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Culture Wars: Forster's A Passage To India

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Introduction

Culture Wars: Forster's A Passage To India In this age of cross cultural considerations in everything from education to the design on Kleenex boxes, it is refreshing to find a novel that incorporates the issues inherent in a situation where cultures are necessarily brought together. E. M. Forster's A Passage To India, brings the art of narrative to the rescue of a subject that seems to have been beaten to death (perhaps because it continues) in the seventy-seven years since the book was published. The book is a study in cross cultural communication patterns set in a time when Imperialism made the subject a matter of class distinction, stereotypes, ignorance of norms and an attempt to bring the cultures together enough to have a peaceful interaction between the two. The story manages to keep the reader within the plot and subplots by manipulating the point of view. It is a subtle technique that reveals the core of the established conflicts. It is first and foremost a critique of the imperial disequalibrium that is sometimes known as justice and sometimes as oppression - depending on the point of view. Forster explores the meaning of the experience through cross-cultural friendship and an imperial legal crisis. In the end, the friendship, like the Imperialism that brought them together, continues - albeit on a make shakier foundation since the fundamental ethics of each side had been questioned and found to be less than perfect, thus making it difficult for the two cultures to comprehend each other and fuse. In A Passage to India, Forster demonstrates how a lack of ethics, cultural similarity, and cultural understanding on both sides, British and Indian, causes a failure of the cultures to connect and maintain steady communication. The book is divided into three sections, Mosque, Caves, and Temple, which correspond to the tempo of the book (and the weather in the setting) ...read more.

Middle

Nothing sanitary" (62). Aziz has generalized from his one acquaintance to the entire population of Hindus. His disregard for Hindus continues throughout the book. "I wish they did not remind me of cow-dung," Aziz thinks of a Hindu interlocutor, who in turn thinks of him, "Some Moslems are very violent" (256). The racial prejudices and stereotypes in Forster's novel cross all of the boundaries and are interrelated as well. Thus, by stereotyping across and between the cultures, the British and the Indians are keeping the facts at a distance, which makes connection very difficult because of the lack of truth involved with generalizations. Another reason the British and Indians have a hard time connecting is because each culture misunderstands the other. A certain number of cultural blunders is to be expected in any situation where two very different sets of people come together. Perhaps the difference in the book and in the situation of Imperialistic rule, is that one does not attempt even to learn the cultural traits of the other. The British, for example, seem oblivious to the fact that the Indians have a thriving culture, complete with norms that are felt to be of extreme importance. Without respect for the Indian culture, which creates a lack of understanding, there is little hope for the British and Indians to communicate and connect without mishaps. For instance, when Aziz and Hamidullah go to dinner, Aziz receives a note summoning him to the home of Major Callendar, his superior at the hospital. He is upset because the Major did not have the courtesy to explain what it is he needs - merely orders Aziz to appear. Once he finally arrives, he finds that the Colonel has left without providing instructions. Other than the obvious blatant disregard of general polite behavior, this also breeches the cultural norm of Indian individualism. Because it is on a personal level, there is little consequence outside of the indignation that is felt by Aziz and a later confrontation between the two men. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, it must be noted that although the class distinctions in Indian society are mentioned in the book, none of the Indian characters is a member of the lower classes which may have been the most traumatized by British rule. However, obviously, the two cultures view British rule very differently, thus further distancing the cultures. Time is also very different for the Indian than for the British. There is a need within the British culture of the book to rush the events, to 'get things done' that is not seen in the Indian way of reacting. The trial, for instance, takes place immediately. The summons to Aziz requests his presence immediately. Mrs. Moore and Adela want the Indians to respond to them immediately. While understanding that this is a British cultural element, the Indians do not seem to be in as much as a rush. For example, when Aziz and his friend meet for dinner they manage to take a walk, talk to the women in Hamidullah's household and share conversation before they are actually seated for dinner. The differences in thinking are also numerous. One example would be the reaction of the British to Indian art and music. The British guests at the tea do not appreciate the singing in the same way that the Indians do - neither the music itself or the lyrics. This is seen in several instances in the book, including at the Hindu festival at the end. Thus, a lack of understanding of thinking between the two cultures is another reason why the two cultures have problems connecting. The interaction between cultures can be seen on many levels and in many different ways. E. M. Forster has provided a fictional narrative that employs many of the cultural variables between the British and the Indian ways of life in an effort to bring across the realization that the stereotypes, the reliance on power relationships, generalizations, and the lack of acceptance by the British of Indian cultural norms led to the inability of the two cultures to connect. ...read more.

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