Characterization in Forster’s A Passage to India
E M Forster takes the readers on a cultural tour through India and shows its various aspects in his novel. While the novel is mainly a criticism of the British rule, it also discovers other aspects of life in India which otherwise according to Forster is a muddle. The three parts Mosques, caves and temples explore the Hindu and Muslim sides of India as well as the divisions among the Hindus. One of the most important strengths of the novel is its characterization.
The characters in Forster’s A Passage to India are life like and engaging. The author has chosen a variety of characters to represent the variety found in India. However, not just the Indian characters but the British too represent various personality types and outlook. The primary characters in his novel include Dr Aziz, Cyril Fielding, Mrs Moore, Adela Quested Ronny Hyslop and Professor Godbole. E M Forster begins the novel with an exploration of the Muslim part and that is why the first part is titled Mosque. Aziz is the central character in this part who is a devout and educated Muslim. Initially, he is very hospitable to the British but soon after an accident at the Marabar caves finds out that the English cannot be made friends. Much of Forster’s novel is full of dialogues as in a drama and so are his characters — dramatic.
The British rule in India is like a comical drama and so are most of the British characters whom Forster ridicules for their comic attitude. Among them, there are a few who represent a different and somewhat friendly attitude. Cyril Fielding is the most balanced character who remains a very good friend of Aziz for most part of the novel. Aziz seems a simple character at first but soon readers discover that his emotions are complex like most Indian Muslims who find it difficult to confide in others. Characters like Aziz, Mahmoud Ali, Hamidullah and Nawab Bahadur help readers understand the Muslim part of India which got separated with the partition. The Muslims think no one understands them. If the British are villains then Hindus too are difficult to believe.
The Indian subcontinent is divided along several lines. Even among Hindus there are so many sects and clans and that is why Forster calls India a muddle. This muddle is evident in the Indian emotions too. Whether it is Aziz, Hamidullah, Godbole or the other Indian characters, things are not as straight forward with them as they appear. Still these characters are strong and Mrs Moore and Adela Quested end up impressing readers despite their immature understanding of India. Cyril Fielding seems a representation of Forster’s own outlook and is kind and open minded in his approach. Even when Aziz has started suspecting him, he knows there is a rift between the two but cannot help loving his old friend. He is a character with strong morale and therefore is hated by his own at a point when he dares stand for the natives. However, he wins and at last is assimilated back into the pack. Forster has also used these characters to show the real cunning face of the Britishers. Ronny Heaslop is the epitome of ugly British mindset who cannot think fair of the natives. He and the others in his pack, the Turtons and Burtons are comic and love playing Gods to the natives. Through several episodes or chapters Forster brings out all things comical about these English men and women.
Forster’s art evokes very clear pictures of the British ruled India. Characters and settings are two very important components in any novel. While the setting varies from one part to another in Forster’s work, the main characters are still the same and despite their varying attitudes and outlook, they do not lack depth. These characters help understand the Indian social and cultural fabric and its varying colors. Forster can see inconsistency in the Indian picture. Had it not been so the British would not have ruled it for as long. Still, the thing that Forster brings out is that these poor and simple Indians have everything that the British lack.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on January 27, 2018.