Modernism: Modernism has been defined as: “Spawned from a rejection of the past, but informed closely by historical realities, modernism was a transatlantic movement that transformed the art, architecture, and literature of the twentieth century” (from the Britain and The Americas: Culture, Politics, and History Encyclopedia Reference). How does Forster’s text fall into the category of Modernism? Where do you see moments of instability in Forster’s text? How does the “rejection of the past” figure into this work? Does that facet of Modernism change when considering this work as a simultaneously and specifically “postcolonial” novel?
Colonization and British & Indian Relations: The collision between worlds as presented in the novel hugely impacts the politics, culture, and relations between the British Empire, native Indians, and the subset of Anglo-Indians. What did you notice about the power dynamics at work? How is Forster framing this colonized world? Consider the passage in ch. V that begins: “We are not out here for the purpose of behaving pleasantly…” How does this dialogue between Mrs. Moore and Ronny frame Forster’s primary project? The novel also presents various examples of performance and expectation that structure the relationship dynamic between colonizer and colonized. How do you see this issue illustrated in the polo/riding scene between the subaltern and Dr. Aziz? (towards the end of ch. VI, start at the paragraph beginning “After tea his spirits improved…”). What are the effects of colonialism on the formation of political and cultural divisions? How does the use of the English language play into the power dynamics?
Representation of Truth: The representation of truth, as a distinctly Modernist concern, is offered throughout a variety of avenues in the novel. Benita Parry writes in her 1998 essay “Materiality and Mystification in A Passage to India” that:
“…the perplexity with which the novel [A Passage to India] reconfigures the distant, alien complex of cultures that is its ostensible subject, signals an anxiety about the impasse of representation. Thus the aesthetic closure, once hailed by critics as instigated by a rage for order that issued in a coherent and integrated text, can be seen as a formal resolution to the historical conflicts, cultural chasms, social dissension, cognitive uncertainties, and experiential enigmas elaborated by a structurally, intellectually, and discursively fractured fiction” (176).
Amid her rather convoluted language in the passage above, Parry positions A Passage to India as a “formal resolution” to a number of representations, as she lists them. How do you see Forster’s representation as truthful or not? When does the novel represent more or less clearly the concept of “truth”? What is Forster suggesting about the nature of truth here? What about the representation of India itself? Parry calls this “fractured fiction.” What does that mean for this work?
Disillusionment: The disappointing experience of the difference between an expectation and its reality results in disillusionment, as we see in a number of relationships and characters in A Passage to India: Adela’s expectations for India, Britain’s expectations for Indians (or perhaps, vice versa), the Anglo-Indian’s expectation for the result of Dr. Aziz’s trial, a humanistic expectation for the role of the sun. Toward the end of the novel Forster says, “disillusionment cannot be beautiful” (first paragraph of ch. XXIV). What do you make of the role of disillusionment in the novel? How does the above quotation challenge the multiple instances of disillusionment present in the work? How does this affect how India is being portrayed as a colonized nation? Is this an important idea for Forster’s work as a whole, if so how?
The Representation of the Self: Consider the representation of the Other versus the representation of the self. Forster writes at the end of ch. XXVI, that “we exist not in ourselves, but in terms of each others’ minds.” Why might Forster have chosen Fielding to be the character to proxy this phrase? One Modernist concept strewn throughout literary works of the period is the idea that the consciousness of the self is created through an interrelation with the consciousnesses of others and the world around the individual. It may be helpful to think about this idea as shown in other Modernist works you may have read: Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Conrad’s frame narrator in Heart of Darkness. Is this Modernist paradigm problematized when applied to a colonized figure? Frantz Fanon writes in his 1952 essay “The Fact of Blackness”:
“I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects.
Sealed into that crushing objecthood, I turned beseechingly to others. Their attention was a liberation, running over my body suddenly abraded into nonbeing, endowing me once more with an agility that I thought I had lost, and by taking me out of the world, restoring me to it. But just as I reached the other side, I stumbled, and the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the other fixed me there, in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by a dye. I was indignant; I demanded an explanation. Nothing happened. I burst apart. Now the fragments have been put together again by another self” (Fanon 109).
As an example of a colonized voice, albeit falling somewhat later in the century, how does Fanon contribute to your understanding of self as presented in Passage?
Language, Subjectivity and the Other: Modern psychoanalytic theory argues that language constitutes subjectivity, while the Other, through language, simultaneously works to construct subjectivity. In other words, there’s an intimate relationship between language, subjectivity, and the Other. Forster’s language used by and for both British and Indian characters works to create and shape how the characters enact particular discourses. Consider the specific language that characters use to talk about each other and themselves. Can you find particular examples in the text that illustrate this utilization of language? What do you make of Forster’s projection of differentiated characters through the use of language?
Religion and Collectivism & Individuality: Hinduism, crudely described, is a religion that values forms of collectivity as a mode of understanding the state of belonging in a society, as opposed to Christianity that proposes that they “must exclude something from [their] gathering [in heaven]…” (last sentence of ch. IV). Broadly, what is the role of religion in this postcolonial context? Considering Hinduist collective philosophy as explained above, how can we understand the (dis)placement of identity of the people in the novel? How do we understand Forster’s characters — Fielding, Mrs. Moore, Aziz, Adela? With this in mind, do you think Forster is suggesting that the world could be a collective rather than a more individualized space? More specifically, the wasp, as a symbol for identity as explored at the end of ch. III, serves as an insignificant being for Christianity and an example of positive existence for Hinduism despite its marginality. What does it mean for Mrs. Moore, a sympathizing white character to other religions, to sing and empathize with this wasp?
Environment: It’s evident that Forster intended for the environment to play a significant role in the novel. Keeping in mind our discussion on postcolonialism and environmentalism, what is that role here? What symbols are we reading in Forster’s representation of India? What type of imagery is conveyed and to what end? Consider the snake (middle of ch. XIV), the wasp (very end of ch.III and ch. IV), etc. Specifically, the caves figure as a primary representation of the environment. Parry writes, “…Caves are a figure of absence and silence which replicates the inscrutability of the East within the western structure of the surrounding text” (185). Do you see this “absence and silence” elsewhere in representations of the environment in Forster’s work? How do the caves function as a Modernist device in the novel?
Architecture: Architecture plays a powerful role in the text. What is the function of the mosques, caves, and temples? Consider the specific language used to describe these spaces. What is the function of each of these spaces and how does that play into the larger questions the text raises? What is the importance of the juxtaposition of the “Caves” section to the overtly religious associations drawn from the headers for “Mosque” and “Temple”? Parry writes,
“As with their disappearance, the catastrophic entry of Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested into an untranslatable sphere is inseparable from the cultural constraints on their capacity to confront the otherness of meanings both immanent in and attached to India’s material spaces and forms. That these same restrictions are also apparent in a rhetoric at once convoluted, ambiguous and opaque, is testimony to the novel’s admission of its own incapacity to bring this alien realm into representation” (187).
How does Parry’s argument about “spaces and forms” contribute to your understanding of how architecture both plays a role and is presented in Forster’s work? Do you see any other ways the architecture functions in this text beyond Parry’s assertions? What is the relationship between architecture and postcolonialism, and/or the function of architecture in postcolonial contexts?
Women & Gender: Consider the role of women and the feminine in the novel in relation to their male counterparts. Is there more than one archetype of womanhood in the novel — age (Mrs. Moore and Adela), class, faith, etc.? In the beginning of the text, how do women function to ease the colonial divide between British and non-British individuals? When the rape charges surface, how does the role of the British woman shift? How does her relationship to the colonized alter? Why does the climax of the novel have to be the supposed rape of a British woman? Is the ramification of colonial destruction paralleled to the physical abuse of the female body? If so, why? Is there something else at play here? Is it emotional or physical, or both?
Mechanics: How does style factor into the larger concepts of the novel? The POV is situated with multiple subjectivities — think free indirect discourse or omniscient narrator — and we hear the voice and perspective of many different characters. Does this lead to an understanding of subjective truth? Understanding of the different identities of colonized and colonizer? Can we understand the themes above better through an examination of Forster’s form and aesthetic style? Sometimes the narration reveals itself as fractured, which is a Modernist approach. What might this technique serve?
We wrote these questions and realized that we hadn’t integrated the specific idea of “postcolonialism” in the questions themselves. We talked about discourses, Others, identities, representation, but we hadn’t thought about postcolonialism. We went back through to specifically integrate “postcolonialism,” but we’re curious – why do you suppose, with this novel, that this was our experience? Was it yours? What was your impression of the text as a postcolonial narrative? What voices are privileged? What was your experience as an audience or your ideas about the audience for which Forster wrote? What do you make of Forster’s single instance of breaking the fourth wall (so to speak) when he addresses the reader (beginning of ch. XXIII, paragraph beginning “What had spoken to her…”)?