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.
Friendship Theme Icon

Despite its strong political overtones, A Passage to India is also a deep psychological portrayal of different individuals. As Forster describes his characters’ inner lives and their interactions with each other, the subject of friendship becomes very important, as it is shown as the most powerful connection between two individuals apart from romantic love. This subject relates to Forster’s humanistic philosophy—which says that friendship, interpersonal kindness, and respect can be the greatest forces for good in the world—but in the novel, friendship must always struggle with cultural divides and the imbalance in power enforced by the colonial system. The book begins and ends with the subject of friendship between an Englishman and an Indian, and in both cases it concludes that such a friendship is almost impossible. Forster shows all the obstacles—race, culture, class, religion, and language—that stand in the way of meaningful friendships between Indians and the English, no matter an individual’s best intentions. The English view the Indians as inferior, while the Indians (including Aziz) view the English as both cruel oppressors and foolish foreigners.

Towards the middle of the novel, however, Aziz’s growing friendships with both Mrs. Moore and Fielding seem to be an example of successful humanism, implying that if both parties can treat each other with respect, kindness, and openmindedness, then even Englishmen and Indians can be friends, and British colonialism could become a beneficial system. After the experience in the Marabar Caves, however, Mrs. Moore ends up going mad and dying, and Fielding and Aziz’s friendship starts to fall apart. After Aziz’s trial, each man ends up returning to his own cultural circle. Fielding feels sympathetic to Adela, while Aziz lets his suspicions harden into a hatred of all the English. In the novel’s final scene the two men become reconciled just as they are about to part forever. They embrace while riding together, but then their horses separate and they are divided by the landscape itself, which seems to say “not yet.” Such friendship might be possible once India is free, but not yet in the colonial system. Thus Forster doesn’t let go of his humanistic ideals, but he does show how such ideals can be hindered by social systems and cultural divides.

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Friendship Quotes in A Passage to India

Below you will find the important quotes in A Passage to India related to the theme of Friendship.
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

“You understand me, you know what others feel. Oh, if others resembled you!”
Rather surprised, she replied: “I don’t think I understand people very well. I only know whether I like or dislike them.”
“Then you are an Oriental.”

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz (speaker), Mrs. Moore (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Forster sets in motion the cultural politics that drive the entire novel. Mrs. Moore, an elderly visitor from England, has come to India. In this scene she steps into a mosque at night, and makes the accidental acquaintance of a young Indian man named Dr. Aziz. Aziz and Mrs. Moore feel an immediate connection. Interestingly, their connection flowers when Mrs. Moore admits that she doesn't feel like she belongs among her English friends: she says that she judges people instinctively and automatically. Aziz claims that doing so makes Moore "an Oriental."

What's going on here? Aziz's pronouncement suggests that there's a fundamental difference between English and Eastern cultures: the English are analytical and reasonable, while the Indians are instinctive, imaginative, and receptive to their own "guts." Of course, one could argue that such a distinction is just Forster's own biased opinion: Aziz's pronouncement sounds more like what a English person would think about the Indians that what an Indian person might say about himself. The word "Oriental," which has come to be rather offensive in the century since Forster's death, adds another layer to the passage's potential bias.


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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 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 26 Quotes

For Miss Quested had not appealed to Hamidullah. If she had shown emotion in court, broke down, beat her breast, and invoked the name of God, she would have summoned forth his imagination and generosity – he had plenty of both. But while relieving the Oriental mind, she had chilled it, with the result that he could scarcely believe she was sincere, and indeed from his standpoint she was not. For her behaviour rested on cold justice and honesty; she had felt, while she recanted, no passion of love for those whom she had wronged… And the girl’s sacrifice – so creditable according to Western notions – was rightly rejected, because, although it came from her heart, it did not include her heart.

Related Characters: Adela Quested, Hamidullah
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Adela has told the court the truth: she hallucinated (she now believes) her sexual assault in the Marabar Caves. By suddenly admitting this in court, Adela clears Aziz of all charges. And yet the racial tensions in the courtroom persist long afterwards; the English believe that Adela was raped, and the Indians believe that she spitefully made everything up to hurt Aziz.

Hamidullah's response to Adela's testimony in court illustrates the attitude that the Indians have toward her, and reinforces Forster's larger "ethnographic" descriptions of the English and the Indians. Hamidullah was upset that Adela was so calm and cold when she admitted that she hadn't been telling the truth. If Adela had just been more tearful and passionate when she admitted her mistake, Hamidullah would have been more forgiving to her. Instead, Adela seemed cool and calm, suggesting to the Indians (who are supposedly more emotional and imaginative) that her "heart" wasn't really in her confession. She has done the thing that was technically right, but she hasn't done it out of love or compassion--and Forster seems to agree that the Indians, not the English, take the right interpretation of the trial for now, as shown by the authorial interjection of the word "rightly" before the description of how Hamidullah rejects Adela's confession.

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 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?

“Yes, your mother was my best friend in all the world.” He was silent, puzzled by his own great gratitude. What did this eternal goodness of Mrs. Moore amount to? To nothing, if brought to the test of thought. She had not borne witness in his favour, nor visited him in the prison, yet she had stolen to the depth of his heart, and he always adored her.

Related Characters: Dr. Aziz (speaker), Mrs. Moore, Ralph Moore
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Aziz tells Ralph the truth about Mrs. Moore--he adored her, and continues to idealize in his mind. Aziz himself admits that Mrs. Moore never did anything concrete for Aziz, but she projected calmness, kindness, and understanding, which Aziz always responded to with joy and appreciation. It's not clear if Moore really deserves Aziz's appreciation--there are even some signs that she doesn't at all. (She left India instead of testifying at the trial; she never visited him in prison, etc.) And yet Aziz--an Eastern man (as Forster describes it) through and through--doesn't have much conscious control over who he likes and doesn't like. Instead of basing his feelings for Moore on concrete action, he feels an immediate, instinctual liking and empathy for her, which he is unable to reverse--and this feeling is arguably more powerful and lasting than other kinds of friendships (for example, Aziz's faded friendship with Fielding).

Part 3, Chapter 37 Quotes

“…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.