A Passage to India: Discussion Prompt 1

  1. Analyse the symbolic references registered in Chapter 1 of the novel.


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5 Responses to A Passage to India: Discussion Prompt 1

  1. Hafsa K says:

    The very first and the most important symbolic reference established in Chapter 1, is the Marabar Caves on the Marabar Hills. The fact that ‘Marabar Caves’ is the fourth word in the very first line of the novel, and there is a ‘-‘ after it, also that they are described as the only ‘extraordinary’ thing in the town of Chandrapore, establishes the centrality and importance of the Caves as a symbol and as a geographical location in the novel. .
    Caves, themselves, being one of the oldest geographical units on the planet Earth, represent all that is alien and unfamiliar about the very nature of this world. The Marabar Caves literally being voids and large, empty spaces on Earth embody nothingness and emptiness, and as noted by George H. Thomson in his article, “Thematic Symbol in A Passage to India, “just as the Marabar Hills signify the material universe void of life, so the Marabar Caves signify the universe of man void of spirit.”
    These caves, with a hauntingly strange beauty and an air of menace around them, unsettles and haunts the visitors, and defy all the various forces around them, whether it be English or Indians, Hindu or Muslims to guide or rule them. Wonderfully indulged in their own solitude, they are solitary; independent of all forces. Because of this neutrality, they act as mediation points, where people ponder, think, reflect and mediate and come to realisations.


  2. Maaz H says:

    The first chapter sets setting for the whole novel, the imagery, symbols and motifs described have various meanings and connotations effectively used to convey the underlying themes of the novel.
    Forster introduces the “Marabar Caves” in the first line followed by a dash, similarly he ends the first chapter with a close reference to these caves. Hence, it sets the location of the caves and it’s significance apart from all the other symbols of the novel. This, combined with the division of the chapters, where the “caves” are occurring right before and after the temples and the mosque suggest that it acts as a void, a median between the two dominating religions of the sub-continent.
    The Chapters then provide two contrasting images of the Chandrapore City. One, being that of the “basest degree”. everything being monotonous, dull and lacking sophistication – Something the British prided themselves for. The river Ganges, being symbolic of a marred defiled holy place whos only significance now is limited to the religious books is a sarcastic attempt by Forster to highlight that even something as important as the river, where the Indians purify themselves holds no importance to this city.
    The scene changes drastically when Chandrapore is seen from the inside. It seems to be blooming with trees, – this is used to aptly highlight the superiority of nature over man. The railway tracks running parallel to the river also donate a contrasting difference between the established laws of nature and how man attempts to constantly ignore and break them.
    The sky, is a motif used by Forster to signify change or to predict the forthcoming events, conflicts and changes within the novel.


  3. Maryam Rox says:

    A Passage to India begins with a description of Chandrapore, the city where most of the story takes place, during the time of British rule in India. Chandrapore is an undistinguished city, except for the Marabar caves that are twenty miles away. so in my opinion the first and the most important symbolic reference in chapter One is that of the Marabar Caves.
    The Marabar Caves represent all that is extraterrestrial about nature. the caves are the oldest things on earth and embody bareness and obliviousness – a literal cavity in earth. they have an eccentric sense of beauty about them and also a sense of absolute peril which unsettles visitors.
    Forster does not begin the novel with the description of any particular character, but instead he begins the novel with the Marbar caves. By beginning the novel with a mention of the Marabar Caves, Forster foreshadows later events that will occur concerning the Marabar.
    Caves and that will provide the narrative turning point of A Passage to India. It is significant that This places the story in context of the town of Chandrapore in particular and the nation of India in general. Forster foreshadows the important role that the Marabar Caves will play in A Passage to India in the novel’s first line.
    Forster writes, “Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary” (line 7). Throughout the remainder of the novel’s opening section, Forster strategically places scattered references to the “extraordinary caves” to ensure that the reader does not forget about the important role that the caves will play.


  4. anusheh tauseef says:

    The very chapter starts with the word “except” that gives the reader a clear cut picture of the genre of the text that lays ahead, the city of Chandra pore is nothing above extraordinary and is simply monotonous. The river Ganges is sacred, but is described as merely passing and to the British reader it may appear filthy and not at all holy implying the fact that it is “expected to wash the excretions back into the soil” thus revealing lack of sanitation. The Ganges serves to purify the soul, but then again it is so filthy that it is contrasted with temples, it is sarcastically also referred to as a “noble river” to heighten the extent of disgust in the reader for the lack of sanitation, and the filth and dirt that is there.

    The city is described as being extremely monotonous with humanity at its basest level since the houses that the inhabitants reside in are nothing but mud built houses which imply that they are in an extremely appalling state. There are certain “fine houses” that were built at the time of the imperial while the rest are just shanty slums. The inhabitants are left to mere statistics and life for them is dull and dingy. There is no sign of beauty in the form of architecture or carvings in the bazaars and the decorations that have been mentioned show lack of aesthetic sense for there British reader and it in sinks boredom for the English critic. “The streets are mean” refers to the fact that the people are unsophisticated.

    The railway line that runs parallel to the river highlights two totally different pedestals and inculcates the theme of “the ruling and the ruled”, again the epitome of filth and dirt is mentioned here, showing that the river is associated with just refuse. There is a vivid description of the inland city that is a totally different place since the Civil Servants reside there, the reader observes a stark contrast between the lives of the civil servants and those working for or under them. A beautifully painted picture of the city is now presented and vibrant and detailed descriptions of the Civil Station are given with the essence of the natural beauty of the forest of Chandra pore. There is strong imagery of nature highlighting the fact that the beautiful creations made by god existed even before man rose, the exquisite details that are given further of the sky, the greenery, the sunset and other elements bring the chapter to a conclusive end.


  5. Kiran Idris says:

    A passage to India begins with highly symbolic Marabar caves which mark the end of chapter one as well. These caves are the only “extraordinary one’s” in the city of Chandra pore which are separated from the rest of the city by a ‘-‘. The city, itself is monotonous and “scarcely distinguishable” from filth and dirt deposited by the uncivilized people who are the “inhabitants of mud moving” and to intensify the image of the “rubbish deposited freely”, Forster uses the word “excrescence” which is a strong disapproving word for the ugliness of the city. However, this ugliness is not present in the whole city, when the Civil Station is viewed the city appears to be a “totally different place” because it stands in stark contrast to the unsightly “base level” and this is where the writer successfully plants in the theme of “the ruler and the ruled” by dividing the city into three parts from the very beginning. River Ganges which is a significant reverent place for the Hindus to purify themselves is left untidy as its religious importance is now confined to the pages of religious books. This predicts the two phrases “temples ineffective” and “unconsidered temples” because they are not valued as they should have been and are left unregistered.
    British people were very proud of their cultural sensibility that is why the undecorated bazaars was not a pleasing sight for them and were hid by the trees, which also implies that the nature overpowers men’s activities. What strikes is that the Civil Station “provokes no emotions” which has an underlying meaning the British people may be very sophisticated but they are void of emotions and sentiments just as the caves are the void between the mosque and the temples.
    Moreover, the sky presents a dominating part of the chapter as it is called the “overarching sky” which is a manifestation of unbiased nature which is the only unifying element of the different levels if the city. Earth is dependent on the sky as it “settles everything” because the very beauty of Earth “outbursts of flowers” relies upon the rain. No matter what, the earth remains a same and monotonous at all time even if it tries to changes “earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again” because it is meek and submissive to the power of “enormous” sky which gains its “strength” from the mighty sun. There is powerful imagery of nature and the colors of nature which makes the description more vivid.


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