Adela knew Ronny in England before, but she now finds his “self-complacency” and “lack of subtlety” off-putting. As they ride away from Fielding’s, she grows more and more irritated at him for his rudeness to the Indians. She mentions Aziz’s invitation to the Marabar Caves, and in response Ronny calls attention to Aziz’s unpinned collar, using it as an example of Indians’ inattention to detail, “the fundamental slackness that reveals the race.”
Ronny sets himself up as an expert on Indians with his comment about Aziz’s collar, but we can see the irony of the situation—Aziz actually gave Fielding his collar stud as an act of generosity and friendship. This is a small example of cultural miscommunication, but such occasions add up.
Mrs. Moore asks to be dropped off at the bungalow, and Adela asks to go along, suddenly having no desire to watch polo or bicker more with Ronny. Ronny forbids the women from going to the Marabar Caves, unless it is with other Englishmen. Mrs. Moore scolds the two for arguing, and Adela and Ronny feel ashamed. They drop her off and then go on to the polo match.
The novel now briefly focuses on Adela and Ronny and the nature of their relationship. Ronny’s new official persona is especially unattractive to Adela, who longs to have new and unique experiences. Mrs. Moore is already impatient with trivial matters, a perspective that will become even more pronounced later.
Adela feels guilty about telling strangers that she intends to leave India. After the polo match she sits down with Ronny and asks him to have a “thorough talk.” She tells him that she has decided not to marry him. Ronny is hurt by this, but he is polite and they agree to remain friends. Adela wants to discuss the matter further, but Ronny feels that there is no need.
The issue of marriage is approached similarly to that of friendship, as there is no passionate romantic love present in the novel whatsoever. The couple behaves very “Britishly”—polite and without any outbursts of emotion.
Adela is surprised at how calmly and “Britishly” they’ve handled the matter. She and Ronny sit together and start to feel lonely and useless in their strange surroundings. Comparing themselves with the other people around them, they feel like they have more similarities than differences. Adela notices a green bird above them as they talk, and asks Ronny what kind of bird it is. Ronny can’t identify it, and Adela is convinced that “nothing in India is identifiable.”
After this decision, it is as if India itself begins to change the nature of the couple’s relationship. The two feel a sense of unity among the strange “muddle” of India, where, like the bird, nothing can be properly labelled or named. Cultural influences strongly affect personal decisions here, as the two English people draw closer together in a foreign land.
The Nawab Bahadur passes by and interrupts Ronny and Adela’s conversation. He offers them a ride in his car, and Ronny accepts, despite Adela’s hesitation. They sit in the back seat, with the Nawab Bahadur in the front and chauffeur driving. They drive down the Marabar road, and Ronny and Adela are disappointed by the landscape. It gets darker and Adela feels closer to Ronny in the dimness, as they both feel small and alone in the vast jungle. Ronny and Adela’s hands accidentally touch, and they feel a thrill of animal excitement. The moment feels very important because of the all-encompassing darkness.
The intrusion of Indians upon the couple’s moment serves to draw them even closer together. The dark sky and jungle then seem to represent the vastness of India, or even the unified chaos of all life, and Ronny and Adela feel like animals asserting their individuality through their relationship. Forster shows how even subtle shifts in mood and setting can affect important, lifelong decisions.
The car suddenly seems to strike something and breaks down. They all climb out, wondering what caused the accident. Adela says that she saw them hit a hairy animal, and eventually they decide that it must have been a hyena. Adela and Ronny examine the car, feeling adventurous and forgetting their relationship troubles. Miss Derek drives past them soon afterward and offers them a ride back to Chandrapore.
More strange events conspire to bring the couple closer together, as they feel isolated in a totally foreign world. There is no mention of romantic love in their decision about marriage, but only the closeness or distance between two people when faced with some outside force.
As she drives, Miss Derek jokes about her employer, the Maharaja, and boasts about having stolen his car for her own personal use. Ronny laughs politely but doesn’t approve of the English working for Indians or of Miss Derek’s disparaging joking. Adela shares Ronny’s disapproval of Miss Derek’s rude manner, and their hands touch again in the back seat. The Nawab Bahadur starts making long-winded speeches to cover the fact that he is feeling anxious and embarrassed about the night’s events.
Ronny and Adela again feel bonded by their aversion to both the rude Miss Derek and the long-winded Nawab Bahadur. The English look down on Miss Derek for working for an Indian ruler and basically ignoring their colonial hierarchy for the sake of her own personal gain.
When they finally reach the bungalow, Adela tells Ronny that she will marry him after all. Ronny agrees, but Adela immediately feels disappointed, feeling that there should have been a more dramatic scene accompanying this decision. She feels that “unlike the green bird or the hairy animal, she was labelled now.” They go inside and tell Mrs. Moore about their decision. Mrs. Moore feels that her job is done now, and she is ready to leave India.
Adela and Ronny earlier felt alone in the muddled, “unlabelled” world around them, and so they drew closer together, but now Adela is disappointed by the fact that she will be labelled as a “colonial wife” from now on. Again they have behaved very “Britishly,” without much emotion or imagination.
The three have dinner and Ronny discusses his day of work. There have been conflicts between the Muslims and Hindus over an upcoming holiday, and the British officials have had to work to keep the peace. Ronny feels satisfied with his work because it seems to prove that the British are necessary in India. Ronny and Adela describe their car accident to Mrs. Moore, who shivers and says that they must have hit “a ghost.” Afterward Ronny goes off to deal with some business, and Adela and Mrs. Moore play a card game.
The question of whether England is justified in colonizing India is rarely addressed directly in the novel, and Forster never advocates a complete overthrow of the British Raj, despite his criticism of the colonial system. Mrs. Moore is most attuned to the mystical and spiritual world, and she immediately has the sense that something supernatural was involved in the car wreck.
Down in Chandrapore, the Nawab Bahadur describes the car accident to a group of listeners. The accident took place near where the Nawab Bahadur ran over and killed a drunk man nine years earlier. The Nawab Bahadur was not at fault in the accident, but he thinks that the ghost of the dead man is constantly waiting for him. He insists that it is the ghost who caused the accident, and he regrets putting his English guests in danger.
The Nawab Bahadur is now shown as a parallel to Mrs. Moore, as he too believes that a ghost was involved in the car accident. This shows that Mrs. Moore does indeed have some special kind of knowledge, or is especially receptive to the more mystical aspects of her surroundings.
Most of his listeners shudder at the Nawab Bahadur’s story, but Aziz, who is among them, remains aloof. He says that Muslims should get rid of superstitions like this, or else “India will never advance.” He makes the Nawab Bahadur’s grandson Nureddin promise him that he won’t believe in evil spirits in the future.
Aziz is sensitive of his own modern, Westernized values, and so he is embarrassed by his superstitious compatriots. He (like Fielding and Adela) does not have the spiritual capacities of Mrs. Moore or Professor Godbole. Forster, in contrast, as the author of the novel, does see value in Godbole and Mrs. Moore’s spirituality.