over Fielding asks for an explanation of the song. Professor Godbole responds that in the song the singer takes on the role of a milkmaiden who asks the god Krishna to come to her. Krishna refuses. The milkmaiden then asks Krishna to multiply himself and come to everyone at once, but the god still refuses. Mrs. Moore asks if Krishna ever comes in another song, but Godbole explains that the god never comes.
Godbole’s song deepens the mystery Forster sees in Hinduism, where God is called but does not come. This unexplainable quality feels more true to him than the more rigid systems of Christianity or Islam. The song will profoundly affect Mrs. Moore, who continues to feel dissatisfied with Christianity while in India.