As a traditional English novel of manners, A Passage to India
explores a continent by way of the conflicting cultures that inhabit it. India, in Forster's final story, becomes a character itself, capable of relating to and abandoning men with the same ambivalence with which they relate to and abandon each other. One might, if one was intent on pushing extremes, even say the book is chiefly about friendship, or at least humanity's compulsion for connection. Forester masterfully conveys a vivid sense of colonial Britain (shortly after the turn of the twentieth century) and the volatile tensions that kept Britains and Indians continually at odds. Misunderstandings of culture abound. Nuances are missed by both sides, to disastrous effect. When a young Indian doctor is falsely accused of assaulting an Englishwoman in the Marabar Caves, the novel finds its legs and carries itself through its climax and denouement in a beautiful and nuanced way, pausing frequently to allow the characters and the land to speak of what they've heard. An echo seems to rise from the land itself -- a boum that resonates in each soul -- revealing the terror of eternity, the difficulty of true human relation, and the discrepancies between internal and external realities. Interestingly, every passage to, from, or within India involves an inevitable parting. Yet by book's end, one is intuitively assured that even these partings are the groundwork and the promise of a yet deeper connection in the now, but not yet.
An Eighth Day View:
E. M. Forster's exquisitely observed novel about the clash of cultures and the consequences of perception, set in colonial India
Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century and the basis for director David Lean's Academy Award-winning film, "A Passage to India" unravels the growing racial tension between Indians, uneasy at best with colonial power, and the British, largely ignorant and dismissive of the society they're infiltrating. A sudden moment of confusion results in a devastating series of events that threatens to ruin a man's life, revealing just how deeply--and swiftly--prejudice has taken root.