A Passage to India


E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India: Imagery 3 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Part 1, Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis—The Mosque:

In Part 1, Chapter 2, the narrator describes a local mosque using both visual and auditory imagery:

The courtyard—entered through a ruined gate—contained an ablution tank of fresh clear water, which was always in motion[...] he looked into three arcades whose darkness was illuminated by a small hanging lamp and by the moon. The front—in full moonlight—had the appearance of marble, and the ninety-nine names of God on the frieze stood out black, as the frieze stood out white against the sky[...] in the stillness he heard many small sounds. On the right, over in the club, the English community contributed an amateur orchestra. Elsewhere some Hindus were drumming[...]

Visual imagery includes descriptions of the "ruined gate," the "fresh clear water," and the black names against "the frieze [that] stood out white against the sky." Auditory imagery includes the specification that the area seems mostly silent, even as Aziz can hear many "small sounds"—like an English orchestra or the drumming of a group of Hindus. The most important part of this imagery-filled passage is the contrast between opposite elements. The old gate contrasts with the fresh water, the black writing stands out against the white frieze, and, most poignantly, Aziz hears both an English orchestra and Hindu drums.

By emphasizing these pairs of opposites through the use of imagery, this scene suggests the presence of many opposing elements and hints at the disagreements between the Indians and the English. The scene itself remains peaceful, and yet it gives the reader a sense of foreboding. Aziz appreciates the elegant, peaceful atmosphere of the mosque, but in the following chapters, he encounters many challenges and conflicts with the English, especially when Adela Quested accuses him of assault. While reading subsequent chapters, readers might recall how visual and auditory imagery add a subliminal layer of nuance to the social and political issues in this novel. 

Part 1, Chapter 5
Explanation and Analysis—A Vision of Marriage:

In Part 1, Chapter 5, Adela has a disturbing vision of marriage, which the narrator conveys with striking visual imagery:

In front, like a shutter, fell a vision of her married life. She and Ronny would look into the club like this every evening, then drive home to dress; they would see the Lesleys and the Callendars and the Turtons and the Burtons, and invite them and be invited by them, while the true India slid by unnoticed. Colour would remain—the pageant of birds in the early morning, brown bodies, white turbans, idols whose flesh was scarlet or blue—and movement would remain[...]

The vision falls in front of her eyes "like a shutter" and briefly obscures reality. Adela's mind often drifts to the future at the expense of her perception of the present; anxieties cloud her mind and cause her to make false assumptions. In her vision, she imagines a colorful scene including a "pageant" of birds, brown bodies, white turbans, and scarlet or blue idols. This colorful imagery represents India in all its mysterious glory. Adela wants to discover the "true India," but this might not be possible if she gets distracted by wifely duties. India, much like color and movement, might remain itself without her in it, and the world will pass her by as she takes on the role of wife and mother.

This scene reveals how Adela visualizes India (as well as her future marriage). She has a very naive and superficial view of the country. Her imaginative emphasis on color shows that she merely sees India, or desires to see it, without truly understanding it. Later, she ponders "all the wreckage of her silly attempt to see India," as well as her failed engagement. The two tasks—marrying Ronny and seeing India—are intimately related, and Adela sees them as mutually exclusive. In the end, she does neither. All that remains are her past visions—real and imagined—about what her life could have been. Visual imagery, both real and unreal, conveys the intensity with which Adela's mind works to figure out her future.

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Part 3, Chapter 33
Explanation and Analysis—Temple:

Each section of A Passage to India begins with rich visual imagery. The opening of "Temple" provides a poignant example:

This corridor in the palace at Mau opened through other corridors into a courtyard. It was of beautiful hard white stucco, but its pillars and vaulting could scarcely be seen behind coloured rags, iridescent balls, chandeliers of opaque pink glass, and murky photographs framed crookedly. At the end was the small but famous shrine of the dynastic cult, and the God to be born was largely a silver image the size of a teaspoon. Hindus sat on either side of the carpet where they could find room, or overflowed into the adjoining corridors[...]

In this passage, the narrator gives a sweeping description of the palace at Mau. The narrative places great emphasis on color imagery: there's the "hard white stucco," the "opaque pink glass," and the "silver image" of the God to be born. As they wait for the ceremony to begin, Hindus sit on either side of the carpet near the shrine, and there are so many that they "overflow[]" into the adjoining rooms. The passage as a whole gives a sense of opulence and richness that mirrors the spiritual fulfillment of Professor Godbole's experience during the birthing of Krishna.  The visual imagery at the beginning of "Temple" sets the tone of the entire section and hints at the spiritual riches that the Hindus at Mau hope to discover during their time at the palace.

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