A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 2, Chapter 20 ((Caves)) | Summary

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Summary

The women of the civil station feel great sympathy for Adela, as well as remorse for previously thinking ill of her. That evening, the English attend a meeting at the club called by Turton. Visually prominent among them is Mrs. Blakiston—a young, "brainless," blonde-haired mother with a baby in her arms—who is usually snubbed by the women of the club, but whom Mrs. Turton now invites to sleep in her own bungalow because she is frightened by the drums of Mohurram. Turton addresses the crowd, asking everyone to act calm, and answers a few questions. Fielding asks whether there is an official bulletin about Adela's health or if the bad reports they hear are gossip. This question causes a bad reaction, and Turton asks the women to leave the room.

Turton struggles internally on the one hand with the urge to punish Fielding and call in the soldiers and on the other hand his responsibility to be fair. He is restrained by knowing the British government is watching what he does. The assembled men stir up each other's outrage by mentioning "the women and children," and a drunken subaltern (army officer)—the one with whom Aziz played polo on the Maidan—suggests the army must become involved soon. Turton urges the men not to carry arms and to let the legal system proceed. Callendar then comes in to say that Adela is doing better and that Mrs. Moore has a temperature. Then Ronny is mentioned; everyone considers him a martyr. Callendar loudly regrets giving Aziz leave for the excursion, and, in a pointed dig at Fielding, says he did so only because he understood an Englishman was to accompany them. Callendar then claims Aziz used bribes to get rid of the ladies' servant, and suggests Godbole was bribed to make Fielding late, causing Fielding to rise in indignation. Callendar further claims Aziz bribed natives to try to suffocate Mrs. Moore in a cave and calls for troops. Trying to bait Fielding further, he says Fielding visited Aziz in jail.

When Ronny enters, all but Fielding rise. Turton relates what had been decided, and Callendar reports on Adela. And then both the drunken subaltern and Turton challenge Fielding for not having stood up for Ronny. Fielding then asks to make a statement: he believes Aziz to be innocent; if Aziz is found guilty, he will resign his job and leave India; and he resigns from the club as of this moment. Turton presses him to answer why he did not stand for Ronny, but Fielding refuses to answer and is physically barred from leaving until Ronny says something. Once out, Fielding, regretting his rudeness to Ronny, goes out on the veranda and looks at the Marabar Hills in the distance, wondering about the assault and the echo. And he then begins to question himself about how he has led his own life.

Analysis

The usual social snobbery of the English community has been upended by what has occurred; the women are teary over Adela, whom Mrs. Turton had previously called "not pukka," and everyone gathers around the formerly insignificant, blonde Mrs. Blakiston, whom Forster places in their midst as a visual symbol of the pure, innocent Englishwoman. When Turton asks the women to leave the smoking room, "they [move] out, subdued yet elated, Mrs. Blakiston in their midst like a sacred flame." This image is the first of several touching on notions of divinity. Forster then compares Mrs. Turton to Pallas Athene when she invites Mrs. Blakiston to sleep in her own bungalow. Later, Ronny is compared to a religious martyr.

Amid talk of calling in the soldiers and carrying arms, Turton struggles to keep the peace, both in his own mind and among the assembled Englishmen. In an echo of Godbole's sentiments from the previous chapter, Turton says everyone is responsible for what happened, even himself. The drunken subaltern, goaded by Major Callendar, might be seen as Turton's id in this situation, calling for the army to come in while illogically calling for Indian soldiers. Under the surface of all the talk in this chapter is consciousness of the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the siege of Lucknow, in which rebel Indian troops assaulted British troops.

The chapter ends with Fielding finally severing his official ties to the club; he is now no longer a member of the herd in any sense. The theme of the inscrutability of India comes up as he gazes out at the beautiful Marabar Hills.

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