The Marabar Caves are a central aspect of the novel—a presence in the distance during the first section, the setting of the second section, and the shadow that looms over the third section. The caves represent an ancient, inhuman void, the more terrifying aspect of the universal oneness embraced by Hinduism. The caves themselves are domelike and pitch-black, with nothing beautiful or romantic about them. Inside, any sound—whether human speech or a fingernail scratching the wall—is reduced to a single echo that sounds like “boum.” This echo captures the essence of the Marabar Caves, as it shows the emptiness behind all human action. This is a kind of “unity” like that found in Hinduism, but it is a unity of chaos instead of one of love, as the caves seem almost alien and malicious, unfriendly to humans. Even the Indians of Chandrapore cannot act as real “guides” to them or explain them.
While in the caves, Adela and Mrs. Moore both experience some frightening aspect of life that they had not considered before. Mrs. Moore sees the smallness and hollowness of her Christian faith, and succumbs to a kind of irritable apathy after seeing the void the caves represent. Adela, meanwhile, is confronted with the reality of her lack of feelings for Ronny and then the horror of her assault. The attack is never fully explained, so it almost becomes an embodiment of the darkness of the caves.
The Marabar Caves Quotes in A Passage to India
The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. “Boum” is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or “bou-oum,” or “ou-boum” – utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeal of a boot, all produce “boum.”
“Why can’t this be done and that be done in my way and they be done and I at peace? Why has anything to be done, I cannot see. Why all this marriage, marriage?... The human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage was any use. And all this rubbish about love, love in a church, love in a cave, as if there is the least difference, and I held up from my business over such trifles!”
“Can you always tell whether a stranger is your friend?”
“Then you are an Oriental.” He unclasped as he spoke, with a little shudder. Those words – he had said them to Mrs. Moore in the mosque in the beginning of the cycle, from which, after so much suffering, he had got free. Never to be friends with the English! Mosque, caves, mosque, caves.