AD's English Literature : The Significance of the Title of "A Passage to India" by E.M. Forster

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Significance of the Title of "A Passage to India" by E.M. Forster

“Passage to India!
 Lo, Soul; sees’t thou God’s purpose from the first?
  Passage O soul to India,
 Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.
 Passage indeed O soul to primal thought…….”-- Walt Whitman           
Walt Whitman in his poem Passage to India wants the soul to take a journey to India for further advance. The ‘passage’ that Forster explores is also a similar journey. Like Whitman’s cry: “Passage to more than India”, Forster’s novel is more than a historical novel about India; it is a prophetic work in which Forster is concerned not only with the path to greater understanding of India but also with man’s quest for truth and understanding about the universe he lives in.

The three levels of Meanings: In the little word, ‘passage’ has three levels of meaning explored through three successive levels of the story – political and racial tension, symbolic landscape and religious festivals. At a purely narrative level the novel tries to build a passage between two countries, which are divided not only geographically but also racially and politically. Unity can be achieved if people of both the races practice the principles of tolerance, understanding and kindness. At this level the theme of the novel is friendship and love.

A Passage Vs Link: At a deeper level, the novel builds a passage between the achievements of the west with the wisdom of India, between the physical and the spiritual. The ideals of the West – normality, rationality, personality, exclusion – and the ideals of India – impersonality, inclusiveness and love – are juxtaposed. India is the home of rich spiritual heritage. India is a spirit; she is a mystery. The foreigner feel baffled and lost when they encounter this real India who manifests herself in the form of a shame, a mysterious wild animal, and the cave. Even the best representative of the highly cherished ideals of Western Culture, Fielding, feels that India is a muddle. In the face of this general opinion of the Westerners, Forster stresses that India is a spirit and to understand her one should regard her spirituality.

M. Magalaner says that the word ‘passage’ is the fictional attempt to connect to find the key, the link, between one way of life and another. In the attempt to blend human reality with transcendent reality Forster takes a leap from story telling to mystical philosophy, to contemplation on the ultimate truth of life and universe. It is a passage to the mystery and the muddle India is, and the mystery and the muddle the whole life, the whole universe is.

A critical survey: In fact, the title of this novel has received various critical interpretations and the exact meaning is still being debated. According to Benita Parry, the book is an interpretation of India, traditionally a land of mysteries and muddle, and an interpretation of its impact on those who live in it and on the aliens who come to it. On the historical level, the novel traces the passage undertaken by two sympathetic British ladies to ‘see the real India’, to bridge the gap between the East and the West.

Separation of race, sex, and culture religion exist and disturb mutual unity and understanding of humans. Yet, ultimately, human, racial, cultural, religious, political relations can be improved by giving up prejudice, arrogance, pride, and feelings of superiority or inferiority.

Conclusion: The world and human life can be bettered by mutual understanding, harmony and love. Church, mosque or temple alone is not the way to salvation. What are needed are a large heart and a broad perspective. Salvation can be attained; problems can be solved by uniting and fusing the three ways – the karmayoga of the Geeta, the path of love and devotion, and the path of knowledge. Emotion and intellect, head and heart must function harmoniously. Man must follow the Gyan Marga, the karma yoga and the Bhakti Marga. That seems to be the final message and central forces of the novelist in A Passage to India. The novel is, indeed, more than a passage to India – a spiritual search of one’s self and beyond.

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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