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 as a muddle that is unable to be understood or properly described by Westerners. For example, he describes India’s architecture and natural landscape as formless and primitive, while he sees European architecture and landscape as aesthetically pleasing and comforting. In this way Forster and his British characters, as outsiders, cannot help but view India as a muddle they can never comprehend, and one that—despite Forster’s critiques of colonialism—might benefit from Western “civilization” and reasoning.
But Forster also shows that even the Indians themselves are unable to describe India’s essence, and they too are divided in their ideas of muddles and mysteries. The Muslim Aziz regards Hindu India as a primitive muddle of chaos, while he is comforted by the elegant mysteries of his own religion. Professor Godbole, on the other hand, is a Hindu, and the main figure standing for the view of India as mystery. Hinduism is portrayed as a muddle of many gods and strange ceremonies, but there is also a mystery and plan behind it all—the meaning is in the chaos of life itself, and the unity of all things.
These muddles and mysteries ultimately become externalized and symbolized in the scene at the Marabar Caves. Forster never clearly explains what happened to Adela, and so the whole incident is a kind of horrible muddle. Also in the caves, Adela and Mrs. Moore’s “mysterious” India is reduced to terrifying chaos in the echoing “boum” of the caves. A similar effect, though a more positive one, is achieved in the final scene, where Aziz and Fielding’s boats crash into each other near the Hindu festival. Ultimately Forster finds both muddles and mysteries necessary to properly encompass and comprehend India, as well as the universe itself.
“Muddles” and Mysteries ThemeTracker
“Muddles” and Mysteries Quotes in A Passage to India
“I do so hate mysteries,” Adela announced.
“We English do.”
“I dislike them not because I’m English, but from my own personal point of view,” she corrected.
“I like mysteries but I rather dislike muddles,” said Mrs. Moore.
“A mystery is a muddle.”
“Oh, do you think so, Mr. Fielding?”
“A mystery is only a high-sounding term for a muddle. No advantage in stirring it up, in either case. Aziz and I know well that India’s a muddle.”
How can the mind take hold of such a country? Generations of invaders have tried, but they remain in exile. The important towns they build are only retreats, their quarrels a malaise of men who cannot find their way home. India knows of their trouble. She knows of the whole world’s trouble, to its uttermost depth. She calls “Come” through her hundred mouths, through objects ridiculous and august. But come to what? She has never defined. She is not a promise, only an appeal.
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 squeal of a boot, all produce “boum.”
“Why can’t this be done and that be done in my way and they be done and I at peace? Why has anything to be done, I cannot see. Why all this marriage, marriage?... The human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage was any use. And all this rubbish about love, love in a church, love in a cave, as if there is the least difference, and I held up from my business over such trifles!”
“This is no way to defend your case,” counselled the Magistrate.
“I am not defending a case, nor are you trying one. We are both of us slaves.”
“Mr. Mahmoud Ali, I have already warned you, and unless you sit down I shall exercise my authority.”
“Do so; this trial is a farce, I am going.” And he handed his papers to Amritrao and left, calling from the door histrionically yet with intense passion: “Aziz, Aziz – farewell for ever.” The tumult increased, the invocation of Mrs. Moore continued, and people who did not know what the syllables meant repeated them like a charm. They became Indianized into Esmiss Esmoor, they were taken up in the street outside.
Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle; they could not tell. Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one.
He had forgotten the beauty of form among idol temples and lumpy hills; indeed, without form, how can there be beauty? Form stammered here and there in a mosque, became rigid through nervousness even; but oh these Italian churches! …something more precious than mosaics and marbles was offered to him now: the harmony between the works of man and the earth that upholds them, the civilization that has escaped muddle, the spirit in a reasonable form, with flesh and blood subsisting.
Thus Godbole, though she was not important to him, remembered an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days. Chance brought her into his mind while it was in this heated state, he did not select her, she happened to occur among the throng of soliciting images, a tiny splinter, and he impelled her by his spiritual force to that place where completeness can be found. Completeness, not reconstruction. His sense grew thinner, he remembered a wasp seen he forgot where, perhaps on a stone. He loved the wasp equally, he impelled it likewise, he was imitating God. And the stone where the wasp clung – could he… no, he could not, he had been wrong to attempt the stone…
“Can you always tell whether a stranger is your friend?”
“Then you are an Oriental.” He unclasped as he spoke, with a little shudder. Those words – he had said them to Mrs. Moore in the mosque in the beginning of the cycle, from which, after so much suffering, he had got free. Never to be friends with the English! Mosque, caves, mosque, caves.