The Importance of the Marabar Caves for Adela Quested and Mrs Moore in Edward Morgan Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2009 13 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography



1 Introduction

2 The Marabar Caves
2.1 Geographical Elements
2.2 Impact on Adela Quested
2.3 Impact on Mrs Moore

3 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

The novel A Passage to India written by Edward Morgan Forster was published in 1924 and has given rise to several discussions. Sixty Years later David Lean made a film based on Forster’s novel, which was representative of a whole range of films of this decade dealing with the construction of Englishness and trying to revive the imperial or Edwardian past in a nostalgic and Anglo-centric manner (Nischik 301)

The film is part of the so-called heritage industry thriving in Thatcher Britain and is supported by political orders and acts like the National Heritage Act of 1980 and 1983. In that time the political importance of Britain decreased and there were challenges to the national sovereignty and unity by the European integration process as well as disintegrative developments in Northern Ireland. Therefore the construction of traditional Englishness and of imperial dominance in the cultural format of quality films became one of Britain’s most important export article (Nischik 302). But those national identities such as ‘Englishness’ are cultural constructions and symbolic self-representations which come to equate social facts. In the context of social and political integration, literary texts play an important and privileged role and complement the affirmative appeal of popular films produced for the cinema (Nischik 303).

The novel A Passage to India avoids simplistic idealizations of Anglo-Indian relations and Englishness when constructing it and wants its readers to confront the truths about their inner selves and their relation to the world (Yarrow 1). Forster describes different worldviews in his novel without privileging one above another and lets his characters search for paths towards individual truths and an opening up of the deeper corners of consciousness (Yarrow 1).

The Marabar Caves play an important role in the description of different worldviews and the individual truth which the characters try to find in the novel. They “represent an area in which concentration can take place. A cavity. They were something to focus everything up: they were to engender an event like an egg” (Messenger 62). Therefore the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India can be seen as the heart of the novel, both literarily, structurally and symbolically (Messenger 62).

The echoes that the characters, Adela Quested and Mrs Moore, hear in the Marabar Caves reverberate throughout the whole novel and induce a chain reaction of events on both, the micro and the macro levels. What exactly happens or does not happen in the caves has been inconclusively debated over years, but the two English women might finally have found the ‘real India’ they were looking for and a worldview that differs from theirs (Cardoza 36).

To prove my thesis, I will first give a summary of what happens on the expedition to the Marabar Caves in Forster’s novel. Then I will demonstrate that the caves and the main city Chandrapore closely match and are based on India’s true geography to make the novel more authentic.

In the following part of my paper, I will show that the expedition to the Marabar Caves is central for the whole novel and prove that this trip confuses Adela and Mrs Moore in different ways and makes them – to a certain degree - question their thinking and worldview.

In the last part of my paper, I will evaluate my findings and summarize why the expedition to the Marabar Caves is both, structurally and symbolically important and can be seen as the key event in the novel.

2 The Marabar Caves

The core event in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India is the ‘assault’ experienced by Adela Quested in one of the Marabar Caves, where Aziz has taken Miss Quested and Mrs Moore for a day’s excursion despite his scarce knowledge of the Hindu caves. The central chapter of the section begins with Aziz, Mrs Moore, Miss Quested and a guide from the local village having climbed up the hills and being away from the rest of the expedition party. Aziz has separated himself from Adela since he lost his emotional balance because of her insensitive questioning. The narrator follows Aziz, who goes into one of the caves where he waits and lights a cigarette in order to recover his equilibrium. When he comes back, Aziz finds the guide who is alone and says that he has heard a noise, the whine of a motor car. Aziz and the guide try to get a better look at the oncoming car. At this moment Aziz runs back to tell Miss Quested that a car is approaching and realizes that she has disappeared. The guide says that she went into a cave and Aziz berates the guide for not keeping track of her. Aziz is confused and a few seconds later sees that Miss Quested had joint her friends at the base of the hill. His relief is followed by disquiet as he finds Adela’s field glasses with a broken leather strap lying at the edge of a cave (Hoeppner).

In the course of the novel, Adela Quested claims that she has been sexually assaulted in the Marabar Caves by the young Indian doctor Aziz and the subsequent court case polarizes the two communities – the Indian and the English – until Adela admits that she was mistaken and that Aziz is innocent.

After this description of the expedition to the Marabar Caves and Adela’s confusion after it, the question of what really happened in the Indian caves arises and will be answered in the next parts of the paper.

2.1 Geographical Elements

Forster remarks about his writing process of A Passage to India: “The gap between India remembered and India experienced was too wide. When I got back to England the gap narrowed, and I was able to resume” (qtd. in Childs 21).

In the novel one can clearly see that Forster has been to India and although he uses poetic license in naming locations, his references to places closely match India’s true geography. The novel’s main city, Chandrapore, is based on the Indian suburb Bankipore which is part of the city of Patna in the northern region of Bihar. Therefore one can say that the invented name Chandrapore is not far-fetched (The Geographical Presence).

The history of Indian architecture reveals that the Barabar Hills, which Forster called Marabar Hills, contain the most ancient rock-cut cave-temples of India (Sahni 65). Geologically, they are part of the Deccan plateau, which is certainly older than the Himalayas and much more older than the Indo-Gangetic plain from which it is separated by the Vindhya and the Satpura mountains (Sahni 66).

The Marabar Caves, about which Aziz knows very little, are based precisely on the Jain Temples on the Barabar Hills and are used as a retreat for Jain monks. Forster seems to have combined the Barabar and the close Nagarjuni Hills in order to create his Marabar Caves. However, the journey from Patna to Barbar is greater than the twenty-mile venture that Aziz, Adela and Mrs Moore must go through. In reality, a traveler must first go to Gaya, which is a city hundred kilometers south of Patna and is the central location for Hindus making temple pilgrimages, when wanting to visit the caves (The Geographical Presence). The last five kilometers of the trip is an isolated paths, which follows Forster’s presentation of the train and elephant journey (The Geographical Presence), “Having wandered off into the plain for a mile, the train slowed up against an elephant” (Forster 137).

The Nagarjuniya Caves are the only caves in the area which have a reported echo like the one Adela hears until Aziz is acquitted of the charge, so that one can assume that Forster’s key event in the novel happens in one of these caves. The caves all differ from one to the next, but frequently have more than one compartment. The complex layout of the caves could therefore be one of the reasons for Adela’s confusion (The Geographical Presence).

The visits to the Hindu caves are considered to be a great offering of dedication because they are not easy accessible. But Pilgrimages are very common and an immense number of people occupy the caves (The Geographical Presence). That is also the case when Mrs Moore and Adela enter them and the reason why both are overwhelmed and even claustrophobic.

Although Forster’s tour of India does not provide a complete view of the Indian culture, his personal experiences in the country influenced the novel. Because of the faiths of the various characters a lot of places of religious importance are explored and the importance of the Ganges River as well as the sacredness of the caves and the benefits of the hill stations are expressed (The Geographical Presence).



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Ruhr-University of Bochum – Englisches Seminar
Heritage Film A Passage to India England Culture



Title: The Importance of the Marabar Caves for Adela Quested and Mrs Moore in Edward Morgan Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’