A Passage to India Themes

Themes in A Passage to India—

(List of content AP2I study guide)

Oriental versus Occidental:

What happens when two cultures come close and how they affect, engage or contradict each other is an important theme in Forster’s novel. Orientalism versus occidentalism is a central focus in A Passage to India. Forster shows a cultural clash happening in India where the British are trying to rule India by force giving rise to severe misunderstandings.  Some of these differences are understandable and some are giving rise to a bitter drift between the two cultures. The oriental way of life differs from the occidental sharply and even Forster seems to be judging India by European standards.

Love and loyalty:

This theme is evident in the tussle going on inside Adela and Ronny. Ronny is a person driven by his loyalty for the British and Adela is trying to find love in him. Ronny is ready to lose his love to keep his loyalty for the British rule. Between love and loyalty their half formed relationship fails to bloom. Adela wants that Ronny pay her the attention and love she wants. Ronny is filled with attitude and Adela floats away from him. The two know they can never be loyal to each other and think it is better to get away from each other than remain bound. Fielding is trying to retain a balance between love and loyalty. His love for his friend is true but he cannot go beyond his limits just to please Aziz. He has been disloyal to his herd for a short period and that has cost him. However, later he is appreciated by a senior official for his wisdom and his loyalty to the British government is different from that showed by Ronny.

Mother Nature versus human nature:

Nature’s special role in A Passage to India is evident right from the outset when Forster describes the natural settings of Chandrapore. Land, hills, caves, farms and even the starlit sky play a special role in setting the tale of British ruled India. It is a distinguishing feature of the Indian settings and without it the Indian picture is never complete. The picture that Forster paints is that of a nation where people are one with nature. They live with it, play with it and even worship it. Nature is like a partner and its role is special starting from Chandrapore to Mau. Even during the time of Krishna worship, nature adds tune to the existing music. Some see it as chaos, some as rhythm and some see it as an active partner. Human nature on the other hand can be seen in sharp contradiction to nature. Ronny and other Britishers are trying to create more muddle. Fielding is trying to clear it and Aziz is trying to emerge from it. Mrs Moore is remembered for her angelical nature. She is therefore a Goddess. Moreover, Indian see things in the context of the cosmic much unlike the Britishers whose true nature is to rule others by force and demonstrate pretentiousness.

Friendship and distances: 

One can feel that there are two types of relationships in A Passage to India. On one side there is the British Raj and on the other, there are the natives. Aziz and Fielding are good friends and  learn to keep distance later on.  Mrs Moore loves her son but the distance between them grows once she comes to India. There is no love between Adela and Ronny and when they try to come together, they do not fit and it makes the drift happen. They drift away and their destinations grow apart. Cyril is feeling distant from his wife and comes closer when he brings her to India. In this way, India brings people closer and also takes them apart. There are growing friendships and growing distances too in the novel. Different characters have balanced their relationships in different ways.

Liberation versus entrapment:

Mrs Moore feels a strange energy trapped inside the caves. When she enters them she feels something has capped her mouth and she tries to break out. Adela also feels trapped when she enters the cave. Again Aziz feels trapped when Adela has alleged that he tried to molest her inside the cave. It reflects the entrapment in which the natives are caught. India’s pain of being trapped in the British net signifies the worse kind of entrapment. It wants to liberate itself from the brutal force that has held it bound. Between liberation and entrapment, its fate hangs in a balance and at last Aziz’s movement away from his friends shows how hard India is fighting to escape the trap.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.