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A Passage to India | Motifs

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Bridge Parties

The original Bridge Party in Chapter 5 is a hastily conceived event intended to enable the English and Indians to interact intimately. It is mostly a failure; the novel contains other gatherings in which Indians and English meet more successfully, although something always seems to go wrong.

First, there is the accidental meeting of Aziz and the subaltern—the army officer—in which the two come to like each other despite their great differences, although the subaltern later attacks Aziz in the club. Then, there is the tea party at Fielding's at which Aziz charms the English ladies with stories of the Mogul emperors and their architecture, but Aziz promises what he cannot deliver and Ronny acts deplorably. Next, there is the gathering in Aziz's room when he is sick; an honest conversation develops, but Fielding shocks his listeners and Aziz is a poor host. The biggest Bridge Party is, of course, the excursion to the Marabar Caves, which, despite the ladies' lack of enthusiasm and Fielding and Godbole's absence, has its good moments when Aziz discusses the Mogul emperors. But then partly because Adela offends Aziz, it ends in disaster. When Fielding and Aziz meet before the former goes off to England, there are pleasant moments when they discuss poetry, but then Fielding says things that prompt Aziz to believe the schoolmaster will marry Adela for her money. Finally, the last Bridge Party, at the religious festival in Mau, is the reverse of the others: the act of meeting is a disaster, a collision of boats, but it leads to the reconciliation of Fielding and Aziz.

Unsuccessful Journeys

The novel contains various interrupted or unsuccessful journeys, all of which involve an individual from one culture traveling to see or experience something of the other culture: English going to "see India," or Indians going to the British area.

The first is Aziz's journey in Chapter 3 to Callendar's bungalow, during which his bicycle gets a flat tire and he arrives too late, only to have his tonga taken. In Chapter 5 Panna Lai's journey to the club becomes a subject of scorn after he loses control of his horse and runs over the flowers. Ronny and Adela's journey in the Nawab Bahadur's car in Chapter 8 is interrupted by the accident on the Marabar road. The journey to the caves in Chapters 13–16 becomes the biggest disaster of the novel. Although Mrs. Moore's journey home in Chapter 23 is interrupted by her death, on the first leg in which she travels to Bombay, she accidentally does "see India" more than she had up to this point. And finally Aziz and Ralph's boat ride in Chapter 36 to see the festival at Mau is interrupted, this time with a positive result.

Muddles

The notion of the muddle—a confused mess, or a state of mental confusion—occurs several times throughout the novel with both positive and negative connotations. It's first mentioned during Chapter 7 at Fielding's tea party, when the host alarms Adela by suggesting India is a muddle. After Mrs. Moore's experience in the cave, she enters a state of "spiritual muddledom" in which she sees both the "horror of the universe and its smallness."

When Fielding is forced to take sides with the Indians before the trial, in his mind he regards it as a muddle. And the events following the trial, in which Adela is both applauded and loathed, is another example of a muddle. When Adela and Fielding cannot figure out what happened to her in the cave, they can't decide whether it is a mystery or a muddle. And when Fielding, in Venice, sees the harmony between man-made works and nature, he reflects on how India is a muddle of form. The final muddle occurs in Chapter 33 at the religious celebration in Mau, in which Godbole's choir sings to a saint, in "a frustration of reason and form." The resulting celebration, full of music and rain and silly games and spilled rice, is a happy muddle.

Little Gods

While the novel contains various allusions to deities—Muslim, Hindu, and Christian—there is a pattern of references to minor gods, often the object of spontaneous local cults. This is a phenomenon common to Hinduism, but it also occurs among India's Muslims in the novel. For example, after Mrs. Moore's death the locals Indians develop a legend about Esmiss Esmoor and create two shrines to her, indicating their reverence and admiration. But something similar happened in Mau among Muslims as well as Hindus, who revere the saint who freed prisoners. Forster seems to be playing with the notion gods are created in the minds of those who revere them; by this logic, the English act like gods. In Chapter 3 the narrator refers to the Turtons as "little gods," and in Chapter 5 Mrs. Moore tells Ronny, "Your sentiments are those of a god," to which Ronny replies, "India likes gods." Forster calls the punkah wallah at trial "a beautiful naked god."

The Clown

At several points in the book, characters abase themselves through practical jokes or comic stunts for the entertainment of those deemed more powerful or superior to them. Panna Lai knows he can appease Aziz and his allies in the post-trial near-riot by stepping on his umbrella. And at the Hindu festival in Mau, the participants engage in comic stunts to entertain the baby Krishna. However, this seems to be an Indian practice that is somewhat alien to the British. Aziz brings Mohammed Latif to the Marabar picnic to play practical jokes, which the English ladies find distressing.

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