A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 3 ((Mosque)) | Summary

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Summary

As the chapter begins, the reader is introduced to another of the novel's protagonists, Adela Quested, when she says, "I want to see the real India." Mrs. Moore has accompanied Adela to India so Adela and Mrs. Moore's son Ronny, who are engaged, can decide whether they will marry and whether Adela will join him in his life here. But Adela, who is frustrated by being kept among the British and not meeting real Indians, envies Mrs. Moore's walk to the mosque to see the moon over the Ganges. Ronny has been stage-managing the play in the place of Callendar, who was called to a case. Mr. Turton, the civil administrator of Chandrapore, says Ronny is dignified, and calls him a "sahib," a master or ruler, which worries Adela.

When Adela repeats her desire to see the real India, Cyril Fielding, the school master at Government College, answers "Try seeing Indians." Other English ladies laugh at the idea of wanting to see Indians; Mrs. Callendar says "the kindest thing one can do to a native is to let him die." In answer to Adela's wish, Turton proposes a "Bridge Party"—a term he makes up on the spot—to "bridge the gulf between East and West." On the way home from the club, the Turtons—a couple Forster refers to as "little gods"—discuss their negative impression of Adela. Mr. Turton hopes she will change with time: "India does wonders for the judgment."

Ronny, happy about the attention Turton is paying to his guests, explains to Adela why it's hard to associate with Indians by telling her about the time he had a smoke with Mahmoud Ali, the pleader, or lawyer, and the Indian tried to drum up business by suggesting he was on good terms with the City Magistrate. Ronny has been hard on the lawyer ever since. This explains Mahmoud Ali's complaint in the previous chapter about the "red-nosed boy." Adela asks why the pleaders can't be invited to the club; Ronny explains Indians are not allowed. On the way home Mrs. Moore mentions her little adventure in the mosque, which alarms Ronny and pleases Adela. Ronny assumes the Indian doctor was being impudent and tricky by criticizing his mother for not taking off her shoes. Adela defends the doctor's actions, which worries Ronny.

After identifying the doctor as Aziz, Ronny asks his mother how Aziz feels about the British. When she says Aziz complained only about the Callendars, Ronny—much to his mother's horror—says he will report the conversation to Major Callendar. When Adela says, "You never used to judge people like this at home," he replies, "India isn't home." Mrs. Moore makes Ronny promise not to tell Major Callendar what Aziz said; in turn, Ronny asks his mother not to discuss Aziz with Adela. When Mrs. Moore goes to her room, she tries to consider the episode from Ronny's point of view and imagines how Aziz could be made to seem guilty. As she hangs up her cloak, she sees a wasp on the peg; the narrator points out, "no Indian animal has any sense of interior." Mrs. Moore calls it "pretty dear."

Analysis

At the start of this chapter, the reader is introduced to the protagonist Adela Quested and to her stated quest to "see the real India." This desire becomes an important motif of the novel, as well as a cause of literary action. Adela is kept from seeing India because she is stuck watching an amateur rendition of a second-rate English play at the British club among a community of people who have no desire to interact with real Indians. Meanwhile, Mrs. Moore has impulsively gone off and done exactly what Adela wants to do and has made a connection by following her heart. On the other hand, Ronny, to whom Adela is engaged, is being called a "sahib," much to his would-be fiancée's consternation.

In this chapter readers find out Ronny is standing in as stage manager because Major Callendar was let down by "some subordinate"—i.e., Aziz. Readers also learn of the cruel attitudes of Mrs. Callendar, the same woman who callously took Aziz's tonga in the previous chapter. From the activity and conversation in the club, readers can see why the English don't "see Indians," which sets up one of the major conflicts of the novel. That there is no ordinary vehicle for English-Indian interaction speaks to the divide between the two communities. Furthermore Mrs. Moore's reaction to Mrs. Callendar's callous attitude sets her apart from the other English, and Mrs. Turton's assessment of Adela and Fielding as "not pukka" (a Hindi word meaning "perfect," "mature," or "complete") identifies them as renegades from the English community at Chandrapore.

Turton's observation—"India does wonders for the judgment"—can be read as a commentary on how much Ronny has become a "sahib." His initial friendliness with Mahmoud Ali has been replaced by a calculated frostiness intended to keep all Indians at a distance. The degree to which his judgment has been affected can be clearly seen in the difference between his and Adela's reactions to his mother's encounter with Aziz: Adela is thrilled at the idea of meeting Indians, but Ronny, able to interpret the encounter only in terms of his role in the English Raj, imbues Aziz's private actions with political meaning and seems unable to understand the encounter as a personal interaction. He cannot imagine Aziz had a genuine, personal exchange with his mother; instead he assumes Aziz was sending a message to his superior. When Adela notices how judgmental Ronny has become in India, he reminds her, "India isn't home," meaning the conditions under which the English live in India changes their perspectives and attitudes. Forster's reference to the Turtons as "little gods" introduces a motif he uses throughout the novel to indicate individuals who are the object of reverence among the local people.

Finally, as Mrs. Moore gets ready for bed, she reveals her compassion and understanding for Aziz, in stark contrast to Ronny's suspicion. Mrs. Moore's admiration—rather than horror or disgust—for an exotic wasp she finds on her coat peg further illustrates her appreciation for India and its differences. The wasp also is another reminder of the power and pervasiveness of nature in India, a theme that will become more prominent as the novel proceeds.

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