Forster is a distinguished novelist both in modern English and world literature history. After the author’s two visits to India, the great novel A Passage to India (1924) was produced; it is a novel by E. M. Forster set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. In a word, it is a novel of cultural, social, psychological, and religious conflict arising mainly from clashes between India’s native population and British imperialist occupiers.
Altogether there are certain parts in this article highlighting on the author’s philosophy, the imperialism, racialism and colonization in A Passage to India from the perspective of symbolism.
The Use of Symbolism in A Passage to India
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India is painted with the colour of a wide range of symbols. They include
- The Marabar Caves
- The Reverberation of the Cave
- The Echo Representing a Hindu Resonance
- The Image of the Green Bird
- The Wasp Symbol
- Social Events: Parties, Picnics, and Celebrations
- Mosque, Cave, Temple, and Weather
- Nothing as a Metaphor
- The Infinite Sky
- The Pankhawallah Image
- The Snake Imagery
- The Collision of the Boats
- Other Insignificant Images
The Marabar Caves
The imaginary caves in A Passage to India are modelled by E.
M. Forster on actual caves about twelve miles from the city of Gaya in the state of Bihar. Nevertheless, the actual caves are known as the Barabar Caves, not the
Marabar Caves (Forster’s fictional name for them. There are four Barabar caves. Their even inner walls maintain expanded echoes. Forster’s A Passage to India is intense with the type of symbolic language that we generally connect with poetry in spite of the deep political themes of the novel. Forster depicts the manifestation of a blaze (in one of the more amazing passages) against the extremely reflective shell of a Marabar cave: “The two flames approach and strive to unite, but cannot, because one of them breathes air, the other stone.
A mirror inlaid with lovely colours divides the lovers, delicate stars of pink and grey interpose, exquisite nebulae, shadings fainter than the tail of a comet or the midday moon, all the evanescent life of the granite, only here visible.” (2.12.4) The Marabar Caves stand for all that is unfamiliar about natural world. The caves are older than anything else on the earth and represent emptiness and meaninglessness—a factual void in the earth. They disregard both English and Indians to act as guides to them, and their weird and wonderful attractiveness and hazard disturb tourists.
The caves’ strange feature also has the power to make tourists such as Mrs. Moore and Adela face parts of themselves or the cosmos that they have not formerly recognized. The all-reducing boom of the caves causes Mrs. Moore to see the darker side of her mysticism—a declining promise to the world of relationships and a growing ambivalence about God. Adela faces the disgrace and humiliation of her understanding that she and Ronny are not in fact attracted to each other, and that she might be attracted to no one. In this sense, the caves both destroy meaning, in reducing all utterances to the same sound, and expose or narrate the unspeakable, the aspects of the universe that the caves’ visitors have not yet considered.
The Reverberation of the Cave
No matter what the sound is, e.g., sneezes, whistles, shouts, noise etc. return the equivalent echo in the first of the Marabar Caves. This echo shows to ridicule the Hindu idea that the whole universe, and everything in it, consists of a particular spirit. The echo frightens Mrs. Moore because she unclearly realizes that it symbolizes a power that decreases everything to equality—a dull, bare sameness. Even biblical words that she had lived by become part of the Brahman and thus lose their meaning. Mrs. Moore thinks about the cave-incident and tries to write a letter to her children, Stella and Ralph. “[S]uddenly, at the edge of her mind, Religion appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from “Let there be Light” to “It is finished” only amounted to boum. Then she was terrified over an area larger than usual; the universe, never comprehensible to her intellect, offered no repose to her soul . . . .”
After that, her experience in the cave troubles her, and she becomes bad-tempered and sad. Her life and everything she believes in lose their meaning like the biblical words. India had charmed her when she arrived in the country but now it drives her back. Its interesting mystery has turned into the “muddle” spoken of by other Britons. She decides to leave; she does not even wait to give evidence for Aziz. Adela Quested is captivated with India like Mrs. Moore when she arrives in the country. But, she fears that its unrestrained variety will turn her into just another pessimistic, disappointed Anglo-Indian if she marries Ronny Heaslop and becomes an inhabitant of India. However, she sees a shine of optimism in Indian history, especially in the person of the Mogul emperor Akbar (1542-1605), who ruled from 1556 until his death.
Afterward, she enters one of the upper caves alone and scratches a wall and hears the echo. She later says that Aziz assaults her it is at this point. She struggles back with her field glasses, escapes the cave, races through a field of cactuses that tear her skin and insert needles in it, and returns to Chandrapore with Miss Derek. She is confused, in a state of fright. She frequently hears the echo after her recovery. But, she has no hint regarding its meaning unlike Mrs. Moore. She fails to understand the sound and becomes like the other English men and women who cannot understand Indians. However, she gathers the bravery at the trial to confess that she was wrong and drops the charges. Then she leaves India too. The leaving of Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore predicts the historical British departure from India in 1947, which Forster may perhaps have seen as unavoidable.
The Echo Representing a Hindu Resonance
Certainly, the most unforgettable figure of speech in A Passage to India is onomatopoeia: the boum echo in the caves. It calls to mind the om sound recited by Hindus and Buddhists. “Encyclopaedia Britannica” says about this sound, 2.
The Image of the Green Bird
Just after Adela and Ronny agree for the first time, in Chapter VII, to break off their engagement, they notice a green bird sitting in the tree above them. Neither of them can positively identify the bird. For Adela, the bird symbolizes the unidentifiable quality of all of India: just when she thinks she can understand any aspect of India, that aspect changes or disappears. In this sense, the green bird symbolizes the mess of India. In another capacity, the bird points to a different tension between the English and Indians. The English are obsessed with knowledge, literalness, and naming, and they use these tools as a means of gaining and maintaining power. The Indians, in contrast, are more attentive to nuance, undertone, and the emotions behind words. While the English insist on labeling things, the Indians recognize that labels can blind one to important details and differences. The unidentifiable green bird suggests the incompatibility of the English obsession with classification and order with the shifting quality of India itself—the land is, in fact, a “hundred Indias” that defy labeling and understanding.
The Wasp Symbol
The wasp becomes visible a number of times in A Passage to India, generally along with the Hindu idea of the oneness of all living things. The wasp is generally represented as the lowest creature the Hindus integrate into their idea of widespread unity. Mrs. Moore is intimately associated with the wasp, as she finds one in her room and becomes thankful of it. Her quiet regard for the wasp shows her own candidness to the Hindu idea of collectivity, and to the mysticism and indescribable excellence of India overall. Nevertheless, the wasp also symbolizes the limits of the Hindu vision as the wasp is the lowest creature that the Hindus think about. The vision is not a cure-all, but only a prospect for harmony and understanding in India.
Social Events; Parties, Picnics, and Celebrations
A number of bad parties appear in A Passage to India; we witness parties such as, the Turtons’ Bridge Party, Fielding’s tea party, and Aziz’s picnic. All of these events become terribly unsuccessful. Generally, these disastrous parties function as images for the British Empire in the book. The novel presents that each of these events go in vain because of the British need for exclusion, for hierarchies, for societal restrictions.
Racial discrimination is an addition of this wish for segregation, which is based on the standard that we are superior, more educated, more up to date, more dominant than them. Aziz’s misfortune of a picnic is just a fabulous example of how nasty the British longing for segregation can be. The book unlocks as Mohurram, a Muslim celebration, advances. The Mohurram riots were connected with manifestations in favor of Aziz for the duration of the trial. Contrary to these failed social occasions, let us take a quick look at the Gokul Ashtami fiesta, which is a celebration set up to fail. The event rejoices all beings, exclusive of not a soul and nothing, not even the smallest of insects or the silliest of jokes; Godbole remembers Mrs. Moore (back in Chandrapore) and a wasp; he does not get in touch with some elevated command in his spiritual trance.
Mosque, Cave, Temple, and Weather
E.M. Forster divided the novel not simply into chapters, but it is also separated into three parts entitled “Mosque,” “Cave,” and “Temple.” The parts are also ordered by the three seasons in India:
- “Mosque” takes place during the cool weather,
- “Cave” during the hot weather, and
- “Temple” during the rainy season.
These part divisions situate the tone for the events described in each part. The first part of the novel, in “Mosque,” Aziz’s indication to the architecture of the mosque as that of “call and response” synchronizes with the common mood of this part of the novel, where people are meeting each other at different societal functions. People are normally peaceful and open like the cold weather. On the contrary, the climax of the novel is found in the “Cave” section of the novel. Taking place during the hot weather, feelings are irritated, and nobody seems to be able to think quietly and logically.
The whole population of Chandrapore is turned wrong way up as riots and disorder surround emptiness inside the cave. Lastly, the “Temple” part tries to sweep away the confusion of the “Cave” section with its heavy rains. The chapter rejoices the Hindu belief of the oneness of all things with Godbole at the Gokul Ashtami celebration in relation to the Hindu motif of the temple, and provides us with a shaky understanding between Fielding and Aziz.
Nothing as a Metaphor
The novel starts with the word “nothing” in its first sentence. You might have observed that the novel appears gripped with breaches and cracks. The novel is almost planned like a donut, with a large hole where Adela’s experience in the cave should be. But, if you think about it, even though nothing is written about Adela understands in the cave, it does not indicate that nothing happened or that nothing can be said. Actually, it is perhaps the most remarkable part of the book exactly for the reason that it is omitted. As the narrator comments that the Marabar Caves are extraordinary. The extraordinariness of nothing is definitely one of the stranger and surely forceful motifs in the novel.
The Infinite Sky as a Vital Symbol
The reappearance of the infinite sky above is not meaningless. The author has intentionally done so with a view to presenting a deeper meaning through it. It goes without saying that the sky is so limitless that it holds all things together and could be interpreted as a symbol of inclusiveness, but it also represents the huge area of either British colonial control or the unimaginable hugeness of India itself, to a great extent.
The Snake Imagery
George H. Thomson wrote a scholarly article about the snake symbol prevalent in A Passage to India; the very article appeared in “English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920”. According to him, the novel pivots on the mighty contrast between two settings: the wasteland world of ‘Caves’ and the rain soaked jungle world of ‘Temple’. The wasteland world, at the centre of which is the Marabar Hills and caves, signifies the absence of God and indicates his nonexistence. The jungle world, at the centre of which is Mau and its great religious festival, signifies the presence of God. This theme of presence and absence of God, adumbrated in the novel by Godbole and reflected in the major symbols, is reinforced by a variety of minor symbols.
The Collision of the Boats
The occupants (Ralph, Stella, and Fielding) get wet when the boats smash together close to the floating image of the Lord. This getting soaked has figurative importance that in spite of all endeavour, in spite of mosques,
caves, temples, and the holy soil of the very old land of India, the diverse cultural units cannot be included into a particular logical part.
Other Insignificant Images
Once, a nameless beast or Being strikes the Nawab Bahadur’s car. This indicates the immoral repression of the natives by the bureaucrats under the excuse of ruling them on the authority of regulation and fair dealing. This and other symbols mix the different and opposing details of the story together to allow them to gush into a spacious current of huge human plea.
In the end, the novel helps us to see how the flickers disclose the strange shades of colour refracted off the minerals in the stone to bring the frozen, hard stone to evanescent life. Forster’s writing style serves one of the familiar ideas of the novel: art is a way of giving shape to the muddle, of helping us make sense of the world around us. The best works of art use form not to remove the muddle, but to hold it close, to direct the readers’ attention for eternity away from the undisturbed protection of the familiar, to the unknown and strange.
Cite this Symbolism in A Passage to India
Symbolism in A Passage to India. (2016, May 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-passage-to-india/