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Group Reads Archive > A Passage to India by E.M. Forster - March 2010 (Spoilers Likely)

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message 1: by Ally (last edited Feb 28, 2010 01:20PM) (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Welcome to the March Group Read in our 1900-1940 category:

A Passage to India (Penguin Classics) by E.M. Forster A Passage to India by E.M. Forster E.M. Forster

Enjoy the read and when you're ready, pop back here and tell us what you think...don't be shy!


message 2: by Karen (new)

Karen | 1 comments I recently (last week) read this for a Classics Book Discussion group that I run at my library. I didn't care for the book when I first started it, but once I got reading and became more familiar with the characters, I really came to appreciate the story and Forster's writing. There were some very memorable lines in the book--I'll have to look at my notes and post some of my favorites. Overall, I think it was a very sad story--two men who would like to be friends but can't seem to overcome the barriers of race and country.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm in.

message 4: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments Got my book today.

I liked the movie. Is it fairly faithful to the book?

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I saw the movie a few months ago and I just started the book. So far, it's quite familiar, although I think the order of the initial events may differ. In the book, we meet Aziz before we're introduced to Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore. I believe that in the movie, we meet the women first. So far, so good.

message 6: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments The David Lean film is a gem. I'm sure I read the book after. I love the character of Mrs. Moore.

message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 02, 2010 05:23AM) (new)

I love her, too. Did she make the NPR list?

message 8: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Sadly no.

message 9: by Jotrys (last edited Mar 02, 2010 02:35PM) (new)

Jotrys | 3 comments Got my book yesterday. Have read 3 chapters. Enlightning to see that a book from 1924 is still relevant today.

message 10: by El (new)

El So... are people still reading this one? Can practically hear the crickets in this thread. :) I'm curious to hear what people think. I'm enjoying it, having just started Part II today.

message 11: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I'm still in the first couple of chapters.

But I am enjoying it so far.

message 12: by Jotrys (new)

Jotrys | 3 comments Am at chapter XX now. So far I like the book. Am glad I have a Penguin Student Edition since it has a handy dictionary.

message 13: by Ivan (last edited Mar 05, 2010 04:50AM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments I haven't read the book in quite a while. However, I do remember becoming very angry with the British - especially those ladies at the club who took the tonga from Dr Aziz. I have no idea why - out of all the biogtry and racism - that bit of selfishness really struck me - it wasn't that they failed to consider his feelings or needs, it was more as if he were a complete non-entity to them.

Reading this on the heals of "Burmese Days" (and I read Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's "Heat and Dust" last month) it's hard not to be a wee bit ashamed of our not so distant relatives.

Dr Aziz is such an earnest fellow.

message 14: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer | 5 comments Like Ivan, I felt very angry with the British. Why was it that the Brits who lived in the colonies were so arrogant and obnoxious, whereas the Brits who visited were horrified at how local people were treated? Is there something about the type of person who wanted to make their career in the colonies that made them prone to bullying?

I feel that I need to think about it more, but I liked how Forster incorporated a bit of mystical experience into the novel. Mrs. Moore’s experience in the cave and the noise that revisited her seemed connected to her appearing to the Hindu man in the ceremony at the end of the novel. Very interesting.

Aziz was such an endearing character. He was so emotional and at times so completely irrational.

message 15: by El (new)

El Not to defend the British in this book, but isn't it similar to the war in Iraq/Afghanistan/etc. today? Just because American troops are there doesn't mean that all Americans agree they should be there. Many of the soldiers themselves feel they shouldn't be there, but this is their job and it is what they were hired to do... So they also come across looking arrogant and obnoxious. The British that lived in the colonies had a job to do also. Again, not defending them - just throwing another thought out there.

Ivan wrote: "I have no idea why - out of all the biogtry and racism - that bit of selfishness really struck me - it wasn't that they failed to consider his feelings or needs, it was more as if he were a complete non-entity to them."

I like how you phrased this. Reminds me of Invisible Man.

message 16: by Sheila (new)

Sheila (sheilaglenn) I just finished the book 2 hours ago. Brilliant.... sensitive. The British are so self righteous and racism is rampant but they have become that way since the narrow perspective is encouraged and is "safe". When Mrs. Moore and Adela want to understand and explore the "true" India they are discouraged and the cascade of misunderstandings occur....Adela was very brave to finally tell the truth.

message 17: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I think that E.M. Forster has captured something quite special - Adela wants to behave in a way that she's finding hard to maintain. This seems to be simply down to mis-communication between the British and the Indians. - All the examples forster gives of when the Indian's say something is so just because they WISH it were so etc. - I can kind of see how the British, with no experience of this way of viewing the world, communicationg within it etc could end up confused and see the Indians as contrary. Not that I'm defending the British mind you - the racism still appals me as there was no real attempt to gain a proper understanding.

I think forster has captured something very complex. - I'm liking the book so far - I'm up to the part when they've just got back from the Marabar Hills.


message 18: by Ivan (last edited Mar 06, 2010 06:38AM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Niraja wrote: "To those of you criticising the behaviour of the British in the colonies, please remember that E.M. Forster was also British! And El does make a good point - people don't always end up in places of..."

I do remember he's British; that doesn't change my feeling. Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, and others wrote about the USA and our fellow Americans in unflattering ways, throwing light on topics and situations that were quite shame making. One can't look at history - even one's own - without a degree of shame creeping in: slavery of Africans, the near genocide America's indigenous peoples, McCarthy-ism, Wilson's jailing of Eugene V. Debs, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the treatment of minorities, right up to the current rise of anti-science radical right wing extremist Christian fundamentalism [not that I have an opinion:].

I agree with Ally that Forster has indeed captured something very complex. He points at the ambiguity of feelings and political philosophy and asked important questions like: when does our inaction and silence become complicity. Though "A Passage to India" works on a multitude of levels, I see it and "Burmese Days" as very political novels.

message 19: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments So, do "we" think that this book has failed to generate a vigorous discussion because it was so similiar in theme to our previous selection "Burmese Days"?

message 20: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Its interesting isn't it when a discussion doesn't generate as much interest as you first think it will - although I have to say - at the half-way point of the month - I'm still not finished the novel. Perhaps the thread will pick up in a week or so.

Its a novel that slows in the middle - I really enjoyed the first half - now I'm struggling to keep my interest - I'm up to the part where Aziz and his supporters are partying/rioting at his victory.


message 21: by Joanne (new)

Joanne | 15 comments I'm just 100 pages into this book and finding it tough to continue with any enthusiasm as it seems practically identical to Burmese Days. I am hopeful that the weekend will allow some serious reading time and get me back on track!

message 22: by Ian (last edited Mar 14, 2010 05:47PM) (new)

Ian | 3 comments I've been doing some reading today and though I'm still in part two, here are some thoughts:

I'm in agreement with Ally who mentioned earlier that the novel looks at a very complex issue. Namely, racism, but it seems to me to be more complicated that a simple dislike for a different culture. Earlier this afternoon, I was struck by the following passage, which seems to me to be at the heart of what Forster is examining:

[Chapter 20 - The English are at their club, in the wake of the 'incident', awaiting news of Adela:]:

"From the subaltern: 'The native's all right if you get him alone. Lesley! Lesley! You remember the one I had a knock with on your Maidan last month. Well, he was all right. Any native who plays polo is all right. What you've got to stamp on is these educated classes and, mind, I do know what I'm talking about this time.'"

The irony of this statement is obvious, as the 'polo player' is/was Aziz, the same man whom they sit and denounce, but it made me think about the nature of the racism in the novel. Somehow, the English seem afraid of any facet of humanity in the native Indians and I wonder if this fear comes from a lack of understanding of the Indians' culture / religion... Perhaps that seems an obvious statement to make: That racism comes from a lack of understanding, but it seems to me more about a lack of understanding and less about some inherent dislike. The English grow to resent Fielding because he is associated with the college, because he is educating, but also because he is fostering relationships that go beyond socially superficial. Throughout the novel Adela's quest has been to see "the real India". It seems that her incident in the cave stems from the moment she has come closest to an emotional connection with a native Indian (she and Aziz are discussing marriage / family); she unknowingly offends Aziz and is symbolically rejected as he "lets go of her hand" and dashes into the next cave. This offense results from Adela's lack of understanding of Indian culture and appears to be the reason for her subsequent accusation. Likewise, she seems to feel that Mrs. Moore can help her in some way upon her return to the house with Ronny in Ch. 22... the same Mrs. Moore who had an emotional connection with Aziz in the moonlight at the Temple near the beginning of the novel.

Not really sure what I'm getting at here, and obviously I've not finished the novel, just making an attempt at generating some discussion...

message 23: by Ivan (last edited Mar 15, 2010 03:51AM) (new)

Ivan | 561 comments You make some interesting points.

I'll play the Devil's Advocate: as a rule, don't Europeans and Americans feel superior to tribal people in say Africa, Afghanistan or South America? We still use phrases like "third world country." Is it people from "developed" areas feeling superior to people from "undeveloped" areas, is it cultural, educational or moral superiority, or do we actually believe their "race" has kept them from developing? It's a real quagmire. No matter the rationale behind them, these misguided ideas of superiority become ingrained.

Mr. Fielding is one of the heroes of the novel (and Mrs Moore too). He sees the Indian people as equals, whereas most look on them as the rich might look upon underpriviledged children from the ghetto. So then is it a question of racism or classism? Or do the two go hand in hand?

Adela? Whew....she's a mess. She seemed to me an emotionally repressed young lady, who felt wounded and misunderstood and allowed herself to be led to make certain accusations, and half convinced herself they were true.

message 24: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I completely agree that this novel's impact rests on mis-understandings - and I don't think that these mis-understandings were in any way avoidable.

The British Empire was just beginning to show cracks but for 50 years before this book was written it had been at the height of its power. I always find the paradigms by which we live our lives very interesting. The parents and Grandparents of Adela, Feilding, Heaslop, Mrs Moore, McBryde etc were brought up with a strong sense that the British Empire was invincible - a mainstay of world power and authority. I think, at that time, it would have been very difficult to step outside of your ingrained and almost inate world view as a proud Englishman. - I think its what Ivan is suggesting when he talks of misguided ideas of superiority becoming ingrained.

However, the Indians are not depicted by Forster as clearly on higher moral ground - he's successfully shown how their ways and phrases could be misconstrued by an unsuspecting onlooker. - thats why this novel is interesting and complicated.


message 25: by Ian (new)

Ian | 3 comments Ally wrote: "I think, at that time, it would have been very difficult to step outside of your ingrained and almost inate world view as a proud Englishman."

I really agree with this sentiment...

There is a passage, just earlier in Ch. 20 from the one I referenced earlier, that strikes me as being very much in line with what you're saying:

He longed for the good old days when an Englishman could satisfy his own honour and no questions asked afterwards... The others, less responsible, could behave naturally. They had started speaking of 'women and children'-- that phrase that exempts the male from sanity when it has been repeated a few times. Each felt that all he loved best in the world was at stake, demanded revenge, and was filled with a not unpleasing glow, in which the chilly and half-known features of Miss Quested vanished, and were replaced by all that is sweetest and warmest in their private life

This seems to me exactly the "innate worldview" that you mention... there is a violent undertone to the above passage and the Collector seems to reflect that to feel such outrage and act upon it was once an Englishman's natural right.

message 26: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
That passage struck me too Ian - and illustrates a collective mentality - individuals like Fielding can choose their own views but once he goes tinto the club or is among 'his own kind' collectively there are expectations that must be upheld - the British 'club' was more than recreational - it was a set of rules, a set of prescribed thoughts and a strict set of behaviours. Was this fear? misunderstanding? or racism? - it's hard to put yourself, as a reader, into a mindset contemporary to when the book was written.


message 27: by El (new)

El Fear + misunderstanding = racism.

message 28: by Ian (new)

Ian | 3 comments I hate to drag this on, as there doesn't seem to be a ton of interest in the book... but I've finished the novel and had a final thought.

Ever since the caves, I wondered about Adela's echo. The thing that seemed to stem from her misunderstanding with Aziz and that which she felt only Mrs. Moore could fully explain. The same Mrs. Moore who seemed to connect with Aziz in a way that Adela never could.

The conclusion I've reached is that Forster's issue (delivered through the character of Fielding) appears to be not with racism itself, but perhaps with the fact that race relations appear to be becoming less defined all the time. "Muddled" as he would say. And while it's one thing to openly mistreat a group of people (as the English had been doing in colonial India for a long time), I wonder if Forster is not critical of the current state, where he seems to feel that it's almost worse to still hold the same prejudices, but to conceal them behind a smiling face. We've agreed all along that the book seems concerned with misunderstandings; to me then, the echo seems the perfect symbol of this confusion. The echo repeats, it drones, nothing is clearly defined... likewise, all forms of interaction between the British and Indians lack clear definition. I almost wonder if Forster is saying give me one or the other: a strict colonial India or a free state, but not this mess that has been created. Admittedly, I lack a firm knowledge of the history behind India and its colonization by the British, but I am particularly drawn to this passage near the end of the novel:

But the more the club changed, the more it promised to be the same thing. 'It is no good' he thought, as he returned past the mosque, 'we all built upon sand; and the more modern the country gets, the worse'll be the crash. In the old eighteenth century, when cruelty and injustice raged, an invisible power repaired their ravages. Everything echoes now; there's no stopping the echo. The original sound may be harmless, but the echo is always evil.'

As well, the novel ends with the confusion of the two boats carrying both the three English passengers and Aziz colliding and there is that beautiful image of the mess they create in the water:

They plunged into the warm, shallow water, and rose struggling into a tornado of noise. The oars, the sacred tray, the letters of Ronny and Adela, broke loose and floated confusedly... that was the climax, as far as India admits of one.

I suppose I continue to return to the idea that no matter how modern the current situation in India had become, no matter how improved (on the surface) relations "appeared" to be, that somehow, in Forster's eyes, things were almost worse. That the loss of clear definition in society's roles or the attempt to hide existing prejudices was in a way, worse than simple blatant racism. So much of this book looks at the two cultures and their inability to understand one another or to find compatibility. Perhaps Forster is saying that this will remain impossible, while both parties continue with the charade...

Really enjoyed the book, this was my first read with the group. Thanks for giving a place to discuss, would love to hear any further thoughts...

message 29: by Ally (last edited Mar 23, 2010 07:22AM) (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
The significance of the echo has been bothering me much so that I descended to 'Sparknotes'! (
LOL. This is an extract...

"The differences between Mrs. Moore’s response to the echo and Adela’s response to the echo cement the differences between the two women as characters. Adela, who is practical and unspiritual, responds to the strange and confusing force of the echo by feeling more confident and certain of her status as a victim. Mrs. Moore, who is more attuned to eternal and intangible forces, is less resistant to the echo; she understands its force as negation. Yet while Godbole’s Hindu philosophy maintains that absence and presence, nothing and everything, are one and the same, Mrs. Moore can only experience negation as a void. Overwhelmed by this emptiness, Mrs. Moore accepts her subsequent instinct that human actions matter very little. Consequently, unlike the other English, she does not become inflamed with indignance on Adela’s behalf. Rather, Mrs. Moore treats the occasions of Ronny and Adela’s wedding and the assault on Adela as essentially the same: love in a church is equal to love in a cave, she says. Yet while Mrs. Moore does not join everyone else in falsely condemning Aziz, she does not stand up for Aziz either—even though intuitively she knows him to be innocent. The echo, then, somewhat destroys Mrs. Moore’s noble character, making her apathetic to the point of sickness and death."

I found this quite interesting - a new take on things that I hadn't considered. My own thoughts were running to the ideas about female hysteria and pre-disposition towards mental illness - I confess I was wondering about Forster's attitude towards women and whether he subscribed to the view that women were inherently weak minded. I thought he was using the device of the echo in order to highlight Adela's weakness as a witness and consequently putting the idea into the mind if the reader that Aziz was obviously innocent in the wake of these 'mad' women. Prejudice seemed to me to run to gender as well as race and class in this novel.


message 30: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Very interesting point of view. Thanks for posting this Ally.

message 31: by Joanne (new)

Joanne | 15 comments Ally, thanks for looking up the Sparks notes explanation of the echo, but I am even more confused about it now. That explanation was tough to follow! I wish Forster had been a little clearer about its significance and meaning. I finally finished the book; it was a very long read for me. Overall, I liked the book for Forster's vivid descriptions, but did not care for his characterizations. If I had not just read Burmese Days, I would have been shocked at the racism depicted in the novel. I would love to see more opinions as to what the echo was.

I really do not like when women are portrayed as weak and prone to hysteria and mental breakdowns, which I feel Adela and perhaps Mrs. Moore were.

message 32: by Jim (new)

Jim | 24 comments Racism goes both ways but the thing that I always find amazing is how an ethnic will take advantage of others of the same ethnicity

I worked construction in California in the 60s where I was the lone non Mexican/Native American laborer

the Mexican/Native American foremen wouldn't put a guys name on the day work assignments if the Mexican or Native American wouldn't agree to pay $1-2 of their hourly pay to the foreman that day

while how the British treated the locals is deplorable, I think how the locals tried to take advantage of the other locals is more nefarious

finally even if some of the British characters were native friendly/concerned, they are still responsible for what their country does to another country's inhabitants just as each adult American is responsible for what the US is doing in Iraq/Afganistan

otherwise,You fall into the excuse the German public used in trying to avoid responsiblity for what Germany did in WWII

message 33: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Prejudice is human nature - it's unfortunate, but true. I'm convinced that if everyone were the same race, religion and sexual orientation that there would be those who would invent new reasons to hate: maybe it'd be everyone with red hair, or people with freckles, or anyone left-handed - something, anything.

message 34: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
difference does tend to frighten us human beings doesn't it!

message 35: by Jotrys (new)

Jotrys | 3 comments We all want to be special and different,

Yet we all want to be the same and treated equal.

As to my personal grading of A Passage to India it was all right but sub par: 2 stars out of 5.

And looking forward to the next book.

message 36: by Carly (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 35 comments Ian wrote: "I hate to drag this on, as there doesn't seem to be a ton of interest in the book... but I've finished the novel and had a final thought.

Ever since the caves, I wondered about Adela's echo. The..."

What you said, Ian . . . I lack a firm knowledge . . . well, that speaks to me, because I too feel I don't know enough about Britain's presence in India.

Whenever I read these books (I read another one about Burma - not Burmese Days, haven't read that), I have to ask - WHY? What in the hale were the British doing there? Why did the British feel that India needed them?

What is anybody doing anywhere?

When I go to the Martyrs' Shrine, in Midland, I look around at the historic pictures of the missionaries and the native people of Canada. And it seems everybody thinks that the missionaries had a God-given right to walk in there and change the religion of the Indian peoples . . . why do English speaking countries think there's a necessity to change the religion of other people?

Why was it that everything I heard about Africa, up to and including the 1960's, had to do with African people being a bunch of savages?

Why is it the 'great white hunter' seems to think that all people, even the ones who aren't quite up to the mark of being real humans, need to be changed.

Certainly, good hygeine must be taught, if it isn't already in place, but who is anybody to tell other people in what way they should worship God, or for that matter, whether or not they 'should' worship God?

I think it unfair that many of us were brought up in a day and age where we actually thought we white, English speaking people were the only beings who had our proverbial shit together.

Yes - I finished the book - it came in from the library in audio form - it wasn't a good collection of disks - one of them was completely demolished - the computer refused to even play it, but I did get a good piece of the story in.

I'm now looking forward to the arrival of the movie.

And seeing as how this question is so prevalent among present-day Americans, Canadians and English - what in the hell ARE we doing 'over there'?

Why are any of us still there? Good grief! We're obviously not going to find Osama Bin Laden by being there, and wasn't that what it was all about? And we're still there!

Why not just throw our money into defending the homeland FROM the homeland?

A hundred years from now, people will be reading stories about how uckfaying brilliant WE are, and how brave and heroic WE were, in keeping a presence in the middle-east trying to change it.

message 37: by Carly (new)

Carly Svamvour (faganlady) | 35 comments And I was being facetious when I said that about 'even people who aren't quite up to the mark of being humans'.

message 38: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I'm quite late to the party, but that wouldn't be anything new. :)

I struggled with the wordiness of the book, but overall I enjoyed it. I felt Forster evoked a setting and each character so well (even if I couldn't always understand who was talking or where they were).

The scene that stood out for me was early in the book when Ronny and his mother are talking about how the English should behave in India and Ronny says that they're not in India to be "pleasant."

"what do you and Adela want me to do? Go against my class, against all the people I respect and admire out here? Lose such power as I have for doing good in this country because my behavior isn't pleasant?... We're not pleasant in India, and we don't intend to be pleasant. We've something more important to do."

It just shows the total lack of respect for the country, and the hypocrisy, because, of course, they expect the Indians to be "pleasant."

message 39: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I know that there's a modern version of this one but was it ever adapted in an earlier film version?

message 40: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments Per there was a BBC Play of the Month in 1965 which was shown here on PBS in 1968. It featutrd Sybil Thorndyke, Cyril Cusack and Virginia McKenna. Saeed Jaffrey played the same role in both this and the later movie.

Personally, I don't remember seeing it here.

message 41: by Greg (new)

Greg | 330 comments A wonderful discussion, a great thread going here.
I'm over half way into the book, and love it. I looked to see if BYT had done A Passage to India, and yes, seven years ago!
I'll come back when I finish the book. There's some good points of discussion here in this group read.
I will add one line from the book which touches on some the comments. "But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge in something else."

message 42: by Greg (new)

Greg | 330 comments Another point I meant to add. The story hinges on the fact that Fielding wouldn't have missed the train if Godbole hadn't spent so long with his praying. This brought to mind something from The Hill of Devi, where E.M Forster sites the frustrating reality in India where ceremonial dolls were given new expensive jewel encrusted clothes when they needed to buy new plumbing pipes for water.

message 43: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments They have their priorities.

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