A Passage to India

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Division vs. Unity Theme Analysis

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.
Division vs. Unity Theme Icon

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.

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Division vs. Unity Quotes in A Passage to India

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

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 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 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz, Cyril Fielding
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, from the end of Part One of the novel, the characters make an important breakthrough. Much of the book is concerned with how individuals can become friends and achieve a sincere connection even across divides of culture and oppression. This idea is explored most potently in the two protagonists, Aziz and Fielding. At this point in the novel, it seems that an Englishman and an Indian can be true friends--after this meeting and exchange of trust and affection, Fielding and Aziz feel like "brothers." But as Forster comments rather ominously, this is an exception, not a rule, and even in this seemingly idyllic new friendship affection has only triumphed over division "for once" and only "in a way."

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.

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.”

Related Symbols: The Marabar Caves
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the most famous passages in the novel is the description of the Marabar Caves. The caves (based on a real place, but mostly invented by Forster), located near Chandrapore, are mysterious and sublime objects that confound all reasonable explanations. When people walk into the caves, their speech echoes until it's been reduced to the same sound, "boum." The caves, then, are a symbol for the meaningless of life--the void of meaning and understanding. If the English are analytical, intellectual people, then their attempts at analysis and intelligence fall short in the caves: they're reminded that some things in life cannot be understood by any means. By the same token, Forster implies that the people of India are somehow more in touch with the "void" of life--and yet even the Indians he portrays cannot explain or define the caves. Only Professor Godbole, with his intimate relationship with the "mystery" of pantheism and unity, comes close.

While Forster will go on to focus more on ideas of universal unity as related to Hinduism, the Marabar Caves offer the darker side of "unity." In Hinduism, unity is connected to divine love and acceptance, but in the Marabar unity is chaos, meaninglessness, and even malevolence. Good and bad, individuality and meaning, all are reduced to "boum." It is this foreboding "muddle" of existence that leads to the central acts of the book, which take place in the caves--Mrs. Moore's loss of faith, and Adela's confusing, unknowable experience of assault.

Part 2, Chapter 22 Quotes

“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!”

Related Characters: Mrs. Moore (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Marabar Caves
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Moore has become irritable and disaffected after her experience in the Marabar Caves. She has seemingly lost her Christian faith, but also the belief that there is any real meaning to anything at all--life is a "muddle," not a mystery, and is a hellish sort of muddle at that.

Here Mrs. Moore suggests that love in a church (Ronny and Adela's future marriage) is no different from love in a cave (Adela's assault at the Marabar)--because no thing is really different from any other thing. This is the dark, terrifying side of Forster's theme of "universal unity." Unity can mean love and togetherness, but it can also mean chaos and fear, a state in which "civilized," consensual love is no different from a sexual assault in the darkness. While Mrs. Moore started the novel as an optimistic figure, an example of an Englishwoman who respected Indians and seemed to understand something crucial about India itself, her descent into apathy and disaffection shows just how difficult it is to remain hopeful and connected in the face of the realities of life.

Part 2, Chapter 29 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Cyril Fielding, Adela Quested
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

In this critical passage, Adela and Cyril discuss the mysteries of India and the universe, reiterating a conversation they had earlier. Both characters are atheists, and yet they want to believe that there is some kind of higher purpose in life--they can't be satisfied with the belief that all of life is random and chaotic (a muddle, rather than a mystery).

If life is just a muddle, then it has no higher purpose. If, however, it is a mystery, then it has a solution and therefore a meaning. Adela has been deeply disturbed by the events of the trial--they've reminded her how deep the divisions in English and Indian society go. Adela wants to believe that Indians and Englishmen have something in common; by the same token, she wants to believe that all people (and perhaps all living things) are united together beneath the muddle of their lives.

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 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.

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.