E.M. Forster

A Passage to India

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A Passage to India Summary

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British writer E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India (1924) is based on his personal experiences living in India during the waning years of the British Raj. It is considered one of the most significant works of fiction written in the twentieth century.

The story opens in the town of Chandrapore, where Dr. Aziz visits his friends Hamidullah and Mahmoud Ali. They smoke tobacco in a hookah and share a meal, discussing the difficulties in their relations with the British, who rule India. Later, at a mosque, Dr. Aziz meets Mrs. Moore, an elderly British woman whose son Ronny is the local magistrate. Mrs. Moore tells Ronny and her young friend Adela Quested about her meeting with Dr. Aziz. Ronny, initially thinking she is talking about a British doctor, is outraged when he discovers she is describing an Indian, showing his rank racism. Mrs. Moore, eventually, introduces Dr. Aziz to Adela, a schoolteacher who is mulling a proposal of marriage from Ronny.

Mrs. Moore and Dr. Aziz make attempts to bring the British and the Indians closer socially. They organize a bridge party, Aziz plays polo, and finally, they gather at a tea party at the house of a British friend of Dr. Aziz, Cyril Fielding. The tea party is a success, and Dr. Aziz decides to invite his new friends to visit the beautiful Marabar Caves.

Adela initially decides not to marry Ronny, but when they are involved in an auto accident, she sees the young man in a different light and changes her mind; they announce their engagement. Dr. Aziz, meanwhile, attends a gathering of both Hindus and Muslims, noting the boiling resentments and grudges underneath a veneer of polite cheer.

They go on the excursion to the caves. Cyril and another man, Professor Godbole, are delayed; Dr. Aziz accompanies Mrs. Moore and Adela. Inside the caves, Mrs. Moore quickly becomes overwhelmed and exits, leaving Dr. Aziz and Adela to explore alone. Adela annoys Dr. Aziz with a question regarding how many wives he has, implying the common racist belief that non-Westerners are immoral and uncivilized; insulted, he leaves her. When he exits the caves, he finds her broken glasses and assaults their guide when the man cannot tell him what has happened to her. When he sees her far down the hill, he is embarrassed by his own behavior; when Fielding arrives and asks about her, he lies about the circumstances. They return to Chandrapore; Dr. Aziz is shocked when he is arrested, charged with “insulting” Adela inside the caves, which is clearly a euphemism for sexual assault.

Aziz is denied bail, as the British are outraged that an Indian would dare assault a British woman. The main evidence in the case is Adela’s glasses; she claims she fought off Aziz by hitting him with them. That they were found on his person is damning to the British. Cyril Fielding attempts to speak with Adela to find out what happened, but she refuses him an audience. Mrs. Moore is expected to testify, but she tells Ronny that she doesn’t think Dr. Aziz capable of such behavior. Ronny arranges for her to leave India instead of testifying. Finally, guilty, Adela tells Ronny that Dr. Aziz is innocent of the charge, but Ronny will not do anything to help Aziz. Adela is called as a witness in Dr. Aziz’s trial. She breaks down and tells the truth: She became disoriented inside the caves and had a terrifying experience she initially believed was an assault, but she now sees was just her own confusion. Dr. Aziz is acquitted. The Muslim community stages a march to celebrate.

Ronny breaks off his engagement to Adela, and Cyril Fielding allows her to stay at his garden house. This angers Dr. Aziz, who cannot understand why his friend—who stayed by his side during the trial—would be kind to the woman who almost destroyed him. Their relationship worsens when Fielding advises Aziz not to file a suit against Adela for compensation, arguing that it is the “gentlemanly” thing to do. When Fielding leaves for England, Aziz assumes he is going to propose marriage to Adela because she is wealthy. He is bitter and vows to never again befriend a white person. He moves to a Hindu-dominated area and starts over.

Years later, Fielding returns with his new wife, Stella, Adela’s half-sister. Dr. Aziz is a prominent surgeon. They meet and some of their old camaraderie returns. Dr. Aziz finds himself pleased to see his old friend, but he has become convinced that India must be free and independent from British rule. He tells Fielding they cannot be true friends again until this comes to pass.