A Passage to India: Theme Analysis
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The economic consequences of British imperialism are hinted at only briefly in the novel. This occurs when Fielding mentions to Godbole and Adela that mangoes can now be purchased in England: "They ship them in ice-cold rooms. You can make India in England apparently, just as you can make England in India" (chapter 7). This hints at the economic exploitation of India. The British claim to be in India for the good of the Indians, whereas in fact, they are there to increase their own wealth by setting up a system of trade that is entirely beneficial to themselves.
Twenty-three years after the publication of A Passage to India, Aziz's prediction at the end of the novel came true. He tells Fielding that the next European war will lead to the liberation of India. That war was World War II, and Britain, economically exhausted and facing a nonviolent nationalist movement in India led by Gandhi, granted India independence in 1947. An attempt to pacify the simmering hostility between Moslem and Hindu resulted in the creation of the mostly Moslem state of Pakistan.
But this is merely a Westerner's point of view. Against the negative portrayal of Indian spirituality implicit in the "echo" incident is a more positive vision that occurs in Part 3 of the novel. There is no mistaking the joy and affirmative value of the Hindu festival conducted at Mau, in which the birth of Lord Krishna is enacted. Once again, this is rendered largely from the outsider's point of view, since neither Aziz nor Fielding understands it, but it well represents the "mystery" of Indian spirituality that cannot be penetrated by Westerners.
The clash of cultures can be seen not only in Mrs. Moore's response to India but also in Fielding's. Fielding does not believe in God and therefore has no interest in the contrast between Eastern and Western spirituality, but nonetheless, as chapter 32 shows, he feels far more at home with the forms of Western architecture he encounters in Venice than with the temples of India. The temples represent to him merely the "muddle" of India, whereas Western architecture presents him with a view of "the harmony between the works of man and the earth that upholds them, the civilization that has escaped muddle, the spirit in a reasonable form, with flesh and blood subsisting."