A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 8 ((Mosque)) | Summary

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Summary

The chapter begins with Adela mentally summing up what she has realized about Ronny: India has changed him and made him judgmental and complacent, acting as if he knows better no matter what point she might bring up. She is also annoyed at his leaving during Godbole's song. On the way to polo, Ronny derides the promised excursion to the caves, doubting Aziz's ability to carry off such a project. As evidence, he points out that Aziz's collar was riding up his neck. Ronny says if Adela wants to go to the caves, "you'll go under British auspices." Mrs. Moore, irritated by the quarreling between the young people, asks to be dropped at the bungalow.

At the polo, Adela is ashamed of the way she announced her intentions at the tea party and resolves to have "a thorough talk" with Ronny. When she tells him they are not going to be married, he reacts very reasonably, and does not blame her although he is hurt. While Adela had expected "a profound and passionate speech," they end the discussion by being "awfully British," with no quarreling or histrionics, and resolve to remain friends. Just then, Adela and Ronny try to identify a brilliant green bird in the foliage nearby, but fail.

When the Nawab Bahadur, desiring to play the generous host, offers to take them for a ride in his new car, they accept. Obsequious and accommodating, the Nawab expresses regret about Panna Lai's little accident at the club and then falls asleep. This gives Ronny leave to direct the chauffeur to ignore the Nawab's instructions and drive down the Marabar road. As the car jolts, Ronny and Adela's hands touch accidentally, and an "animal thrill" unites them. Just then, the car has a small accident, hitting a tree at the side of the road, and the Nawab wakes up, flustered. When Adela says she thinks an animal hit the car, the Nawab is irrationally terrified. Ronny and Adela search for the animal's tracks in the darkness, but Adela's skirts sweep the dust, making identification impossible. They conclude a hyena caused the crash, and the Nawab begins to apologize for the accident—belatedly, in Ronny's view.

Just then Miss Derek comes along, driving in her employer's car, and offers to drive three of them back. Mr. Harris, the Eurasian driver, is left behind to fix the car. Meanwhile, Miss Derek talks derisively about her Maharajah, whose car she had "stolen." Adela's hand touches Ronny's again, both slightly disapproving of Miss Derek: Adela for her flippant attitude and Ronny because she works for Indians. The Nawab now begins a long speech, suggesting the Hindu rulers of Native States are superstitious and uneducated, thanking Miss Derek, and worrying about his grandson. As Ronny and Adela leave the car, their hands touch again, and Adela tells Ronny she takes back what she had said before. Now engaged, they enter the bungalow to inform Mrs. Moore. Ronny then apologizes for his behavior at Fielding's and tells them to see India however they like.

Mrs. Moore, now feeling she has fulfilled her duty, is tired and has no desire to see India; she thinks instead of her passage back home. At dinner Ronny discusses work, which involves mediating disagreements between Hindus and Muslims resulting from celebrations of the Muslim holiday of Mohurram. Ronny then sums up the day by noting three sets of Indians—the Bhattacharyas, Aziz, and the Nawab—have let the ladies down, but Mrs. Moore says she likes Aziz. When Ronny tells his mother about the accident, she exclaims, "A ghost!"—a remark Adela considers only later. Ronny then throws a fit about the negligence of Krishna, a wayward servant, after which the two ladies begin a card game, and Adela tries to explain her wavering about the engagement.

Down in Chandrapore, the Nawab Bahadur tells the story of how he had killed a drunken man with his car nine years before and had been plagued by the man's ghost ever since. He now blames himself for leading his English guests into danger. While the other listeners sympathize, Aziz, skeptical of ghosts, asks the Nawab's grandson, the handsome Nureddin, to promise not to believe in evil spirits. As the chapter ends, there are signs of the hot weather approaching.

Analysis

This chapter contains several instances in which English characters think they are being rational, objective, and empirical in making judgments but fail to arrive at a true understanding of things. To begin with, Ronny's judgment about Aziz's slackness based on his lack of a back collar stud illustrates what a shallow understanding Ronny has of the Indians; he assumes he knows more than he does. Later, Ronny and Adela think they're being "awfully British" and rational about breaking up, but it takes only the thrill of the car's jolt to bring them back together. Later, when playing cards with Mrs. Moore, Adela berates herself for suggesting to the Godboles and Aziz she wouldn't be staying in India. Thinking she said something she didn't mean, she asks Mrs. Moore, "If one isn't absolutely honest, what is the use of existing?" In reality, however, what was apparently her gut feeling held more truth than what she consciously believed.

When the accident occurs, the Nawab Bahadur becomes nearly hysterical; Ronny and Adela, on the other hand, calmly look for empirical evidence, but they wind up obliterating any tracks in the dust. Back at the bungalow, Ronny describes how logical and impartial he must be in his job, but then he storms about irrationally when some files are missing. When he sums up the day by saying three sets of Indians have let the ladies down, he is missing something important in each case. The reader knows the cause of Aziz's errant collar, and the irrational reaction of the Nawab Bahadur is later ascribed to his guilt over a previous accident.

However, the reason for the Bhattacharyas' failure to show up is never explained, which brings up another theme found throughout the book: Indians, and India, are inscrutable and remain beyond the understanding of the British. Quite symbolically, as Adela and Ronny discuss breaking up, they try but fail to identify an exotic green bird, and the narrator says nothing in India can be identified; just asking about it makes it disappear.

Outliers from the "herd," however, have a better understanding of Indians. In the previous chapter, Fielding knew Aziz was wrong about the water in the mosque, but he is less concerned about facts than supporting Aziz's "truth of mood." And Mrs. Moore, who knows whether she likes or dislikes people, instinctively mentions a ghost when told about the accident, indicating she has some sort of clairvoyant understanding of what the Nawab Bahadur was thinking. This brings up the conflict between superstition and skepticism which will appear several times throughout the novel. Whether or not the Nawab's belief is true, it is powerful enough to affect him and those to whom he is talking.

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