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 expatriates view Adela as naïve for sympathizing with the Indians, and they even admit that they too felt the same at first before realizing the “truth.” Overall the pervading culture of the English in India is that one must adopt a racist, patronizing attitude to survive and thrive, and that one’s very Englishness makes one superior to the Indians. Forster also examines the English tendency to be rational without emotion, and what is perceived as the English lack of imagination.
Forster gives equal time to analyzing Indian culture. On one level he portrays the many religions and cultures of the country, which are part of the reason India remains so internally divided. On the individual level, Aziz is the best-developed Indian character, and he too (like the English) is subject to cultural norms. Forster portrays the Indians as generally more emotional and imaginative than the English, with a tendency to let stray notions harden into solid beliefs without evidence. This “ethnography” then informs the novel’s other themes of division, friendship, and colonialism. Overall Forster shows that race and culture are forces that cannot be altogether avoided, no matter a person’s individual intentions. Forster gives the greatest importance to interpersonal human interaction and friendship, but he also recognizes the pervasive influence of larger social forces.
Race and Culture ThemeTracker
Race and Culture Quotes in A Passage to India
“You understand me, you know what others feel. Oh, if others resembled you!”
Rather surprised, she replied: “I don’t think I understand people very well. I only know whether I like or dislike them.”
“Then you are an Oriental.”
“You’re superior to them, anyway. Don’t forget that. You’re superior to every one in India except one or two of the Ranis, and they’re on an equality.”
I’m going to argue, and indeed dictate,” she said, clinking her rings. “The English are out here to be pleasant.”
“How do you make that out, mother?” he asked, speaking gently again, for he was ashamed of his irritability.
“Because India is part of the earth. And God has put us on earth in order to be pleasant to each other. God… is… love.” She hesitated, seeing how much he disliked the argument, but something made her go on. “God has put us on earth to love our neighbors and to show it, and he is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding.”
Concentrated on the ball, they somehow became fond of one another, and smiled when they drew rein to rest. Aziz liked soldiers – they either accepted you or swore at you, which was preferable to the civilian’s hauteur – and the subaltern liked anyone who could ride…
They reined up again, the fire of good fellowship in their eyes. But it cooled with their bodies, for athletics can only raise a temporary glow. Nationality was returning, but before it could exert its poison they parted, saluting each other. “If only they were all like that,” each thought.
The world, he believed, is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and can best do so by the help of goodwill plus culture and intelligence – a creed ill suited to Chandrapore, but he had come out too late to lose it. He had no racial feeling; not because he was superior to his brother civilians, but because he had matured in a different atmosphere, where the herd instinct does not flourish.
“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.
He had not gone mad at the phrase “an English girl fresh from England,” he had not rallied to the banner of race. He was still after facts, though the herd had decided on emotion. Nothing enrages Anglo-India more than the lantern of reason if it is exhibited for one moment after its extinction is decreed. All over Chandrapore that day the Europeans were putting aside their normal personalities and sinking themselves in their community. Pity, wrath, heroism, filled them, but the power of putting two and two together was annihilated.
“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.
For Miss Quested had not appealed to Hamidullah. If she had shown emotion in court, broke down, beat her breast, and invoked the name of God, she would have summoned forth his imagination and generosity – he had plenty of both. But while relieving the Oriental mind, she had chilled it, with the result that he could scarcely believe she was sincere, and indeed from his standpoint she was not. For her behaviour rested on cold justice and honesty; she had felt, while she recanted, no passion of love for those whom she had wronged… And the girl’s sacrifice – so creditable according to Western notions – was rightly rejected, because, although it came from her heart, it did not include her heart.
“Our letter is a failure for a simple reason which we had better face: you have no real affection for Aziz, or Indians generally.” She assented. “The first time I saw you, you were wanting to see India, not Indians, and it occurred to me: Ah, that won’t take us far. Indians know whether they are liked or not – they cannot be fooled here. Justice never satisfies them, and that is why the British Empire rests on sand.”
The poem for Mr. Bhattacharya never got written, but it had an effect. It led him towards the vague and bulky figure of a motherland. He was without natural affection for the land of his birth, but the Marabar Hills drove him to it. Half closing his eyes he attempted to love India.
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.
“I do not want you, I do not want one of you in my private life, with my dying breath I say it. Yes, yes, I made a foolish blunder; despise me and feel cold. I thought you married my enemy. I never read your letter. Mahmoud Ali deceived me… I forgive Mahmoud Ali all things, because he loved me.” Then pausing, while the rain exploded like pistols, he said: “My heart is for my own people henceforward.”
“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.
“Clear out, all you Turtons and Burtons. We wanted to know you ten years back – now it’s too late. If we see you and sit on your committees it’s for political reasons, don’t you make any mistake.” His horse did rear. “Clear out, clear out, I say. Why are we put to so much suffering? We used to blame you, now we blame ourselves, we grow wiser. Until England is in difficulties we keep silent, but in the next European war – aha, aha! Then is our time.”
“…yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then” – 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 want 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, the carrion, the Guest House… they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices: “No, not yet,” and the sky said: “No, not there.”