A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 5 ((Mosque)) | Summary

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Summary

The Bridge Party is not a success, largely because no one knows what to do. The Indians have arrived very early and are standing at the far side of the tennis lawns, opposite the English. Ronny and Mrs. Turton complain and talk disparagingly about the assembled Indians, maintaining no one important will have come. Then for a moment, the narrator remarks on the kites—the birds high above—impartial to the human events, and the impartial sky in which they fly. The narrator then touches on a discussion of the arts. The occasional mediocre play such as Cousin Kate is the only artistic outlet the local English community indulges in, loudly claiming to know nothing of the arts. Not only does Ronny no longer play his viola, but he pretends to like Cousin Kate in order not to offend others. A slightly critical review of the play offended the English community, which believes in the paramount importance of never speaking ill of one of their own.

Then the Collector urges his wife to get to the "work" of socializing with the Indians. As he scans the attendees, he guesses what favor each hopes to gain by attending. Mrs. Turton, irritated because she must visit some ladies in purdah, reminds Mrs. Moore and Adela they are socially superior to any Indian, except perhaps a Rani, with whom they an equal. She then addresses a group of Indian ladies in her limited Urdu, in constructions one uses when ordering around one's servants. To Mrs. Turton's discomfort, the English ladies find out some of the Indian ladies do speak some English. Their efforts at conversation are largely unsuccessful, because the two groups do not know how to interact, and the Indian ladies are more intent on being polite than on communicating. Upon leaving, Mrs. Moore, following a gut instinct, asks Mrs. Bhattacharya if they may call upon her someday. Mrs. Bhattacharya says they may come any day, at any time—which the English ladies find puzzling—but ultimately they decide Mr. Bhattacharya's carriage will fetch them on Thursday morning, although Adela worries the family may have changed its plans to accommodate the English ladies.

Next, readers hear the thoughts of Mr. Turton, who knows "something to the discredit of nearly every one of his guests." Some of the Indians, such as the Nawab Bahadur, are grateful for the party; others, such as Mahmoud Ali, are cynical. Mr. Fielding spends much time among the Indians, being popular among his students' parents, and, unlike the other English, eats their spicy food. Pleased to hear the positive impression the two new English ladies have made by wishing to be the guests of Indians, he approaches Adela and invites her and Mrs. Moore to tea with some Indians on Thursday afternoon. This pleases Adela, who is angry about the way the English have been ungracious to the Indians during the party. Fielding says he will invite an Indian professor who sings as well as, at Adela's suggestion, Dr. Aziz.

Adela then imagines her married life in Chandrapore with Ronny as an endless series of evenings at the club with the same English people, offering her little sense of the real India. During dinner with the McBrydes and Miss Derek, she mentally vows never to become like the rude English people she has seen today and plans to find a few like-minded people at Chandrapore. Miss Derek works for the Indian rulers of Mudkul, a Native State, but seems to treat them as a joke and does as she likes; she has taken a leave from her job without asking and now plans to "borrow" the Maharaja's car without permission.

When Mrs. Moore and Ronny talk, she suggests he spend more time with Adela. But Ronny is worried about gossip and says people noticed Fielding talking to Adela. His mother tells him Adela is unhappy about the way the English treat the Indians, and Ronny says, "We're not out here for the purpose of behaving pleasantly!" His mother replies, "Your sentiments are those of a god." He protests he has something more important to do than merely be pleasant. At this point, the narration comes from Ronny's point of view in the argument: he works hard in court trying to do his duty to dispense justice fairly; such notions as "Bridge Parties" seem beside the point. Next, the reader experiences Mrs. Moore's point of view. Her reaction is less rational and more emotional; she hears the "self-satisfied lilt" of his words and notices the "mouth moving so complacently and competently beneath the little red nose." She concludes his was not the last word on India, which seems illogical but heartfelt, based on his lack of emotional connection. She argues, "the English are out here to be pleasant" because God has put them here, and "God ... is ... love." Not very religious himself, Ronny attributes his mother's religious feeling to ill health. Mrs. Moore admits to herself she is becoming more religious as she ages.

Analysis

The physical separation of the Indians and the English across the tennis courts visually symbolizes the cultural rift between the two groups and makes a mockery of the idea of a "Bridge Party." But by drawing the narrative eye high up into the sky, Forster gives the reader a momentary modernist perspective of the insignificance of the world of human affairs.

Forster's discussion of the indifference of the Anglo-Indians to the arts supports a theme found throughout the novel. As rulers of the Indians, the English seem to have lost touch with the aesthetic sensibilities they had while living in England, and as will be seen, they are very different in this way from the Indians in the novel, who respond viscerally to art and music. Furthermore, the offense taken at the criticism of Miss Derek's performance reveals an unwillingness to be self-critical among the English and to adopt what Forster will later call "a herd mentality."

While both Mr. and Mrs. Turton do interact with the Indians, they, like Ronny, can relate to them only in their official capacities: Turton as an administrator and Mrs. Turton as an employer of servants. When the new English ladies and the Indians do meet, there is no formula in which they can interact. The Indians persist in a dogged politeness, making it difficult to plan a social engagement. Because they are so determined to maintain "truth of mood," they say yes to anything. Fielding, who spends most of his time with the Indians and seems unfettered by what constrains the rest of the English, shows himself to exist apart from the English community at Chandrapore. Miss Derek, by showing little respect for the Maharajah and Maharani for whom she works, shows she abides by Mrs. Turton's judgment that any English lady is superior to any Indian except a Rani.

The conversation between mother and son brings up the theme of feelings arising from human interaction: Ronny denying their importance and his mother insisting upon them. In presenting the interchange, Forster uses a modernist type of narration in which he consecutively puts forth two opposing subjective points of view: there is no objective narration, only two subjectivities. Perhaps surprisingly, Ronny's interior monologue seems more rational while Mrs. Moore's seems illogical and almost peevish, yet the reader will tend to side with her, illustrating the power of subjectivity and the importance of emotion.

The end of this chapter brings up the motif of gods and God. Many of the cultural differences in this novel arise from differing conceptions—Christian, Muslim, Hindu—of the divine, as well as the divide between atheistic and religious points of view. But Forster also uses the motif of gods to refer to the way the English wish to be seen—"India likes gods," says Ronny—and to the deifying tendencies among human beings.

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