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A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 1 ((Mosque)) | Summary



Set in British colonial India around the early 1920s, the novel begins by introducing the city of Chandrapore on the holy river Ganges. Viewed from the river, where the Indians live, there is nothing remarkable about the city; there are few grand houses and little decoration or color. The inhabitants are compared to mud, the city to a low form of life. Inland, beyond the railway, where the British have established their administrative and residential area—the civil station—things look much more attractive: the viewer sees gardens and tropical trees.

The civil station itself is not charming. It is practical and full of right angles, separate from the Indian city: "It shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky." Forster then goes on to describe the beauty of the sky and ascribes to it the power of creating beauty over the landscape, which is entirely flat except for the interruption of the Marabar Hills, home to the famous Marabar Caves.


This first, very short chapter introduces a technique Forster will use throughout the book, in which the narrative perspective is at times high in the sky, looking down on the human world and noting how relatively insignificant it is. Furthermore, by presenting two completely opposite views of the same place, Forster introduces the notion there is no one truth, no one reality: all depends on one's point of view, and one's subjective view of the world can seem more real than an objective view. The aerial perspective in this chapter, which carries with it a feeling of objectivity, is denied to the story's human characters, who are stuck in their individual subjectivities.

The chapter reveals a complex, sometimes contradictory narrative attitude toward nature. It can be beautiful and inspiring, and it can be dull, ugly, and disappointing; no matter what, it is always powerful. Forster ends the chapter with imagery of nature's power, culminating in the "fists and fingers" of the Marabar Hills, home to the caves where one of the novel's climactic events takes place.

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