Symbols of the novel A Passage to India

Question: Discuss Forster’s use of symbolism in A Passage to India. Or, what part do symbols play in A Passage to India? Symbols of the novel A Passage to India


Symbolism plays a very important role in the story of A Passage to India. The use of symbols gives the novel extra meaning. The main symbols employed by Forster (1879-1970) in this book are the mosque, the caves, the temple, and the festival of Gokul Ashtami, images of Mrs. Moore, and ceremonies associated with Punkbahwala. The mosque, the cave, and the temple are used by Forster as the titles of the three sections of the novel, and each title serves as an important symbol for the idea that Foster wants to express through his particular part.

The mosque as the symbol of the bond

The mosque serves as a symbol of understanding between Aziz and Mrs. Moore, or between the East and the West.  Aziz sits in the mosque meditating upon the glory of Islam.  Mrs. Moore enters and is warned by Ariz that she must not come into the holy place without taking off her shoes. But Mrs. Moore has already taken off her shoes, and she says that she knows that God is here. Aziz feels immensely pleased by Mrs. Moore’s attitude, and this meeting and the conversation that follows serve as the basis for Aziz’s abiding reverence for the old lady. Mrs. Moore too feels strongly drawn towards the Indian, and her ling for him proves to be a lasting sentiment. Throughout this section, Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested show a friendly attitude towards the Indians, and they resent the arrogance of the English official community towards the natives. A bond is thus established between the two visiting English ladies on the one hand and the Indians on the other. Mrs. Moore says: “I like Aziz; Ariz is my real friend”. Thus, East and West seem to have met and formed a deep and lasting tie. The mosque serves as a symbol of this tie.

The caves as the paradigm of devil

Different critics have found different symbolic meanings of the Marabar Caves. The caves have been respectively described as;

  1. “bare, dark, echoing eternity, infinity, the Absolute”
  2. ” the very voice of that union which is the opposite of divine, the voice of evil and negation
  3. “womb”, the soul of India”.

In the course of an interview, Forster says that the caves represent an area in which concentration can take place. They are something to focus everything up. They engender an event like an egg”. Obviously, then, the caves have a deep significance. The caves are “matter without mind, substance devoid of imaginative appeal.” It would not be wrong to say that the caves are a symbol of evil. Their emptiness, their desolation, and their darkness convey a sense of futility. Hostility is the keynote of the whole section for which the caves serve as a heading.

Mrs. Moore as the emblem of bridge and goodness

The figure of Mrs. Moore is very important to the author’s design. She is a symbol, firstly, of the possible adjustment between the two races-the English and the Indians. In the first section of the novel, she serves as a bridge between the two races, the channel of communication. She praises her son Ronny, and though she is unable to dislodge racial prejudices from Ronny’s mind. Secondly, she is a symbol of goodness, piety, and charity. She is not only a devout Christian but a benign influence.  Although she does not actively do anything to help Aziz in the later hour of crisis, her words that Aziz is innocent make a deep impression on Adela’s mind, and help Adela considerably to arrive at a correct conclusion regarding what happened in the cave. When Aziz agrees to give up his claim for compensation from Adela, it is partly because he thinks that Mrs. Moore would not have relished the idea of his making any financial demand upon Adela. Thus, the personality of Mrs. Moore not only clarifies but refines the minds of Adela and Aziz.

Punkbahwala as the beacon of catalyst

The Punkbahwala is the first person whom Adela notices in the court. He has no bearing officially upon the trial. But there is something about him that stirs and stimulates Adela’s mind. “He had the strength and beauty that sometimes come to flower in Indians of low birth.” He is busy pulling the punkah-rope. He hardly knows that he exists, and does not understand why the court is fuller than usual. But something in his aloofness impresses Adela and rebukes the narrowness of her sufferings. Thus the sight of this low-born, humble man gives rise to a certain nobility of thought in Adela’s mind and broadens her outlook and her vision.

The Hindu festival

The description of the religious ceremonies connected with Gokul Ashtami also serves a symbolic purpose in the novel. This description certainly adds what is known as “local color” to the story, but it has a deeper meaning also. The birth of Lord Krishna signifies the emergence of love in the universe for all human beings.


Last of all, symbols are the driving force of the novel “A Passage to India” since they produce suspense in the story and upheavals the hidden message of the story.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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