A Passage to India by Edward Morgan Forster is truly one of the great books of its time. Written in an era when the world was more romantic, yet substantially less civil to the unwestern world than it is today; E. M. Forster opened the eyes of his fellow countrymen and the world by showing them the truth about British Colonialism. The novel aids greatly in the ability to interpret events of the time as well as understand the differences between the social discourse of then and now.
To fully understand A Passage to India and its cultural and historical significance one must first understand the world in which it was written, and the man who wrote it. Forster published the novel in 1924 England, a place much different than the England of today. At the time the sun still didnt set on the British empire and there were still serious societal influences form the Victorian Era.
Forster was born on January 1st 1879; his family was part of London’s upper-middle class. At the age of two Forster’s father died, leaving only his mother to raise him. Their relationship was very strong and stayed that way up until her death in 1945. Forster was educated in Kent up until 1897, and then went on to Kings College at Cambridge.
Immediately after his graduation from the University in 1901, Forster began to travel around the world, spending much of his time in Italy, Greece, and Germany. His first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread was published in 1905 and was received with good reviews. By the publication of his fourth novel, Howard’s End in 1910 Forster had become a member of what was known in writing circles as the Bloomsbury Group, a distinguished group of writers including Virginia Wolf, John Maynard Keynes, and many others. In 1912 Forster made his first visit to India; and in 1021 after having served for the Red Cross in Egypt during world war one, he returned to India to be the private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas. Forster based A Passage to India on the experiences he had while working for the Maharajah.
The world of Colonial India was much different than that of England at the time, or of the India of today. The country was ruled by the British military. British patriots and ex-patriots living in India had a culture all there own; they were not at all oppressors but did have a completely different culture than the indigenous peoples of the country. The British did not understand Indian religion or cultural tradition, and much like settlers in the United States did with Native American, the British treated the Indians like a nearly savage people who needed to be tamed. This attitude becomes apparent in chapter 3 when the magistrate of Chandrapore, Ronnie Heaslop, says of the British that they are out here to do justice and keep the peace. Or when the text describes his duty in a passage that directly follows Ronnies quote: Every day he worked hard in the court trying to decide which of two untrue account was the less untrue, trying to dispense justice fearlessly, to protect the weak against the less weak, the incoherent against the plausible, surrounded by lies and flattery.
The work chronicles the experiences of the elderly Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, (her travel companion and the girl Mrs. Moore plans to offer to her son, Ronny Heaslop, for engagement.) The two visit India looking for a more cultural experience even though they are closely related to the British element in Chandrapore (the city they are visiting). In the text there are trials and tribulations that end with the city and its inhabitants being changed forever. The novel addresses many issues that were affecting Western civilization and cultural diversity as well as the people of India at the time; it deals with racial and religious produce as well as the consequences and assumed reasons for British control in India.
The novel does much to show the class distinction between the British ruling class and the native population in India. It goes into detail describing the differences in the lives of the British living in India and the Indians living there. It relates the issue of religious produce in that the British, who are schooled in the beliefs and practices of Christianity, can not very well comprehend the religious beliefs and practices of the Indian people. It also deals with internal conflict in India between the Hindu people and the Muslim population. The novel points out the blindness of the British people, and their inability to question the motives of the British empire. And though the novel does not much look at the economic issues of British colonialism it does briefly address the shipment of Indian goods to England, making note that the British are not in India solely for the good of the Indian people.
Forster uses this novel to send a message to his reader about British colonialism in general as well as the specific issues facing India because of the British Empire holding control over it. This viewpoint became widespread during Forster’s lifetime, with the novel selling over a million copies before his death in 1970. It also became apparent that the book had made a large impact on the world community when India gained its independence form a financially tired England after W.W.II in 1947; confirming a prediction made by one of the central characters (Aziz) near the end of the novel, a prediction that the next major world war would result in the emancipation of India.
Because of the great cultural impact of A Passage to India as well as the critical acclaim that it has received in literary circles, it is considered to be E. M. Foresters greatest work, as well as one of the great books of the 20th century. The book deals with many societal issues facing the British Empire of the early 1900s as well as British colonialism and its affects on India and the Indian people. It conveys an accurate and easily interpretable vision of life in Colonial India and the problems that people, both British and Indian, faced in the colonial world. E. M. Forester adds greatly to the cultural canon of the time with this, his most well know work.