A Passage to India

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Wasps Symbol Icon

Wasps are mentioned occasionally throughout the novel, and their appearance signifies the theme of the oneness of all living things, especially in the Hindu vision of pantheism. The wasp associates Mrs. Moore with Hinduism for the first time when she watches one in her room and feels an appreciation and love for it. Years later, Professor Godbole thinks of both Mrs. Moore and the wasp when filled with religious ecstasy and love for all living things. The wasp generally represents the “lowest” of creatures that can be incorporated into the vision of oneness—Godbole tries to include a stone in his universal love, but cannot. Thus the wasp is also symbolic of the limits of the idea of unity, which is not a perfect solution, but still a hopeful one for India politically and for the characters’ internal struggles.

Wasps Quotes in A Passage to India

The A Passage to India quotes below all refer to the symbol of Wasps. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich edition of A Passage to India published in 1984.
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

…young Mr. Sorley, who was advanced, said Yes; he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends… And the wasps? He became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals, and mud? And the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.

Related Characters: Mr. Sorley
Related Symbols: Wasps
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Forster's novel is all about the differences and commonalities between the Indians and the English. In this passage, we're introduced to Mr. Sorley, a missionary who only appears in this scene, and who makes an interesting point about the resemblances between his own culture and India's. Sorley notes that his model of religion argues that only good human souls can make it to Heaven. In India, Sorley has learned, some Hindus believe that all beings, whether they're germs or plants or animals, can attain a measure of Heaven after they die. Mr. Sorley wants to exclude such life forms from Heaven--he believes that the stability of the very idea of Heaven depends on excluding certain kinds of people or beings from privilege. And yet even Sorley is a very "liberal" Christian--he goes so far as to suggest that intelligent animals like monkeys might be able to have their own share of "bliss." It is when the animal world descends to the level of wasps, however--the novel's symbol of this kind of unity or exclusion--that Sorley grows uncomfortable.

Sorley is a liberal, openminded Christian, but he still sees the world in relatively exclusive terms: he thinks that only some people should be rewarded for their behaviors--Heaven can't be for everyone. The irony is that Indian society itself is even more exclusive than English society, it could be argued: due to the caste system (which was still in place at the time), there was essentially no social mobility in Indian society. Indians and the English seem to have exactly one thing in common: their societies depend upon dividing and excluding certain kinds of people from certain kinds of places.

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Part 3, Chapter 33 Quotes

Thus Godbole, though she was not important to him, remembered an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days. Chance brought her into his mind while it was in this heated state, he did not select her, she happened to occur among the throng of soliciting images, a tiny splinter, and he impelled her by his spiritual force to that place where completeness can be found. Completeness, not reconstruction. His sense grew thinner, he remembered a wasp seen he forgot where, perhaps on a stone. He loved the wasp equally, he impelled it likewise, he was imitating God. And the stone where the wasp clung – could he… no, he could not, he had been wrong to attempt the stone…

Related Characters: Mrs. Moore, Professor Godbole
Related Symbols: Wasps
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, years after Aziz's trial, we see Professor Godbole as he contemplates the order of the universe in his Hindu theology. Godbole thinks of religion as a promise of unity and Heaven for all beings, from Mrs. Moore to the tiniest wasp. Godbole's vision of the universe could be considered utopian or universalist--every being, no matter what, has the opportunity to achieve glory, because every being has some intrinsic beauty and wonder. His sudden memory of Mrs. Moore at this moment also reinforces her as a kind spiritual being associated with Hinduism and universal unity--Godbole, the other character most associated with these ideas, shares a subconscious connection to Mrs. Moore, even though they barely met.

And yet there's a limit even to Godbole's vision of the world--he can't quite bring himself to embrace everything in his utopia. He is willing to accept a wasp--which appears again as a symbol for the "lowest" of the animal world--but not the stone that the wasp clings to. This is subtly compared to the earlier description of the openminded Christian Mr. Sorley, who was willing to accept monkeys into Heaven, but not wasps. (And the connection of the wasp to Mrs. Moore also recalls her introduction to the novel, in which she watched a wasp and tried to love it.)

One could thus argue that all systems of thought, in order to remain coherent, must exclude something, whether it's certain species, certain objects, certain ideologies, certain races, certain genders, etc. There is no total unity, even for a Hindi: an idea that will be important as we come to the novel's partially, but not totally, happy ending.

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Wasps Symbol Timeline in A Passage to India

The timeline below shows where the symbol Wasps appears in A Passage to India. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 3
“Muddles” and Mysteries Theme Icon
Division vs. Unity Theme Icon
...bedroom, and as she hangs up her cloak she sees that there is a small wasp on her coat hook. The narrator says that “no Indian animal has any sense of... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Division vs. Unity Theme Icon
...He has discussed this with his Hindu friends, but he is unwilling to consider allowing wasps, plants, bacteria, or mud into heaven. Mr. Sorley feels that “we must exclude someone from... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 33
“Muddles” and Mysteries Theme Icon
Division vs. Unity Theme Icon
...of things that make up the united universe for him. Godbole then thinks of a wasp, and he loves the wasp equally to Mrs. Moore, and then he thinks of the... (full context)
“Muddles” and Mysteries Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Division vs. Unity Theme Icon
Race and Culture Theme Icon
...heaven.” Godbole recovers from his holy ecstasy and thinks again of Mrs. Moore and the wasp, feeling a kinship to the old woman. He tries to place himself in her shoes,... (full context)