The Bridge Party is awkward and unsuccessful. The Indian guests gather together on one side of the tennis lawn, while the English stand at the other. Mrs. Moore and Adela watch the segregation sadly. Mrs. Turton and Ronny discuss the guests, saying that “no one who’s here matters” and making fun of the Indians wearing European clothing.
The party is supposed to make the two societies mingle, but it only ends up highlighting the divisions between the English and the Indians. The English are quite rude and inhospitable, treating their “guests” with condescension.
Some English women arrive and join the English group. They discuss the production of Cousin Kate, and which play they will put on next year. Any kind of art is considered “bad form” to the “Public School attitude” of the expatriates. Mrs. Moore notices how bland and conventional Ronny’s opinions have become. Years earlier he had hated Cousin Kate, but now he praises it in order to not offend anyone.
We see more of Ronny’s negative character development, as in India he has learned to suppress any imagination or unique opinion that might differ from the crowd. The colonial system causes the Anglo-Indians—as an “outpost of Empire” among a somewhat hostile population—to huddle together as a kind of herd.
Mr. Turton arrives and makes his wife go meet the group of gathering Indian women. Mr. Turton looks over the group of men and assumes the various self-serving reasons why each has come to the party. Mrs. Turton takes Adela and Mrs. Moore to visit the Indian women. Mrs. Turton assures the two that they are “superior to every one in India.” She shakes hands with everyone and says a few words in crude Urdu, and then asks Mrs. Moore and Adela if they’re satisfied.
Just as Mahmoud Ali assumed Turton threw the party for political reasons, so Turton attributes to all his guests selfish reasons for coming. Both sides remain suspicious. Mrs. Turton makes her racism explicit, telling Adela that she is superior to the Indians simply because she is English. Mrs. Turton also makes no efforts to understand the people she scorns.
One of the Indian women speaks up in English, and Mrs. Turton is surprised that they know the language. Adela is excited, and tries to have a conversation with the women, but they are too polite and shy to be drawn in. As they are about to leave, Mrs. Moore impulsively asks one of the women, Mrs. Bhattacharya, if she and Adela can visit her at her home. Mrs. Bhattacharya agrees, and they decide to come on Thursday. Mr. Bhattacharya promises to send a carriage for them. It seems possible that the Bhattacharyas are delaying a planned trip to Calcutta for the sake of the visit, but they insist.
This seems to be a successful cross-cultural interaction like the one with Aziz and Mrs. Moore, but it will later lead to confusion and a “muddle.” Mrs. Turton is so unfamiliar with the Indians she hates that she doesn’t even realize that many speak English. Mrs. Moore and Adela stand out from the crowd simply by being hospitable hosts and making an effort to talk to their guests like equals.
Meanwhile Mr. Turton makes his rounds, shaking hands and telling a few jokes, but then he returns to the English side of the lawn. On the Indian side, most of the men are grateful to be invited, but for different reasons. Cyril Fielding is at the party, and he wanders about socializing with the Indians. He even stays on the Indian side of the lawn to eat. He hears about Adela and Mrs. Moore’s friendliness to the Indians and is pleased by it.
Fielding now appears as a more important character. He is the only one to have truly successful interactions with both the Indians and the English, but in doing so he sacrifices the herd mentality of the English and neglects to segregate himself with them. He senses that Mrs. Moore and Adela might be sympathetic allies.
Mr. Fielding finds Adela and tells her that the Indians appreciated her kindness. He invites Adela and Mrs. Moore to tea, and Adela gladly accepts. She says that the whole “Bridge Party” has made her ashamed, as almost all the English have been very rude to the Indians. Fielding offers to invite an old Indian professor at the College to tea as well, as he might sing something. Adela mentions Dr. Aziz, and Fielding says he will invite him too.
The main characters of the novel now start to come together. Adela’s friendliness to the Indians is less intimate and natural than that of Mrs. Moore or Fielding, as she is still trying to “study life” and see the “real India.” She objects to English racism, but not out of any emotional attachment or love for Indians – she is interested in the “idea” of India.
Adela looks out at the Marabar Hills and suddenly starts to dread her future married life with Ronny. She doesn’t want to become like the other English expatriates at the club, socializing only with each other “while the true India slid by unnoticed.”
Adela is basically concerned with herself and her own experience, though she is very honest and just. Marriage becomes an important subject in the novel, as it is a traditional sign of true intimacy between two people—an ideal of humanism.
After the party Adela, Ronny, and Mrs. Moore go to dinner with Miss Derek (an English employee of a local Indian ruler) and the McBrydes (the superintendent of police and his wife). They eat traditional English food, “the food of exiles.” During the meal Adela thinks of the other young expatriates like herself who eventually become as conventional and insensitive as all the rest. She promises herself that she will “never get like that,” but she recognizes that this will be almost impossible unless she has allies. She thinks sympathetically of someone like Fielding. Miss Derek, the dinner guest, works for a Maharaja, a native Indian ruler who is allowed by England to govern his own province.
Miss Derek is looked down upon by many of the English because she works for an Indian Maharaja, which is seen as “cheapening” herself. The English try to recreate their homeland in India through food, performances of traditional plays, and an exclusive club—trying to avoid India itself. Adela, however, wants to experience India as it is, although her idea of the “real India” is still romanticized and exoticized, and doesn’t include friendship with Indians.
After the guests leave and Adela goes to bed, Ronny asks Mrs. Moore about Adela. Mrs. Moore says they’ve mostly just talked about India, and she suggests that Ronny should spend more time alone with Adela. Ronny protests that people would gossip. He explains that it’s different in the English community in India – everyone must strictly follow conventions or else they will be gossiped about and ostracized as not “quite their sort.”
Again Forster shows how the English community in India is very different from the one in England itself. The Anglo-Indians huddle together and try to shut out India, but in their closeness there is also lots of gossip and intrigue. The Indians’ social system often seems like a “muddle,” but the English foster similar complexities and suspicions.
Mrs. Moore says that Adela feels that the English are not pleasant to the Indians. Ronny dismisses this as a “side-issue,” saying that the English are here to uphold peace and justice, not to be pleasant. Mrs. Moore says that the English seem to be posing as gods with this attitude. Ronny then goes on a rant about the difficulties of his position, and how the British have a very hard job to do in India that has no room for pleasantness. The narrator explains that Ronny does have a difficult job, which he does without any expectation of gratitude, and that his intentions are good.
Here Forster starts to illustrate some of the cultural and racial differences he finds between Indians and the English. The English (according to him) value fairness and practicality, but lack imagination or deep emotion. The Indians are imaginative and emotional, but sometimes overly so, to the detriment of fairness or getting things done. Ronny seems harsh in his treatment of the Indians, but Forster grants Ronny the dignity of giving Ronny’s side of the situation.
Mrs. Moore disagrees with Ronny, saying that the English are in India to be pleasant to the Indians, as God demands pleasantness and love between all the peoples of the world. Ronny waits until she has finished talking about religion and decides to forgive her arguments because she is getting old. Ronny approves of religion only “as long as it endorsed the National Anthem.” He goes off to bed. Mrs. Moore regrets bringing God into the conversation, for her Christian God has seemed less powerful to her ever since she came to India.
Mrs. Moore takes the “Indian” side here, valuing kindness over fairness. Mrs. Moore is again associated with religion and unity. She begins as a Christian, but, as part of the novel’s continuing trend, she finds her religion too small to encompass the muddles and mysteries of India. Part of the Anglo-Indian mentality is to avoid any discussion of the supernatural, and to never question the value of the British presence in India.