A Passage to India

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Themes and Colors
Colonialism Theme Icon
“Muddles” and Mysteries Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Division vs. Unity Theme Icon
Race and Culture Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Passage to India, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Colonialism Theme Icon

On one level, A Passage to India is an in-depth description of daily life in India under British rule. The British “Raj” (its colonial empire in India) lasted from 1858 to 1947. The prevailing attitude behind colonialism was that of the “white man’s burden” (in Rudyard Kipling’s phrase)—that it was the moral duty of Europeans to “civilize” other nations. Thus the British saw their colonial rule over India as being for the Indians’ own good. Forster himself was British, but in the novel he is very critical of colonialism. He never goes so far as to advocate outright Indian rebellion, but he does show how the colonial system is inherently flawed. Forster portrays most of the British men working in India as at least well-meaning, although condescending and unoriginal, but their positions in the colonial system almost always push them towards becoming racist and harmful figures. This is played out most explicitly in the development of Ronny’s character. The British women, apart from Mrs. Moore and Adela, often seem less sympathetic than the men, to the point that even Turton blames their presence for the tensions with the Indians. The women don’t have the daily labor and interactions with Indians that the men do, but they are generally more racially hateful and condescending (and perhaps this is because they are usually so isolated from actual Indian society).

Forster also shows how the colonial system makes the Indians hate and sometimes condescend to the British. The colonialists are by necessity in the role of “oppressor,” no matter how individually kind or open-minded they might be. This is best shown in the changes to Aziz’s character throughout the novel, as he goes from laughing at and befriending the English to actively hating them. Although Forster ultimately offers no concrete alternative to British colonialism, his overall message is that colonialism in India is a harmful system for both the British and the Indians. Friendships like that between Aziz and Fielding are a rare exception, not the rule, and even such friendships are all but destroyed or thwarted by the problems and tensions of colonialism.

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Colonialism Quotes in A Passage to India

Below you will find the important quotes in A Passage to India related to the theme of Colonialism.
Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

“You’re superior to them, anyway. Don’t forget that. You’re superior to every one in India except one or two of the Ranis, and they’re on an equality.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Turton (speaker), Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

The racism of the English towards the Indians--indeed, towards all non-English people--is clear in this passage. At a party, Mr. Turton, the political officer of the area in which the novel is set, has invited some Indian and English guests. Mrs. Turton, his wife, shows her guests Adela and Mrs. Moore through the party, noting that some Indian women are there. Turton assures Adela that she's superior to the Indians.

Why is Mrs. Turton so sure that Adela is "superior?" It's safe to assume that Mrs. Turton believes that nearly all Englishwomen are superior to the Indian people--because the English themselves are better than the Indians. Mrs. Turton embodies the worst kind of racism of the English people--a form of racism that can actually come across as a form of politeness in some situations. (Here, for instance, Mrs. Turton is complimenting her guests; it's just that her compliment hinges on certain offensive premises.) While Forster shows how the English men actually wield the power of colonialism and can make destructive decisions that affect multitudes of people, he generally portrays the English women as even worse in their casual racism--and Mrs. Turton is a prime example of this.


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I’m going to argue, and indeed dictate,” she said, clinking her rings. “The English are out here to be pleasant.”
“How do you make that out, mother?” he asked, speaking gently again, for he was ashamed of his irritability.
“Because India is part of the earth. And God has put us on earth in order to be pleasant to each other. God… is… love.” She hesitated, seeing how much he disliked the argument, but something made her go on. “God has put us on earth to love our neighbors and to show it, and he is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Moore (speaker), Ronny Heaslop (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mrs. Moore suggests that she's one of the most tolerant and open-minded English people in the novel. Mrs. Moore is upset by what she sees as her peers' racism and cruelty to their Indian neighbors. Moore, still a Christian at this point, insists that English people owe it to themselves and their faith to be polite and loving to all people, Indian and otherwise.

Mrs. Moore's tolerance and ideas of universal unity come as welcome alternatives to the other guests' racism. And yet her form of tolerance is essentially a-cultural--she sees the world in pleasant yet bland terms of love, acceptance, and friendship; at this point she seems to have no real knowledge of India.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Concentrated on the ball, they somehow became fond of one another, and smiled when they drew rein to rest. Aziz liked soldiers – they either accepted you or swore at you, which was preferable to the civilian’s hauteur – and the subaltern liked anyone who could ride…
They reined up again, the fire of good fellowship in their eyes. But it cooled with their bodies, for athletics can only raise a temporary glow. Nationality was returning, but before it could exert its poison they parted, saluting each other. “If only they were all like that,” each thought.

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz, The Soldier
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Aziz plays polo with a British soldier. To their mutual surprise, Aziz and the soldier seem to get along well--in spite of the fact that the soldier is a representative of English aggression against India, and despite the fact that they're playing a physical, potentially violent game, Aziz and the soldier come to genuinely respect one another over the course of the match.

The passage is a kind of metaphor for the relationship between India and Britain--or at least what it could be. Aziz and the soldier maintain their cultural identities, and yet they get along while continuing to respect each other's differences. Their relationship is amicable, and yet very different from the utopian "God loves" philosophy outlined by Mrs. Moore in the previous chapter--here, it is culture (English culture!) that facilitates the friendship between Aziz and the soldier. Notice, too, that the friendship is only temporary--national differences can be suspended, but only briefly. (And Forster will later highlight the irony of this by having the same soldier viciously condemn Aziz, contrasting him with the "good" Indian he played polo with--who was, unbeknownst to him, Aziz himself.)

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

The world, he believed, is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and can best do so by the help of goodwill plus culture and intelligence – a creed ill suited to Chandrapore, but he had come out too late to lose it. He had no racial feeling; not because he was superior to his brother civilians, but because he had matured in a different atmosphere, where the herd instinct does not flourish.

Related Characters: Cyril Fielding
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, we're introduced to one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel, Cyril Fielding. Cyril is unique among the English character insofar as he seems not to think in racial terms--he doesn't look down on his Indian neighbors in any way, since he wasn't brought up to be a competitive, nationalistic person. Cyril is an educator, and his emphasis on education leads him to see Indians as the equals of Englishmen. In a harsh, militaristic state, dominated by the English military presence, Cyril's character is an anomaly, suggesting that the world of education, international experience, and individual friendship is gentler and more equitable than the world of colonialism. England is an intensely proud, competitive country, but there are ways to be English and avoid racism. In general, Fielding is presented as Forster's stand-in: an Englishman with an open mind and good intentions, but who is nonetheless trapped within the evils of the colonial system and the cultural differences between himself and the Indians.

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

Hamidullah had called in on his way to a worrying committee of notables, nationalist in tendency, where Hindus, Moslems, two Sikhs, two Parsis, a Jain, and a Native Christian tried to like one another more than came natural to them. As long as someone abused the English all went well, but nothing constructive had been achieved, and if the English were to leave India the committee would vanish also.

Related Characters: Hamidullah
Page Number: 114-115
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Aziz's uncle Hamidullah is on his way to a meeting of local Indian leaders. The meeting comprises an incredible breadth of races and backgrounds--there are Jains, Muslims, etc. All these different kinds of people are united together by one thing: the fact that they're not English. The non-English people of India, who--it's implied--may have fought among each other before the English arrived, have joined together in solidarity. Ironically, English presence in India is unifying, not divisive for the Indian people, because at least they have a common enemy in the English.

The passage has been criticized for its ahistorical view of Indian racial relations. English presence in India didn't unite the different religious and races together--rather, the English aimed to stir up racial differences, knowing full-well that doing so would make it easier for them to claim power. Forster's observation about India's relationship with England, then, might be intended affectionately, and true in some senses (it is easier for people to unite against a common enemy), but it also gets some history wrong.

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

How can the mind take hold of such a country? Generations of invaders have tried, but they remain in exile. The important towns they build are only retreats, their quarrels a malaise of men who cannot find their way home. India knows of their trouble. She knows of the whole world’s trouble, to its uttermost depth. She calls “Come” through her hundred mouths, through objects ridiculous and august. But come to what? She has never defined. She is not a promise, only an appeal.

Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Forster characterizes the country of India as the home of the "sublime." Forster argues that it's impossible for any one person to "take in" India as a whole--it's just too vast and mysterious for that. The mind can try to understand India, but such attempts at understanding will always come short of the real thing. The concept of the sublime, a staple of philosophy and theology, hinges on the idea that there are certain objects and phenomena that are too vast to be comprehended--India, it would seem, is one of these phenomena. This also connects again to the idea of muddles and mysteries--India is vast and confusing, but is there a meaning behind this vastness, or is it all just a "muddle"? The fact that India offers only "an appeal" rather than a clear answer suggests that Forster doesn't have an answer either. It's exactly this kind of mystery that he presents throughout the book, both in his descriptions of India and colonialism and in his portraits of individual experience.

Part 2, Chapter 17 Quotes

He had not gone mad at the phrase “an English girl fresh from England,” he had not rallied to the banner of race. He was still after facts, though the herd had decided on emotion. Nothing enrages Anglo-India more than the lantern of reason if it is exhibited for one moment after its extinction is decreed. All over Chandrapore that day the Europeans were putting aside their normal personalities and sinking themselves in their community. Pity, wrath, heroism, filled them, but the power of putting two and two together was annihilated.

Related Characters: Cyril Fielding
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adela has been supposedly attacked while in the Marabar Caves, and Aziz has been accused of assaulting her. The incident is a political and racial one: the Indians support Aziz, and the English people support Adela. The incident brings out the worst in some people--Turton, for example, who's previously been shown to be a racist, intolerant person, treats the incident as a chance to express some of his strong anti-Indian sentiments to Fielding. Turton is annoyed that Fielding refuses to play along with the rest of the English. Instead of allowing his nationalistic sympathies to run away with him, Fielding remains calm and factual with the case. The majority of Englishmen, however, ignore the facts--and temporarily lose their ability to even process facts--in their sudden rush of nationalistic, paternalistic, racist sentiment. 

Part 2, Chapter 24 Quotes

“This is no way to defend your case,” counselled the Magistrate.
“I am not defending a case, nor are you trying one. We are both of us slaves.”
“Mr. Mahmoud Ali, I have already warned you, and unless you sit down I shall exercise my authority.”
“Do so; this trial is a farce, I am going.” And he handed his papers to Amritrao and left, calling from the door histrionically yet with intense passion: “Aziz, Aziz – farewell for ever.” The tumult increased, the invocation of Mrs. Moore continued, and people who did not know what the syllables meant repeated them like a charm. They became Indianized into Esmiss Esmoor, they were taken up in the street outside.

Related Characters: Mahmoud Ali (speaker), Das (speaker)
Page Number: 249-250
Explanation and Analysis:

In the trial scene, the lawyer Mahmoud Ali dramatically defends Aziz from charges of sexual assault. Ali is Aziz's friend, and is supposed to be acting as his lawyer (along with the famous lawyer Amritrao), but here he seems more interested in making a spectacle of prosecuting English justice itself. He claims (pretty reasonably) that the English court system in India is so stacked against the Indians that any Indian put on trial is presumed guilty until proven innocent, instead of vice versa. Even though the judge of the case, Mr. Das, is an Indian, Ali says that Das too is a "slave," and neither of them really have any freedom within the colonial system. Ali is portrayed as over-dramatic and "histrionic," and he's possibly hurting Aziz's case with this (probably pre-planned) exit, but he also has a point. Impartial justice, like interpersonal connection across cultures, is almost impossible to achieve within the corrupt colonial system.

The other important part of this passage is the way that Mrs. Moore's name becomes a kind of charm or invocation for the crowds outside the courthouse. She has by now been sent away from India by Ronnie, and after the Marabar Caves visit she had grown apathetic and irritable, not bothering to defend Aziz or even visit him, but she is still elevated in Aziz's mind as his "greatest friend," and Mahmoud Ali's invocation of her name makes her become something larger than herself. She is not present, and probably wouldn't have even attended the trial if she was still in India, but her name and the idea of her--an Englishwoman sympathetic to and understanding of India--makes her into an almost religious figure in the heat of the moment. Her name is "Indianized" and chanted by crowds of people who have no idea who she is--they just know that this name is somehow sacred and friendly to them. Thus Mrs. Moore is again associated with Hinduism and spirituality, despite the depressing reality of her personal fate.

Part 2, Chapter 29 Quotes

“Our letter is a failure for a simple reason which we had better face: you have no real affection for Aziz, or Indians generally.” She assented. “The first time I saw you, you were wanting to see India, not Indians, and it occurred to me: Ah, that won’t take us far. Indians know whether they are liked or not – they cannot be fooled here. Justice never satisfies them, and that is why the British Empire rests on sand.”

Related Characters: Cyril Fielding (speaker), Dr. Aziz, Adela Quested
Page Number: 288-289
Explanation and Analysis:

Adela feels terrible for what she's done to Aziz: by accusing him of assault, she risked his life. Adela tries to apologize to Aziz by writing a letter to him--and yet when she reads her own letter, she decides that it seems flat and insincere. Fielding explains why Adela's writing seems to insincere: it is. This reinforces the idea of the previous passage--that Adela is technically doing the right thing, but she isn't doing out of love or compassion. She doesn't genuinely love Aziz, or any other Indian for that matter--they remain strange and foreign to her, perhaps not totally human, even though in her mind she is trying to be just towards them.

Fielding shows himself to be a keen observer of Indian culture (at least according to Forster's similar observations): he recognizes that Indian people are more honest and open with each other--unlike the English, they don't go through the motions of pretending to be polite to one another; if they don't like each other, they say so. Fielding hints that there will always be a void between India and England because the English think that a formal code of right and wrong can replace the Indians' more instinctive, automatic modes of morality and communication. Neither worldview is inherently better or worse--they're just different--but the problem arises when one system of morality and humanity is externally forced upon the other, as is the case in the colonial system.

Part 2, Chapter 30 Quotes

The poem for Mr. Bhattacharya never got written, but it had an effect. It led him towards the vague and bulky figure of a motherland. He was without natural affection for the land of his birth, but the Marabar Hills drove him to it. Half closing his eyes he attempted to love India.

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

After the trial, Forster tells us, Indian Hindus and Muslims start getting along better in Chandrapore--united by a common enemy and a common experience. Mr. Das, the Hindu judge of Aziz's trial, has visited Aziz to ask for a prescription and for Aziz to contribute a poem to a predominantly Hindu magazine. This is a big deal, Forster explains, because usually such a thing would be unheard of, and Aziz usually just writes poems about Islam. When given this opportunity, Aziz contemplates writing a political poem, designed to unite together the Hindus and Muslims in India. While Aziz never writes such a poem, the prompt gets him thinking about the possibilities of a utopian India in which there are no English people in charge, and the internal divisions of India are united under the idea of a common "motherland."

In a strange way, Aziz's traumatic experience in the caves and during the trial inspires him to think about his country in more hopeful, loyal terms: Aziz wants to make sure that the court systems in English are never biased against innocent people, as they were in his situation. The irony, then, is that the Marabar Caves, seemingly symbols of randomness and meaninglessness, are actually "productively" empty--their horrifying lack of meaning ends up inspiring Aziz to seek meaning and unity within his own community and country.

Part 2, Chapter 32 Quotes

He had forgotten the beauty of form among idol temples and lumpy hills; indeed, without form, how can there be beauty? Form stammered here and there in a mosque, became rigid through nervousness even; but oh these Italian churches! …something more precious than mosaics and marbles was offered to him now: the harmony between the works of man and the earth that upholds them, the civilization that has escaped muddle, the spirit in a reasonable form, with flesh and blood subsisting.

Related Characters: Cyril Fielding
Page Number: 313-314
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Fielding travels back to Europe, where he marvels at the beauty of Venetian churches and other buildings. Fielding has been out of Europe for a long time, but when he returns he's immediately struck by the order and control of European society--an order that Indian society might lack. In Fielding's view, India lacks structure and "form" altogether.

What does Forster mean by form, exactly? Fielding is looking at architecture, but Forster is talking about the land itself as well, and about the vague structure of society. Part of Forster's description of India as "muddle" or "mystery" includes the assumption that India is inherently confusing, chaotic, and formless. The buildings lack symmetry and design, and even the land itself is somehow inhuman and "muddled" (one thinks of the elaborate descriptions of the meaningless, somehow horrifying Marabar Hills). In Europe, however, the geography is easier for the human mind to comprehend, and the architecture reflects that--it has meaning and design, and is comforting or inspiring to behold.

Forster here betrays a Eurocentric prejudice, something he usually tries to avoid. He isn't saying that Europeans are superior to Indians, but he does suggest that an entire aspect of geography, architecture, and society is more beautiful and "human" in Europe than in India. Structure is better than formlessness--harmony is better than discord. And Forster sees structure and harmony as more present in Europe than in India, whatever the sins or virtues of the people themselves.

Part 3, Chapter 35 Quotes

“I do not want you, I do not want one of you in my private life, with my dying breath I say it. Yes, yes, I made a foolish blunder; despise me and feel cold. I thought you married my enemy. I never read your letter. Mahmoud Ali deceived me… I forgive Mahmoud Ali all things, because he loved me.” Then pausing, while the rain exploded like pistols, he said: “My heart is for my own people henceforward.”

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz (speaker), Cyril Fielding, Mahmoud Ali
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

In this dramatic passage, Aziz reunites with his old friend Fielding. Years have passed, and the two have grown apart. Now, Aziz is angry with Fielding--Aziz long ago turned his back on English culture altogether. In this scene, Aziz learns that Fielding is not, as Aziz had assumed, married to Adela; Aziz's "friend" Mahmoud Ali had lied about the truth to Aziz in order to ensure that Aziz didn't reconcile with either Adela or Fielding.

In spite of his mistake, Aziz refuses to embrace Englishmen once again. Instead of being angry with Ali for lying to him for so long, Aziz insists that he forgives his friend and recognizes that Mahmoud Ali lied out of love more than anything else. Aziz has brushed with the English too many times before--from now on, he's going to stay with his own Indian people. Thus Forster again portrays the complications of humanism, psychology, and culture--Aziz's new sense of nationalism is vital, and in many ways healthy for him, but it also stands in the way of one of his most important friendships, and the central relationship of the novel: the bond between Aziz and Fielding.

Part 3, Chapter 36 Quotes

“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.

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz (speaker), Ralph Moore (speaker), Mrs. Moore
Related Symbols: The Marabar Caves
Page Number: 349
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Aziz encounters with Ralph Moore, the son of Mrs. Moore. Aziz points out that Ralph is an "Oriental" because he has a natural gift for telling which people are going to be his friends. Aziz then realizes that he said these exact words to Mrs. Moore, years ago--setting in motion a series of events that led up to his being accused of assault in the Marabar Caves. Aziz has the idea that he's been locked in an eternal cycle of friendship (with an English person), followed by disillusionment. He has tried to avoid this by staying away from the English altogether, but now his past has returned, and Aziz feels another inexplicable bond to another Moore. Thus the passage is suspenseful; will Aziz give into his natural friendship with Ralph, and again embrace the possibility of connecting with an Englishman, or will he back away, frightened that accepting Ralph (and Fielding) will only lead to another ugly incident?

Part 3, Chapter 37 Quotes

“Clear out, all you Turtons and Burtons. We wanted to know you ten years back – now it’s too late. If we see you and sit on your committees it’s for political reasons, don’t you make any mistake.” His horse did rear. “Clear out, clear out, I say. Why are we put to so much suffering? We used to blame you, now we blame ourselves, we grow wiser. Until England is in difficulties we keep silent, but in the next European war – aha, aha! Then is our time.”

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz (speaker), Cyril Fielding, Mr. Turton, Mrs. Turton
Page Number: 360
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Aziz predicts that one day, India will rise and claim independence for itself. Much as Ireland rebelled against the U.K. during World War One, Aziz predicts that India will seize a moment of international crisis to stand up for its own independence; then, it will drive out all the Englishmen in the country and take control of its government.

Aziz's remarks (and thus Forster's as well) predict the future. In 1947, more than 20 years after A Passage to India's publication, India would rise up against the British Empire, using the crisis of World War II as an opportunity to fight for freedom. Aziz's remarks seem both selfless and self-absorbed--even though he's making a great speech about the future of his country, and rhetorically throwing off the yoke of colonialism, he's also clearly using politics as a way of lashing out against all the individual English people who have caused him pain and misery over the course of the novel. In doing so, he is again trying to reject Fielding and his offers of friendship.

“…yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then” – he rode against him furiously – “and then,” he concluded, half kissing him, “you and I shall be friends.”
“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s want I want. It’s what you want.”
But the horses didn’t want it – they swerved apart; the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House… they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices: “No, not yet,” and the sky said: “No, not there.”

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz (speaker), Cyril Fielding (speaker)
Page Number: 362
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel ends on a cautiously optimistic note. Aziz cannot be true friends with Fielding in the present, despite the fact that they both like (and even love) each other, and have always had a strong bond. True friendship, Forster suggests, never exists in a vacuum, and the specter of colonialism (and cultural differences) still stands in the way of Aziz and Fielding's personal admiration for each other. Put another way, Aziz cannot be friends with Cyril until there's a more equitable relationship between England and India--until both men feel free, and one is not inherently connected to the oppressor, and the other to the oppressed. Only then can the two men get along without all the political baggage of their respective countries.

Forster believes in the possibility of humanistic cooperation between people of different nations, and indeed feels that individual friendship is crucial to overcoming racism, prejudice, and injustice in general (friendship is the most important kind of human connection in the novel, and is central to Forster's humanistic views). Yet Forster also tempers any kind of idealized optimism with an acceptance of the realities of politics and culture, tabling such personal cooperation until the day that two nations themselves can get along and exist as equals. Cyril and Aziz are representatives of their countries, proving that no man can be truly free of his culture and nation. The tragedy of the novel is that friendship has its limits: even when they're trying to be friendly and kind, people find themselves bound to and divided by their own societies--and even their geographies and natural surroundings. Even the horses, birds, and sky--not just the human elements of culture and society--divide Aziz and Fielding in this scene. One day, Englishmen and Indians will be able to get along, but not yet.