A Passage to India


E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India: Personification 2 key examples

Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Part 2, Chapter 14
Explanation and Analysis—The Marabar Caves:

The Marabar Caves, much like the sky, are often personified in the novel as speakers of senseless phrases. They are more accessible but (ironically) less comprehensible than the sky. Notwithstanding the narrator’s claims that they are "readily described," the caves come to embody the ultimate insignificance of humanity and the impossibility of human communion. This becomes evident when the author personifies them by describing how they speak in incoherent phrases and transform voices into incomprehensible echoes. In Part 2, Chapter 14, the narrator says:

Professor Godbole had never mentioned an echo; it never impressed him, perhaps. There are some exquisite echoes in India; there is the whisper round the dome at Bijapur; there are the long, solid sentences that voyage through the air at Mandu, and return unbroken to their creator. 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 squeak of a boot, all produce “boum.”

Other caves produce "exquisite echoes" that "return unbroken to their creator." By contrast, Marabar's echo seems to be spoken by the cave, as it produces a sound barely replicable by the human alphabet. When Mrs. Moore hears the “terrifying echo” of Marabar, she notices that “whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies." By personifying the cave as something that "replies" to humans, the narrator suggests that the cave has a mysterious life of its own. It defies the patterns of other similar caves and becomes a symbol of the futility of human connection. Just as the caves reply to human sounds with senseless noises, this novel does not provide any sort of satisfying resolution to the problems of humanity. It rather suggests that human beings are helpless subjects within a natural world they might strive, but always fail, to understand—just as they fail to understand each other.

Part 3, Chapter 37
Explanation and Analysis—The Sky:

Forster personifies the sky as a forceful influence on human action. In the first chapter, the narrator declares that the sky “settles everything," adding that, "when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction [can] pass from horizon to horizon." Like a ruler or a judge who “settles” human conflict, the sky presides over earthly matters. Initially, Forster emphasizes the positive aspects of this elemental force, as he notes its potential to bring “glory” and “benediction.” However, in later chapters, this description is revealed to be symbolic of the ruler-subject relations within Anglo-India that establishes the negative social dynamics of the novel.

A less positive instance of personification occurs in Part 3, Chapter 37, when Fielding asks Aziz why they can't be friends:

Aziz in an awful rage danced this way and that, not knowing what to do, and cried: “Down with the English anyhow. That’s certain. Clear out, you fellows, double quick, I say. We may hate one another, but we hate you most [...]”—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 what 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 [...] they said in their hundred voices, “No, not yet,” and the sky said, “No, not there.”

Not only does the sky determine the beauty of the earth in this passage, but it also sets the course of human action. Aziz and Fielding remain dependent on forces beyond their control and must have the sky’s “benediction” before they can hope to abolish the social, cultural, and political barriers between them. The other "hundred voices" of the surrounding landscape—including both animals and the architecture—agree with the sky and with Aziz that the English and Indian people cannot befriend each other until the British Empire has released its hold on India.

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