Passage To India Essay, Research Paper
Esmiss Esmoor and the East
In E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India, characters often seem grouped into one of two opposing camps: Anglo-Indian or native Indian. All the traditional stereotypes apply, and the reader is hard pressed to separate the character from his or her racial and ethnic background. Without his “Britishness”, for instance, Ronny disappears. However, a few characters are developed to the point that they transcend these categories, and must be viewed as people in their own right. Perhaps the most interesting of these is Mrs. Moore. Not only do ethnic boundaries not usually apply to her, but these divisions often blur in her case. Mrs. Moore straddles the line between conventional East and West in a number of different ways, and in some cases leaves both behind completely.
From her very first appearance in the book, Mrs. Moore is an atypical Westerner. The only impressions of Anglos that the reader has yet gathered are the complaints of Hamidullah and his friends at the dinner party, Major Callendar’s abrupt summons of Dr. Aziz and the rudeness of Mrs. Callendar and Mrs. Lesley. Mrs. Moore materializes from nothing in the dark mosque, an apparition in a place where no whites ever bother to visit. She has respected the native customs by removing her shoes, and startles both Dr. Aziz and the reader by calmly explaining “God is here” (20). Right from her introduction, she is clearly not the average Englishwoman, and goes on to have a meaningful conversation with Aziz. Her considerate behavior might at first appear to be mere ignorance of local standards or inexperience in India, but in her subsequent conversations, Mrs. Moore demonstrates that she holds an entirely different view on life than Ronny and the other Anglos, or even Adela. For her, “God is love”, and people have been “put on this earth in order to be pleasant to each other” (51). There is no nonsense about following one’s orders or keeping inferiors in place or any other English notions. Mrs. Moore is Christianity in its purest form, without the dogma acquired throughout the centuries and embraced wholeheartedly by her contemporaries. As even the philanthropist missionary Mr. Sorley says, “We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing” (38). Mrs. Moore feels a spiritual connection with all of humanity that is alien to her English companions.
Aziz forms an unusually deep attachment to Mrs. Moore almost instantly. He feels an affinity for her that is difficult to explain; it is rooted, though, in the pronouncement “Then you are an Oriental” (23). He says this after she reveals that she does not logically judge people, but only knows whether she likes them or not. Aziz, however, is viewing Mrs. Moore through the same dichotomy that he instinctively hates, but within which has been trained to operate. There is no such thing as an Oriental in the absolute, and no viewpoint that defines one. For convenience’s sake, Western civilization has created an Other as counterpart to itself, and a set of characteristics to go with it. Aziz has been raised in a world of “us” and “them”, and meeting an Englishperson with the perspicacity to see through these illusions is a remarkable occurrence for him. He recognizes that she is not “them”, and bound by the idea of categories, automatically makes her “us”. This distinction, though, does not diminish the traits that Mrs. Moore does share with the Indians. Her belief that God is the good within us, manifested through human loving actions, is akin to Godbole’s assertion that “All perform a good action, when one is performed . . when good occurs . . . it expresses the whole of the universe” (177-178). The universality of her ideas, the sense of God within and around and above and everywhere is very different from the Church’s emphasis on division between sacred and profane. Modern Christianity rests on the cleavage of self and divine, and Mrs. Moore has abandoned that.
However, in many ways Mrs. Moore is neither East nor West as traditionally defined. Her pursuit, simple as it may sound, is to “be one with the universe” (208). Her initial approach to this seems to suggest a more Eastern view, finding worth in people, places and experiences without trying to quantify their value, and believing in universal love as the highest governing power. The Marabar experience, however, puts her in another sphere entirely, beyond even the most enigmatic philosophies of Godbole. The professor seems to have undergone a similar experience in his past; Aziz observes that “a power he couldn’t control capriciously silenced his mind” (76) when it came to the subject of the Marabar. For some reason, though, he was not affected by it as Mrs. Moore was, perhaps because he had the backing of a sympathetic religion to pull him back to conventional reality, or perhaps because she was at such a crucial juncture in her mind and in her life. As Forster says, “She had come to that state where the horror of the universe and its smallness are both visible at the same time” (207). Her perspective has gone beyond race, class, species, and even planet to a place where all are one and the same. This is a expanding of her original philosophy to bring everything in the universe onto the same scale, not just the varying shades of humanity. If everything is equal to everything else, then nothing is really anything, and “Boum, it amounts to the same” (208). Whether due to her age or her ability to view reality independently, free of the ideas and influences of others, Mrs. Moore has arrived at an absolute extreme that no-one else in the book (English or Indian) can attain. Godbole and Adela have both heard the echo, but either could not or would not absorb its full impact.
It is fitting that Esmiss Esmoor becomes a legend to be periodically revived in Chandrapur. Throughout the book, she is described with an aura of otherworldiness – she is East, she is West, she is something else entirely. She even dies at sea, in transit between the two worlds, giving the sense that her spirit still wanders back and forth. Mrs. Moore journeys between eternity and transience, society and universal humanity, the petty reality of an old lady and the immense reality of a world without end and without meaning, and in the end escapes all of them.
1) Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich: New York. 1924.