Nature’s Flute and Forster’s Tune: Nature’s Role in E M Forster’s A Passage to India.
Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ deals with the Indian society and culture at a time when it was reeling under British rule. E M Forster has presented a panoramic view of India in his novel starting from Chandrapore to Mau in which he includes a picture of society and culture as well as nature. The role of nature in his novel is not limited to just the settings of the drama but at various stages, natural imagery in the novel also provokes varied feelings. Whether it is the Indian heat, the dark, and hollow caves or the physical settings of Mau, nature plays a powerful role throughout the novel. Forster also uses nature to make clear the various moods and feelings of his characters. The novel does not exclusively focus upon the beauty of nature but instead uses it as a symbol to portray the chaos and lack of harmony in the socio-political environment of pre-Independence India. The Marabar Caves are the beginning of a series of unfortunate events that scatter people like marbles. Everyone moves in a different direction from there. Aziz respected Adela Quested before the event but now his taste is badly spoilt and he doubts even Fielding who is among his most trusted and respected friends. An invisible force inside the Marabar Caves makes its presence felt in the first part of the novel. Whatever the force, which is most likely nature, shakes Adela violently and makes her feel like she has crumbled.
Nature constantly accompanies you everywhere in India. At several points in the novel, it even seems alive and reacting to the events like a living creature. Before the group started for the Marabar Caves picnic, nature seemed to be forecasting a creepy experience for them all. In chapter 14, Adela Quested is eager to visit the Marabar caves, the changing colors of nature seem to signify that something evil is about to happen. Nature also looks like a commentator in Forster’s work and her reaction sometimes makes the events look absolutely comic like a child making angry faces at Adela behind her back.
“As she spoke, the sky to the left turned angry orange. Colour throbbed and mounted behind a pattern of trees, grew in intensity, was yet brighter, incredibly brighter, strained from without against the globe of the air. They awaited the miracle. But at the supreme moment, when night should have died and day lived, nothing occurred. It was as if virtue had failed in the celestial fount. The hues in the east decayed, the hills seemed dimmer though in fact better lit, and a profound disappointment entered with the morning breeze. Why, when the chamber was prepared, did the bridegroom not enter with trumpets and shawms, as humanity expects? The sun rose without splendour. He was presently observed trailing yellowish behind the trees, or against insipid sky, and touching the bodies already at work in the fields.” (Chapter XIV. A Passage to India)
Nature is a powerful symbol that reflects the changes in the socio-political environment of India. She affects each character in the novel from Adela Quested to Dr. Aziz and Mrs. Moore. The only character who seems immune to these changes is Cyril Fielding who remains under control even when in deep trouble. His stability till the end and the ability to manage himself and the people around him is exceptional which makes me think he is either immune to nature or wise enough to not get caught in any tumult. When Mrs. Moore lands in India, she finds it simple and easy at the surface like the calm water of the river Ganges. Forster uses nature as a canvas to portray various sentiments and moods at different turns throughout the novel. The shiny waters of Ganges that Mrs. Moore saw from the Mosque is not less than a glimpse of paradise for her. Just one glimpse of the moonlight falling on the water makes her feel like having emerged from big trouble. Her mood was sinking when she was at the club.
As soon as she landed in India it seemed to her good, and when she saw the water flowing through the mosque-tank, or the Ganges, or the moon, caught in the shawl of night with all the other stars, it seemed a beautiful goal and an easy one. To be one with the universe! So dignified and simple.
It is not just in the Indian culture, but for all the Hindus, nature is something very sacred. This can be clearly observed in the last part of the novel when drama shifts to Mau. However, in the novel nature is a mystery as well and a cause of misunderstandings between characters. Aziz’s trial following the Marabar incident turns him into a different being. He is no more the same hospitable Indian Muslim doctor but a very different fellow. The pain and humiliation of the court trial have changed the simple and easygoing Muslim guy forever.
However, nature had played a trick on Adela inside the caves. The hollow caves had a mind-numbing effect on both Adela and Mrs. Moore. The cave incident also marks the beginning of Aziz’s transformation. Nature seems to decide the fates of the characters in the novel and launches them on new routes than the ones they planned. From the death of Mrs. Moore to the final separation of Dr. Aziz and Fielding, nature is omnipresent as an invisible force and its impact on each character is deep. Nature and the role of nature in human life are among the central themes of the novel. From friendship to separation and melancholia to love, the changing colors of nature reflect every important change in the novel. As Forster notes in Chapter 13, India is nature.
“India is the country, fields, fields, then hills, jungle, hills, and more fields.”
Cyril Fielding is the only character who seems to not mind nature too much. He has started understanding India better by the end of the novel- its culture, climate, geography, and people. Fielding is a serious character who thinks of every event with seriousness and it is why in most cases he knows the outcome but still passionately plays his role. During Aziz’s trial and the scuffle at the club, he remains serious and passionate and his presence in the novel is a relief from the toxicity of other English characters. He is a headmaster and his focus is education. He is not here for anything else like Adela, Mrs. Moore or even Ronny Heaslop. Heaslop is another character who looks unaffected by nature but his role is less prominent than Aziz or Fielding and so it is difficult to decide if nature governs him or the British government. Fielding and Aziz are the central characters in the novel but while Aziz sways like a tree and reacts like a terrified animal when approached with authority, Fielding remains calm and strong as shows at the club following the Marabar incident. He is also faster than others to connect the dots and his attempts to persuade Adela Quested do not fail. His dear friend Aziz, on the other hand, is more like a climber that grows on other trees. He tries to find support in poetry, family, relatives, friends and especially Islamic history. By the end, he too is looking serious as if he is a tree that has found its roots and despite the cruel memories of the incident, his position is now more dignified. Fielding tries to keep him from falling in every storm right from the beginning. He is just so gentle on the outside, almost like a banana tree, but by the end, he has hardened into an oak. At last, Fielding can see his truth. Aziz is like a leaf that wind will carry very far from the tree he once belonged to. The separation of friends is not as cruel as it looks. Fielding is as passionate as always and Aziz just as ready to lose control. Nature, however, is difficult to judge when the two friends part. She appears to be playing with characters somewhat cunningly like British Raaj or might be she too is feeling the agony.