Ideas of division and unity are important in A Passage to India in both a social and spiritual sense. The social and cultural divisions between English and Indians are clear, but India itself is also internally divided. The phrase “a hundred Indias” is used several times to describe the “muddle” of the country, where Hindus and Muslims are divided against each other and even among themselves. The best hope Forster proposes for this chaotic division lies in the idea of unity, particularly of the spiritual kind. Most of the novel’s main characters are Muslims or Christians, but the book’s final section focuses on the Hindu side of India, as introduced by the character of Professor Godbole.
Hinduism has many gods and rituals, but certain aspects of it incline towards pantheism, which is the belief that all things are essentially one, and of a divine nature. Forster shows this sense of spiritual unity in several places, like the “liberal” Christians willing to accept monkeys into heaven, and Hindus like Godbole who try to accept even a wasp as divine. Mrs. Moore starts to feel dissatisfied with the “small-mindedness” of Christianity when she reaches India, and her character leans towards a Hindu kind of unity as she too feels connected to a wasp in her room. This kind of empathy and unity between living things is a positive force for Forster, and he implies that it may be the best hope for both friendship between individuals and peace between cultures. But he also shows how this oneness can be terrifying. This is best represented by the “boum” of the Marabar Caves. All sounds, whether spoken language or not, are reduced to “boum” in the caves’ echo. This lack of distinction between things terrifies Adela and ultimately drives Mrs. Moore mad, and even Godbole is unable to accept non-living things (like a stone) into his vision of universal oneness. The perfect realization of unity may be the chaos and void of the Marabar Caves, or it may be the love of God as in Hinduism—but either way Forster advocates for the constant striving for greater unity and empathy.
Division vs. Unity ThemeTracker
Division vs. Unity Quotes in A Passage to India
…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.
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.”
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.
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.
But they were friends, brothers. That part was settled, their compact had been subscribed by the photograph, they trusted one another, affection had triumphed for once in a way.
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.
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!”
Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle; they could not tell. Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one.
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.
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.
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…
“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.
“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.”
“…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.”