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A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 2, Chapter 24 ((Caves)) | Summary



The chapter opens with description of the advancing heat—as high as 112°—and humans' pathetic defenses against it. The sun, as a feature of nature, is not the subject of poetry in India as it is elsewhere because it is so terrible. Oppressed by the heat, Adela has been praying for a favorable verdict, and she still wonders if she loves Ronny. On the morning of the trial, unable to eat, Adela asks for brandy. Although she has been practicing her testimony, she fears she will break down. And her echo has returned. On the way to the trial, Turton reflects how the Muslims of Chandrapore have rallied around Aziz, financing the defense and organizing strikes. Although he feels Englishwomen make things more difficult in India, he is chivalrous to Adela. As they drive to the court with a police escort, they are pelted by small stones. The English blame Fielding for the organized opposition. At the courthouse, the English talk viciously about the Indians before the trial. Mrs. Turton calls the men weak, and says Indians should be made to crawl on their hands and knees before Englishwomen.

When the English enter the court, Adela notices the punkah wallah, the nearly naked, uneducated, but physically well-formed man who pulls a rope to operate a punkah, or fan. In her view he seems to be controlling the trial, although it is controlled by Das, who sits opposite the punkah wallah. McBryde then begins by describing the incident in question and the characters involved. When he indicates that the darker races are attracted to the lighter races but not vice versa, someone in the courtroom asks, "Even when the lady is so uglier than the gentleman?" Adela is upset by the comment, and Major Callendar insists that she be seated on the platform to get more air. Das allows it, but then all her English allies follow her up onto the platform. Sitting above the rest of the courtroom Adela looks around to see the various Indians she had met. She sees Aziz, and once again wonders if she has made a mistake.

Then both Mahmoud Ali and Amritrao object to all of the English being up on the platform. Das agrees and orders all but Adela to climb down; Adela joins them. McBryde then discusses the people Aziz had "duped" as part of his scheme, calling Aziz a degenerate who led a double life. In proceeding with his presentation of the case, he indirectly refers to Mrs. Moore's having been nearly smothered in a cave. This sets off Mahmoud Ali, who accuses the English of having smuggled Mrs. Moore out of the country so she could not testify on behalf of Aziz. Incensed, Mahmoud Ali quits the trial, calling it a farce. The Indians in the courtroom and outside take up the chant of Mrs. Moore's name, as "Esmiss Esmoor." Once the chant in the courtroom subsides, Das rules neither side may invoke Mrs. Moore.

Now Adela gives her testimony. McBryde takes her through the day, moment by moment. She previously avoided thinking too precisely about that day because its events were mixed up with her doubts about marrying Ronny; now she puts herself back in the Marabar Hills, reliving each moment and answering McBryde's questions as if she is there. When McBryde asks if Aziz followed her into the cave, she tries to visualize the scene and then finally replies, "Dr. Aziz never followed me into the cave," thereby admitting her mistake. Callendar tries to put a stop to the proceedings on medical grounds, but Das asks if Adela withdraws the charge, and she replies, "I withdraw everything." The court erupts into chaos. McBryde withdraws his case, Das declares Aziz innocent, the English rage, and the Indians celebrate. In the end only the punkah wallah remains, still pulling his rope; the narrator describes him as "the beautiful naked god."


The chapter begins with the heat; after increasing steadily over the previous chapters, it is now practically at a boiling point. As the English drive toward the courtroom, the pebbles and small rocks thrown at the car seem to symbolize the early stages of the full boil to come later. The English, too, are nearly at a boil, hurling not stones but vicious words about the Indians. In the courtroom, the heat necessitates the presence of the punkah wallah, who takes on a symbolic role, and leads to Adela's temporarily being allowed to sit on the platform.

Forster has created the physical setting of the courtroom carefully, introducing the lowly punkah wallah as another of the many "gods" who appear throughout the novel. Adela sees him standing on a raised platform, seemingly "pulling the strings" and controlling the proceedings. In a case of situational irony, this figure, perhaps the least educated of those assembled, is placed physically opposite Das, who really does preside over the courtroom. Because of the heat, Adela is allowed briefly to sit on Das's raised platform, and from there she can survey all those she has encountered during her sojourn in Chandrapore, including Aziz and Fielding, the only English person to remain in the audience when the others go up to the platform with Adela.

Mrs. Moore also becomes a "god" in this chapter. The Indians fervently wish for her to appear, and they chant her name as if she is a revered Hindu goddess, something akin to the Krishna of Godbole's song, the longed-for friend who does not come. But Mrs. Moore is not there—partly because of the apathetic mindset she adopted since encountering the echo of the cave, and partly because of Ronny's scheming.

The question of love is key to the chapter. The notion of what Mrs. Moore called "love in a cave," an act of lust, is mocked by the anonymous voice who makes a point about the plainness of Adela's looks, an echo of the sexual snobbery Aziz has displayed throughout the book. Adela also asks herself about love as she enters the cave; her shame about her lack of love for Ronny keeps her from remembering what had happened there. Only when McBryde brings her back into the cave can she recall events clearly.

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