Essay on Modernism in Forster's A Passage to India

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Modernism in Forster's A Passage to India

When considering the novels of E.M. Forster, it is natural to recall the reserved landscapes of the Merchant and Ivory cinematic versions. Gauzy images - green hills, languorous boat rides, tender embraces - these impressions, cousins, really, to Jane Austen's plots and settings, are remembered as period pieces seldom associated with the literary experimentation of Virginia Woolf or the winsome angst of the lost War poets. It seems - does it not? - the movies end happily with the appropriate pairing of couples. But Forster should not be lumped in with representative Edwardian literature or with cinematic bliss. In order to analyze the worth of Forster's literary contribution,
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A major concern of A Passage to India is the cultural clash between imperial British and native Indians. Forster presents grave social and political commentary with his depiction of the wardens of the British Empire, and he captures the public and personal chaos evoked by the unraveling practice of conquest and domination. Where a pre-Conrad novel might approve of men willing to leave the comforts of home to convert pagans or to forge new paths toward wealth and colonization, Forster does not. Instead, the text mocks the chilling arrogance of such a notion and shows how such folly cannot be sustained.

Even Adela, who arrives in India with pure intentions, slips gradually from her higher purpose to seek the "real India" into the herd mentality of people like her fiancé Ronny and the other British colonialists who are members of the whites-only Club. In the novel's opening pages, native Indians discuss the recurring phenomenon of "acquired disillusionment," foreshadowing the novel's later moral crisis by stating, "They all become exactly the same, not worse, not better...And I give any Englishwoman six months" (7).

Indeed, it takes only a couple of months for Adela to fall into a dizzying fog regarding what is truth and what is only illusion. Her ears are so plagued by a relentless echo that

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