E.M. Forster

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
A Political Commentary


[In this essay, D.S. pays attention to how E.M. Forster expresses his political views in an overt manner in regards to the British occupation of India through the use of characterization.]


In his various travels throughout the world, E.M. Forster found himself spending some time in India. During this time, he became well aware of the constant conflict between the British Raj and the Indian nationalists. The struggles he witnessed while in India are commemorated and recorded in A Passage to India, which also flaunts Forster’s political opinion on the issue. The story takes place around the village of Chandrapore, and follows the interaction between the British citizens and Indian natives; the main conflict of the novel occurs between Dr. Aziz, an Indian, and Miss Quested, a recent British immigrant.

The corruption and oppression surrounding India is woven through the novel through use of its characters. One such character that manifests the condemning British influence is City Magistrate, Ronny Heaslop. Forster uses the character of Heaslop to portray the malicious effect that British rule has not only over Indians, but its own citizens as well. Heaslop’s ill-natured views toward India are summed up in a line he says to Miss Quested, his sympathetic fiancée, “We’re not pleasant in India, and we don’t intend to be pleasant. We’ve got something more important to do” (Forster 50). This represents the uncaring British regard toward Indians, and the shamelessness of the obvious disinterest that the British have in Indians. Forster sets up people like Heaslop to appear as antagonists in the novel, therefore expressing his own disapproval toward British colonial rule. However, Forster also develops Heaslop’s character with the notion that his irreversible attitude toward Indians is not really his own fault, but the fault of the British Empire. Forster has criticized Britain in other previous novels as well, but A Passage to India is exceptionally harsh because its entire plot revolves around the blatant political clash between the British and the Indians. Forster comments on the pettiness of the entire issue with this line, “It matters so little to the majority of living beings what the minority, that calls itself human, desires or decides” (114); Forster recognizes the vanity of the British for occupying India, and chooses to incorporate a line that disagrees with the sentiment that the British should rule over India.


Yet, despite the seething criticism that Forster intends to make with this novel, there are more congenial British characters in it. Mrs. Moore, Heaslop’s mother, represents the mindset behind what Forster believes would solve India’s problems. Upon the reader’s first introduction of Mrs. Moore, her sweet simplicity and goodness foreshadows her purpose as a character: “’I think you are newly arrived in India.’ ‘Yes—how did you know?’ ‘By the way you address me’” (21). The previous quote is a small piece of a conversation held by Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore upon their first meeting. The interesting thing about this quote is how Aziz recognizes Mrs. Moore’s recent arrival simply by the way in which she speaks to him; clearly, this means that India has a profound effect on the English, and the effect is not a most welcome one. Mrs. Moore is not affected by British society in this novel, and generally keeps her sympathy for the Indians throughout the whole novel. She represents Forster’s image for a better India because of her disregard for race and ethnicity, which allows her to be close friends with Aziz. However, after the controversial visit to the Marabar Caves, she becomes apathetic and lethargic toward everything. A trial ensues as a result of the unjust accusations made against Aziz, and although a brief testimony on the part of Mrs. Moore would clear up everything, she abruptly flees from India. Despite this fault of her character, Aziz still holds her with the highest regard, and views her as the epitome of a sympathetic Briton. Mrs. Moore’s symbolic purpose is more important than her actions in the novel mostly because, as described above, not all of her actions had good intentions behind them. Her symbolic purpose is to represent the unity of India without British interference. Mrs. Moore is naturally good-natured, yet the representation that Forster assigns to her is greater than she as a character is.


Because of Forster’s travels and experiences in India, he naturally based a character upon his own personality and opinions, and that character is embodied in Cyril Fielding. Fielding is a professor in Chandrapore who generally does not associate himself with the typical British society in India. Like Forster, his views on Indians and India are different than the societal norm, therefore allowing him to represent the type of Briton whom is sympathetic and understanding of the Indian plight, if not just disgusted by the British sentiment. As a result of his profession, he allows the natives a chance to learn how to think for themselves, abandoning the shackles of the British Empire. He considers Aziz to be one of his closest friends, and shows full support for him during his infamous trial against Miss Quested, yet after the trial, his character changes to resemble one less similar to Forster and more similar to a British man. Although the narrator of A Passage to India is third-person omniscient, a line regarding Fielding’s change after the trial seems to come from Aziz, “Would he to-day defy all his own people for the sake of a stray Indian?” (319). Perhaps the connotation behind this line is the cause of his alteration, however, for the majority of the novel, Fielding proves to be loyal to all Indians, preferring them over his own race. He represents the individual whom has not yet been perverted by the British Empire, while someone like Heaslop represents the obedient masses.


Another individualist in the novel can be discovered in Adela Quested, who although becomes involved in a questionable situation, is still sweet-tempered toward Indians like Mrs. Moore and Fielding. An educated woman, she questions the British reign over India, and insists on being exposed to the “real India”, not the act that the natives put on for tourists. Although she is considered to be silly and childish by the other British inhabitants because of her interest in India, it is in earnest that she wishes to understand this mystical country. She represents the hesitation and apprehension of newcomers who come to India, not because of fear of the Indians, but questioning of British rule. Yet despite Miss Quested’s amiable relationships with the Indian people, she falsely accuses Aziz of assaulting her on their trip to the Marabar Caves. This causes a great scandal in the town of Chandrapore, in a typical battle of India v. Britain. Aziz’s reputation is irreparably tarnished because of the charges made against him, and although he is acquitted in the trial, riots break out all over Chandrapore. Miss Quested realized that she made a mistake in her accusation, and admits so on trial; her British peers, whom were just beginning to like her, are appalled by her actions and break off all connections with her. Fielding, a man who never cared much for Miss Quested, sided with the Indians yet admired Miss Quested for her great courage to be able to admit the truth; that sole act encompasses Miss Quested’s purpose as a character.


The final character of importance in A Passage to India is one who represents the Indian viewpoint, Dr. Aziz. Characterized by fleeting emotions, childish behaviorisms, and quirky contradictions, one might say that Forster fed into typical Indian stereotypes when coming up with the character of Aziz. However, Forster merely chose those characteristics to exaggerate his allegory. Aziz represents the general Indian sentiment that the British oppress the Indians; however, conversely, he also befriends many of the British living in Chandrapore. The many contradictions that Aziz portrays throughout the novel are what develop his character. One of the major contradictions he is faced with in the novel is his love for India. After the end of the trial, he is struggling with this thought because he finally realized once and for all that the British who control India don’t care for the Indians, yet at the same time, it is his country; this all culminates up to the line, “Half closing his eyes, he attempted to love India” (268). Similar to Fielding, Aziz started off as a genial Indian, who believed that the two races living in India could get along well; however, after the false accusations that led to his trial, he became disillusioned with the British, and believed that Indians should be separated from them. He even led himself to dislike Fielding, who was one of his supporters; this dramatic transformation symbolizes Forster’s conclusion that British occupation of India is condemning for all who are exposed to its oppressive regime.


E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India relies on the development of its characters to accurately portray its meaning as a political allegory. Sympathetic to the Indians, Forster attempts to have the reader question the British reign of India, similar to some of the characters in the novel. It promotes individualism, among one of its main themes, adding to the overall theme of the novel: backlash against the British Empire.


[D.S., 2012]

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
A Playful Jest at British Society


[In this essay, D.S. analyzes various passages that contribute to the overall purpose of the novel, a critique of English society.]


In one of his first published novels, E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View differs quite distinctly from his other novels. The underlying themes of feminism and romance make this novel quite light-hearted and different from Forster’s other more dramatic works. However, the social commentary that inevitably surrounds this work is just as persistent as any other Forster piece. The sequence of events and the characters’ reactions to them reveal Forster’s opinion of petty British society, masked by a story of a young girl entangled with the pressures of love, expectation, and upbringing.


A Room with a View is entrenched with quotes that contribute to the overall theme of the novel, most notably starting with a line from the priest, Mr. Beebe, “’It is so difficult—at least, I find it difficult—to understand people who speak the truth’” (Forster, 10). This contradictory thought is the foundation upon which Edwardian England is based on. No member of high society ever actually spoke their mind, so the thought of one doing as such seems both ridiculous and ill-bred; the quote above was prompted from a peculiar son and father pair whom seemed to indeed speak the truth. A similar line of thought is found in a quote some pages later in reference to the same people, “It is hard when a person you have classed as typically British speaks out of his character” (74). The line truly speaks out against the common Briton because it classifies all the British as being the same. Forster here is expressing his belief that no typical British man or woman can possess unique, individual characteristics that separate themselves from everyone else; Forster is an avid individualist, therefore condemning the sort of behavior that the British usually take part in, with all conversation safely scripted and all scandal carefully concealed.


Because half the novel takes place in Italy, and the other half in England, a comparison can be drawn between the societal differences of the two locations. The main protagonist, Lucy, comes upon the realization of how different the two places are:

Life, so far as she troubled to conceive it, was a circle of rich, pleasant people, with identical interests and identical foes. In this circle, one thought, married, and died. Outside it were poverty and vulgarity for ever trying to enter, just as the London fog tries to enter the pine-woods pouring through the gaps in the northern hills. But, in Italy, where any one who chooses may warm himself in equality, as in the sun, this conception of life vanished. (127)
Another one of the minor themes in this novel is antiquated thought versus modern thought. Lucy, one of the modernists, has views similar to Forster’s in the sense that she believes in not only equality of the sexes, but also equality of the classes. She struggles with these ideals for the majority of the novel, coming from a family stuck in medieval philosophy. The conflict that Lucy goes through parallels the conflict of the entire novel; Forster attempts to reveal British society for what it really is, a poorly acted play, while also spreading the virtues of individualism. Although Lucy concludes the story by marrying, she actually defies British societal standards by doing so; she marries the man that she loves, not the one she is expected to wed. Forster comments on the difficultly of maintaining one’s own self in this time period, “Mrs. Vyse was a nice woman, but her personality, like many another’s, had been swamped by London, for it needs a strong head to live among many people” (140). The British are reduced to robotic pleasantries, according to Forster, simply from being exposed to England itself.

In this particular era of English society, the more one conceals their emotions and true feelings, the more elevated and mature they are considered to be, “But Lucy had developed since the spring. That is to say, she was now better able to stifle the emotions of which the conventions and the world disapprove” (188). This is a continuation of Forster’s sentiment that the manner in which the British behave is absurd, by ironically referring to this behavior as “development.” The last major criticism that Forster includes in his novel before ending it with optimistic flair stands as follows, “Waste! The word seemed to sum up the whole of life” (229). Now with this line, Forster is not saying that all of life is waste, but rather insinuating that the type of life which the British lead is a waste. Their efforts are put into making sure they give off the correct image, rather than contributing to the world through some useful employment.


Although Forster uses A Room with a View to express his opinion on the pretenses associated with British society, the story behind it is one of romance and growing up. The work could be analyzed from that view point as well, but the true meaning of it is found by realizing that it is meant as a commentary on Edwardian England. Forster carries this theme of critique through many of his other works, as well, yet none are done quite so amiable as it is carried out in A Room with a View.


[D.S., 2012]