The English all gather at the club, feeling especially patriotic and selfless towards Adela, even though most of them hadn’t liked her before. The women especially feel a “sisterhood” with her, and even the stern Mrs. Turton cries to think of how she was mean to Adela before. At the sight of Mrs. Turton’s tears all the women regret not being kinder to Adela.
Forster is bitingly ironic in his description of the English reaction to Adela’s attack. Many of the English disliked Adela beforehand, but now they suddenly feel overwhelming compassion for her.
More Englishmen arrive, and as they look out at the scenery they recognize again that everything is foreign and strange to them. More people than usual are at the club, including some families with children. Mrs. Blakiston, the wife of an unimportant official, is usually snubbed by her compatriots, but on this evening she seems symbolic of English innocence. Mrs. Turton stands next to her and resolves to “not be such a snob” in the future.
The incident becomes universal for the English, and they feel like it is an attack by India on the British Empire itself. Because the crime is a sexual one, no one speaks specifically of it, and so it takes on a larger significance—as well as making all the English women seem like potential victims.
Major Callendar addresses the women and warns them to remain calm, but not to go into the city or talk in front of their servants. Callendar then dismisses them, and as they leave they are reminded that they are “an outpost of Empire.” Once the women are gone, Turton addresses the men. He tries to restrain his anger at Fielding and his hatred of the Indians, and he doesn’t want to have to call in military reinforcements. There is only one soldier in the room, and he is drunk. Turton longs for “the good old days” when the English didn’t have to compromise with Indians, but he knows he must be moderate and peaceful in this situation.
The English reaction to this single crime is almost comically extravagant. Everyone at the club assumes that the English women are in danger, and that English “purity” itself is under attack. Everyone is suddenly conscious that they are in a foreign land, and they feel both endangered and brave. Forster portrays this rush of emotions as genuine but ultimately selfish, having to do more with the English’s own beliefs and self-righteousness than with Adela herself.
The men are all filled with emotion, imagining that their women and children are in danger. The drunk soldier recommends that the military should come in. Turton addresses them and cautions them to stay calm, and “assume every Indian is an angel.” The soldier recalls having played polo with one friendly Indian, and muses that the natives are “all right” when they’re alone.
Forster uses dramatic irony here to pierce through the English hypocrisy. Only we as readers know that the Indian the soldier played polo with was actually Aziz himself, the Indian he is now demonizing from afar. The reaction of fear and hatred grows even more extravagant.
Major Callendar enters to inform them that Adela is recovering. He seems angry at the sight of Fielding, and tries to bait him by criticizing Aziz and the “Englishman” who accompanied the expedition. Callendar then converses with the soldier, gossiping that Aziz bribed Adela’s servant to stay outside of the Marabar Cave, and that Godbole was bribed to make Fielding late to the train. He goes on, saying that Aziz also paid the villagers to smother Mrs. Moore in the cave. Callendar ends his speech by advocating that troops be called in.
Callendar now shows his true colors as one of the most vicious and petty racists in the English club. He drags in many other Indians so that they seem collaborators to Aziz’s supposed crime, and is happy to declare his former colleague Aziz to be totally depraved. Callendar purposefully baits Fielding, implying that if he doesn’t “toe the line” then he will be a traitor.
Fielding is angry that so many Indians are being insulted, but he doesn’t let himself be provoked. He observes that “the evil was propagating in every direction.” Meanwhile Callendar continues to cast aspersions on Fielding’s character, bringing up the fact that Fielding visited Aziz in prison earlier. Callendar is then interrupted by the arrival of Ronny Heaslop. He looks pale and tragic, like a martyr. The men all stand up to honor him as he enters, but Fielding remains seated, feeling that it is finally time for him to protest.
Forster again uses language that illustrates the cave incident as an evil yet indefinable force that expands to corrupt things far beyond the Marabar. Ronny’s appearance as a “martyr” only emphasizes how the English view themselves after the attack—as brave, selfless victims, which then only intensifies their hatred of the Indians as the cause of their victimhood (and despite the fact that the English have taken control of India). Fielding takes this opportunity to divide himself from his compatriots.
Turton welcomes Ronny and inquires about Mrs. Moore’s health. The drunk soldier calls out Fielding’s rudeness in staying seated, calling him a “swine.” Fielding takes the opportunity to make a statement, declaring that he believes Aziz is innocent. Turton asks why he should still behave so rudely to Ronny, but Fielding doesn’t answer. Fielding declares that if Aziz is convicted, then he will resign his position and leave India. He resigns from the club immediately. Turton becomes enraged, and the soldier tries to block Fielding’s way, but Ronny, almost crying, tells them to let him go.
Even though he simply acts rationally and considers Aziz innocent until proven guilty, Fielding is immediately declared traitorous by the English, who see the incident through their heightened emotions and sense of both racism and patriotism. Fielding sees that there can be no “middle ground” when the Indians and English have divided themselves so sharply, and so he rejects the English altogether.
Fielding exits the club, wishing he hadn’t been rude to Ronny, but glad that he has “muddled through” and is now open about his position regarding Aziz and the English. Fielding goes out onto the veranda and looks at the Marabar Hills, wondering about the frightening echo in the cave, and whether the guide has been found yet. Fielding wonders if he has been “successful as a human being,” and considers that maybe he has been going about life with the wrong purpose. He feels sad.
Even Fielding’s grand moment of justice was a “muddle,” as it got mixed up with his inadvertent rudeness to Ronny. The echo starts to affect even Fielding, who never heard it, making him question his value and purpose, along with the whole frightening muddle of existence.