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A Passage To India English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1771 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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E.M Forsters 1924 novel A Passage to India features a unique landscape; one in which contains The fists and fingers of the Marabar hills with all of their ambiguity and extraordinary events. The caves themselves are the central piece of Forster’s mysterious climax of the novel – Adela’s incident with all of its surrounding mystery. The caves are used by Forster to suggest that there is far more to traditional India than outside forces can comprehend, perhaps the caves are an embodiment of both spiritual and cultural India, Forster’s use of language, personification, imagery and foreshadowing strongly supports this, as well as critics personal reviews.

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Originally Forster presents the caves in a way that suggests to the reader that they are nothing special; merely a landscape in which a significant event occurs, however upon both further and deeper reading it becomes painfully obvious as to how much more this unique setting truly is. Chapter 12 is the first point at which Forster provides the reader with real insight to the caves themselves, both physically, culturally and perhaps on some levels even spiritually. To create minimalistic yet complex setting Forster gives a simple description of the caves “A tunnel eight feet long, five feet high, three feet wide, leads to a circular chamber about twenty feet in diameter. This arrangement occurs again and again” (Passage to India, 1924, pp116) I feel it is significant that Forster states the arrangement occurs again and again, it creates the effect that perhaps these caves are not special and provide nothing that is noteworthy, however the precision of the measurements provided can be seen as contradictory to this; the caves are actually noteworthy, in some ways it can be argued Forster has juxtaposed these two ideas leaving doubt in the readers mind as to the true nature of these enigmatic caves and their purpose whilst also using strong imagery to convey the ideologies of the caves. It can even be argued that Forster does not even fully understand the events that take place in the caves, and therefore their very purpose – in a reply to a critic shortly after the publishing of the novel Forster stated “In the cave it is either a man, or the supernatural or an illusion.” Strongly suggesting that Forster has created this atmosphere of intentionally, and therefore the function of the caves is to house the climax of the novel whilst leaving it fully enigmatic.

Many critics have argued their opinions on the purpose of the Marabar Caves, and both the symbolism and meaning behind them, one of the most noteworthy of these being that of Virginia Woolf – an established writer by her own right. Woolf argued that “The Marabar caves should appear to us not real caves but, it may be, the soul of India. Miss Quested should be transformed from an English girl on a picnic to arrogant Europe straying into the heart of the East and getting lost there” (Virginia Woolf, cited Cambridge Companion to E.M Forster). From this quote it is clear that Virginia Woolf felt very strongly that Forster created the setting of the Marabar caves to become symbolic and metaphorical of the treatment of India. Her thoughts behind the events surrounding Adela are also very interesting due to their insight into the purpose of the caves; she’s suggesting that Forster has created Adela’s character, through the use of symbolism, as an embodiment of India metaphorically speaking.

Woolf’s exposition of the caves is not without credit; the ending of chapter 12 of ‘Passage to India’ strongly supports this idea. Forster describes a cave that is located within a hollow boulder, shaped like an egg without ceiling or floor “if the boulder falls and smashes, the cave will smash too – empty as an Easter egg. The boulder because of its hollowness sways in the wind, and even moves when a crow perches upon it” (Passage to India, 1924, pp117). It can be argued that the cave Forster describes is a metaphor of India socially and spiritually, and that perhaps this crow that could cause the boulder to smash, the cave along with it, is symbolic of Britain’s arrogant and imperialistic approach to India during the time at which the novel was written. It can also be seen as foreshadowing on Forsters’ behalf, a ‘what’s to come’ of the future for India! Through this idea it can be interpreted that Adela is symbolic of ignorant ‘Western’ views, and that when she journeyed into the caves with her arrogant attitudes towards the spiritual and cultural sides of India, the caves retaliated by trying to cleanse itself of something unwilling to accept it’s true nature. In this sense I feel Forster on some levels has tried to present the caves as a protagonist of the story, protecting India against the antagonistic views of the West.

Lahiris’ use of landscape and setting in ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ follows this theory suitably; throughout the story Mr Kapasi, a highly intelligent yet traditional Indian man, takes the Anglo-Indian Das family to spiritual and traditional tourist destinations whilst on their holiday from America. One of the most notable things about the story is that the Das family never look at the Indian landscape and setting through their own eyes, they only ever view something of significance through something stereotypically British – in the case of Mr Das it’s his camera, the children are wearing visors, Mrs Das is wearing sunglasses however Mr Kapasi only ever views the family through the mirror until Mrs Das’ confession. This can viewed as symbolism on Lahiri’s behalf of a level of ignorance running throughout the characters themselves, that they are blind to truth that faces them. However, the setting in which Mrs Das confesses her affair to Mr Kapasi is rather interesting “where a number of monastic dwellings were hewn out of the ground” (Interpreter of Maladies, 1999, pp60) I am of the opinion that Lahiri has juxtaposed two extremes in this section of rising action – our characters are visiting an extremely religious site, one in which is full of sacrifice and commitment, and it is here that Mrs Das confesses her adultery, a crime that goes against everything this setting stands for creating a true contrast of extremes. I feel this is very similar to the way in which Forster uses setting and landscapes, to the extent that Virginia Woolf’s opinion can even be applied to it.

It has also been suggested that Forster uses the caves in an entirely separate means, one that is based around the ancient Indian religion of Jainism. In 1988 Jo Moran published an essay in which she investigated Forsters’ use of personification of the boulders and rocks: the boulders said ‘I am alive,’ the small stones answered, ‘I am almost alive.’ (Passage to India, 1924, pp141) it has been suggested that Forsters’ use of personification of what is normally considered an inanimate, minimalistic object is linked with the central idea of Jainism – the idea that there is continuity of consciousness throughout every object whether it is soil or animals. Following Moran’s exposition, it can be suggested that Forster uses the caves as a metaphor for more than just an embodiment of India, it may have even been Forster’s ideology of a truly spiritual place free of judgement and violence, that is until our ignorant antagonist Adela enters this area of spiritual equilibrium with misconceptions of India as a whole. Before entering the caves Adela views them, similarly to the Das family in ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, through field glasses that have given her an imperialistic view of this holy place as opposed to the open mindedness that is required; I feel that perhaps the caves retaliate against Adela’s ignorance and hostility that she openly shows leading to her conclusion of ‘assault’. Through this it can concluded that perhaps purpose of the caves is to act as a metaphor for a ‘greater power’ one that is based on peace and spirituality.

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Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ also bears significance with this idea; there are hints of a spiritual and religious undercurrent throughout the short story in the landscape that strongly links with ‘A Passage to India’ through religion on a grander, more elaborate scale than the setting of the monastery ruins that the Das family visit with Mr Kapasi. Shortly Mrs Das confesses her adultery to our ‘interpreter of maladies’ under the wrong idea that he is able to “suggest some kind of remedy” (Interpreter of Maladies, 1999, pp65) for her metaphorical malady that is the result of sin, and when he confronts her with the truth she judges him in an almost inhumane way – “it crushed him; he knew at that moment he was not even important enough to be properly insulted” (Interpreter of Maladies, 1999, pp66) resulting in our traditional Indian protagonist, who can be seen as a metaphor of India, being left emotionally hurt. We later find that Bobby, the illegitimate child, being attacked by monkeys; this is hugely symbolic of a Hindu deity Hanuman who is often presented as a monkey. In Eastern India (the setting of both novels) Hanuman is prayed to for forgiveness, I feel this link is important as Mrs Das refuses to ask for forgiveness for her sins, instead she tries to use Mr Kapasi’s to cleanse her guilt whilst insulting him and therefore the India he represents. It can be suggested Lahiri uses the monkey as symbolism of Hanumans judgement of Mrs Das and her crimes in a similar way to the Marabar caves of ‘A Passage to India’ resulting in a potentially religious based climax to both plots, in a religious setting

Contextually this exposition has credit with ‘A Passage to India’ due to Forster’s own passage to India during the early 1900’s when religion influenced India, Mohandas Gandhi was largely campaigning using methods influenced by Jainism and Hinduism which is likely to have influenced Forster’s views of India’s religion and culture, due to the growing uprising of the Indians against the Anglo-Indians who couldn’t comprehend the mentality of India, just like Adela Quested and the Das family.

Word count – 1650


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