A Passage to India

A Passage to India


E. M. Forster

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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.


On one level, A Passage to India is an in-depth description of daily life in India under British rule. The British “Raj” (its colonial empire in India) lasted from 1858 to 1947. The prevailing attitude behind colonialism was that of the “white man’s burden” (in Rudyard Kipling’s phrase)—that it was the moral duty of Europeans to “civilize” other nations. Thus the British saw their colonial rule over India as being for the Indians’ own good…

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“Muddles” and Mysteries

Throughout the novel Forster uses the words “muddle” and “mystery” as distinctive terms to describe India. A “muddle” implies chaos and meaningless mess, while a “mystery” suggests something confusing but with an underlying purpose or mystical plan. On the English side, Fielding sees India as a muddle, though a sympathetic one, while Mrs. Moore and Adela approach the country with a sense of mystery. Forster himself often uses “orientalizing” terms to describe India, portraying it…

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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…

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Division vs. Unity

Ideas of division and unity are important in A Passage to India in both a social and spiritual sense. The social and cultural divisions between English and Indians are clear, but India itself is also internally divided. The phrase “a hundred Indias” is used several times to describe the “muddle” of the country, where Hindus and Muslims are divided against each other and even among themselves. The best hope Forster proposes for this chaotic division…

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Race and Culture

Many observations about race and culture in colonial India are threaded throughout the novel. A Passage to India is in some ways a sort of ethnography, or an examination of the customs of different cultures. On the English side, many cultural forces affect the characters. Ronny is naturally goodhearted and sympathetic, but his “public school mindset” and the influence of his English peers compel him to become hardened and unkind to Indians. The other English…

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