'Not Yet . . . Not There'

Breaking the Bonds of Marriage in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Illinois Wesleyan University asainsb@iwu.edu
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E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India is carefully wrought, formally balanced, stylistically elegant, and maddeningly, deliberately opaque where one wishes most for clarity. The novel recounts what seem to be two only marginally related narratives – the story of Fielding and Aziz and the story of Adela and Ronny. The question, ‘whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman’, the subject of the novel’s first conversation, and which presages the story of Fielding and Aziz, continues long after the story of Adela and Ronny – until, in fact, the book’s closing lines.1 Yet in spite of the novel’s carefully self-conscious structure, it is not at all clear why the answer to this framing thematic question, whether or not Indian and English men can be friends, should be explored in the context of the most conventional of all the conventions of the Anglo-Indian domestic novel: a young girl’s coming to India in order to marry.2 Nor is it clear why friendship between Indian and English men should turn on Aziz’s excursion with Mrs Moore and Adela to the Marabar Caves, although what happens there, and the aftermath, determines the course of friendship between Fielding and Aziz. Why, we might ask, do women emerge at the centre of a question about men? Why is the barrier separating Indian and English men posed in terms of English women’s response to India?

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