What’s The Historical Context Of A Passage To India?
A Passage To India was written in 1924. It’s the oldest book included on the Time list.
One of the problems with reading a book that old, especially a novel that has historical context, is that you need to do a little extra research if you want to understand the time in which the novel is set.
That’s especially true with A Passage To India. E.M. Forster’s novel is set during the British occupation of India, which lasted from 1858 until 1947. Forster was really ahead of his time in dealing with issues of racism and cultural bias.
To recap the story, a Muslim, Indian doctor is accused of sexually assaulting an Englishwoman during a day trip to the Marabar Caves. All hell breaks loose. The doctor goes on trial, the Englishwoman begins having doubts about her accusation, and all hell continues to break loose.
The English believe they are inherently superior to the Indians. They treat the Indians like sideshows at a fair, even lining up trips to drive around and watch the Indians go about their daily lives–outlandish behavior, like walking to work and hanging clothes out to dry.
The Indians resent the English for occupying their country and becoming such a predominant part of their lives. So this particular incident only incites and unites the Indian natives against their English occupiers. It’s a tense dynamic and one that, at face value, might seem like a great story.
Does Forster deliver, at least on a scale that will satisfy this reader? We’ll see about that.
I love this quote about India from Forster, which comes from A Passage To India: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism.
“How can the mind take hold of such a country? Generations of invaders have tried, but they remain in exile. The important towns they build are only retreats, their quarrels the malaise of men who cannot find their way home. India knows of their trouble. She knows of the whole world’s trouble, to its uttermost depth. She calls “Come” through her hundred mouths, through objects ridiculous and august. But come to what? She has never defined. She is not a promise, only an appeal.”
Having never lived in India or even studied that much of Indian history, I feel like that passage describes the long history of occupation in the country. And I think it sets the table for some of the tension you see from the characters in A Passage To India.
More to come on this novel Thursday.