A Passage to India


E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India: Part 2, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

The narrator describes the geography of India, explaining that the Ganges River and the Himalayan Mountains are relatively new in geological terms. But there are also parts of India older than anything else on earth – the Marabar Hills, which the narrator describes as slowly sinking back into the ground. These hills are like nothing else on earth, and are so old and strange that they defy description.
As with the first part of the novel, the “Caves” section of the novel opens with a description of the landscape itself, but now the vision of Chandrapore extends to the Marabar Hills in the distance. In describing the hills and caves Forster uses language suggesting something primitive, chaotic, and inhuman.
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The Marabar Caves are within the hills. Each cave has a manmade entrance tunnel, which opens into a large circular chamber. There are many caves, and they are all similar. They seem to be the embodiment of nothingness itself. There is no human language to describe them. Their reputation as “extraordinary” seems spread more by the surrounding wildlife than by word of mouth.
The caves are a very important symbol in the novel. They come to represent the more terrifying aspects of both the “muddle” of existence and the possibility of the universal oneness—the fact that if everything is the same, then there is no real individuality or meaning in life (it is precisely this oneness across all life that Sorley isn’t able to accept when he excludes the wasp near the end of Chapter 4)
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Each Marabar cave is pitch-black inside, and if a match is lit inside, its reflection can be seen in the polished stone wall of the cave. Because of the curving walls, the match and its reflection can never meet. No one knows how many caves there are, or what chambers lie inside without a tunnel to access them. On the highest hill there is a precarious boulder, which is rumored to be hollowed with a cave chamber, and to sway in the wind. The name of this hill and boulder is Kawa Dol.
The Marabar Caves are not a typical tourist attraction for curious visitors like Adela to admire, but are instead something entirely unconcerned with humanity. The darkness of the caves is the “Ancient Night” Forster brought up at the tea party scene. This sinister description of Kawa Dol sets the scene for the action to follow.
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