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A Passage to India - A discussion of the opposing cultures and what divides them.

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Introduction

A Passage to India: A discussion of the opposing cultures and what divides them. In E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, identities and the labels placed on identities create a vicious environment in which little can be achieved. The English colonists and their Indian subjects are on polar sides of the struggle. The Indians acknowledge that labels are subject to limitation and can blind one to critical differences. The English, however, insist on assigning a label to all components of their lives. A tiny and unidentifiable green bird symbolizes this struggle between these two groups, as they are embroiled in the "muddle" of India. The indeterminate green bird hints at the irreconcilability of the two cultures. India's mystery, just as the bird's, cannot be explained when approached from two wholly different methodologies. Miss Adela Quested and Ronny Heaslop argue over the green bird, and in doing so, illustrate how the English handle identity. Foremost, it is imperative to the two that they identify what kind of bird it is. ...read more.

Middle

Yet, she is unable to determine between fact and opinion as "she accepted everything Aziz said as verbally true." (76) Just as Ronny is unable to name the bird, Aziz will be unable to explain India. Adela makes the mistake that a label will suffice to create understanding. However, "nothing in India is identifiable" (91) and by asking the very question Adela has already started a ripple that will cavitate through picture which she asks to see. For example, one cannot study water in any detail without placing oneself into the water. However, by entering the water, one will have created a ripple and the water has forever changed. It is an unreasonable hope to observe an experiene without concurrently changing or interacting with it. Studying birds is much the same; one cannot study the bird if it is unaccustomed to ones presence and while one appears foreign to the environment the bird will not act as it would naturally. Therefore, as long as the English neither assimilate into their environment nor attempt any reconciliation with it, they will be unable to appreciate it. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is physically impossible to offend a native. In Ronny's logic, if he were told he had been rude to one of the British he would be ashamed and apologetic; with regard to Indians, he simply does not see his transgressions. In the same capacity, because he is British he is unable to vary in his treatment of Indians; "the man who doesn't tow the line is lost." (190) The English do not understand there is a problem with the way the two cultures interact. From the English perspective, the natives are brutish and almost worthless. From the Indian perspective, the English are rude and unaccommodating. It is unfortunate that the two groups cannot find a middle ground. Nevertheless, Forster's description of these troubled dealings is practically flawless. If the English and the Indians are able to find a common ground and communicate with each other, it is likely that the two cultures could co-exist in Forster's world. The green bird will remain indecipherable to the English and Indian to the Indians. India requires the acceptance and embracing of variation; when the English realize this, their interaction will improve, not before. ...read more.

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