A PASSAGE TO INDIA
SUBJECTS — World/India & England;Literature/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Friendship; Romantic Relationships; Justice;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect.
AGE: 12+; MPAA Rating — PG;
Drama; 1984; 163 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
This film presents the story of several individuals, some British and one Indian, who try to become friends during the British colonial occupation of India. The movie is closely based on the classic novel by E.M. Forster.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1985 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Ashcroft); Best Music; 1986 British Academy Awards: Best Actress (Ashcroft); Golden Globe Awards: Best Foreign Film; Best Original Score; Best Supporting Actress (Ashcroft); 1984 National Board of Review: Best Picture; Best Actor (Banerjee); Best Actress (Ashcroft); Best Director (Lean); 1985 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress (Davis); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Sound; Best Writing Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; 1986 British Academy Awards Nominations: Best Film; Best Actor (Banerjee); Best Supporting Actor (Fox); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Costume Design; Best Score.
Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, Alec Guinness, and Nigel Havers.
Selected Awards & Cast Here.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“A Passage to India” will acquaint children with the British colonial administration of India, the racism of the Western colonial empires, and the concept of the ultimate hostility of nature. It will permit children to vicariously explore the limits and ultimate futility of racism, the deep emotional currents unleashed by a decision to marry, the difficulties of friendship among colonial administrators and their subjects, and the need to prevent injustice. It critiques imperialism as a system that limits and warps personal relationships between the oppressed and the oppressors.
The novel is a classic of English literature. Some children who are 14 years or older will enjoy the book. These children should be encouraged to read it before they see the film. The film will then supplement the book with its vivid images of India during the British Raj. However, the book provides so much detail and nuance that it is good reading even after the film has been seen.
Regardless of whether children are going to read the book or see the film, read them the two passages quoted in the first section of the Helpful Background Section. (See below.) These excerpts will demonstrate that there really were “Turtons and Burtons” who ran the British Empire and give a graphic example of how they thought.
Before watching the movie, review the points set out in Helpful Background and have your child read the selections set out in that section. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion located below. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to bring up discussion questions relating to the film.
The Western colonial empires justified their subjugation of the colonies through the concept of racial superiority and the doctrine of “The Just Rule.” Imperialists claimed that because of the moral and technical superiority of the West it was preordained that Westerners would rule the less developed countries. The ultimate goal of colonialism, according to its proponents, was to lift the “natives” out of savagery. The Imperialist way of thinking is set forth in the following passage written in the early 1800s by British Brigadier General John Jacob:
We hold India, then, by being in reality, as in reputation, a superior race to the Asiatic; and if this natural superiority did not exist, we should not, and could not, retain the country for one week. IF, then we are really a morally superior race, governed by higher motives and possessing higher attributes than the Asiatics, the more the natives of India are able to understand us, and the more we improve their capacity for so understanding, the firmer will become our power. Away, then with the assumption of equality; and let us accept our true position of a dominant race. So placed, let us establish our rule by setting them a high example, by making them feel the value of truth and honesty, and by raising their moral and intellectual powers.
The poet Rudyard Kipling, a great apologist for British Imperialism, put it this way in his poem “White Man’s Burden:”
Take up the White Man’s Burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go bind your sons in exile
To serve your captive’s need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild-
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s Burden
And reap his old reward
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard-
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:-
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night.”
The British began trading with India in 1600, focusing on cotton, indigo, pepper, yarn, sugar, silk and other commodities. At that time, India was ruled by a decaying Muslim empire. British relations with India for 250 years were governed by the British East India Company. In 1750 there was a report that rebellious “natives” in Calcutta had placed British citizens in an airless prison. Robert Clive, a clerk for the British East India Company, mobilized British soldiers to avenge the “Black Hole of Calcutta.” He went on to seize the province of Bengal. Over the next 150 years, the British accumulated power in state after state. After a rebellion in 1857, the British Parliament incorporated India into the British Empire and ruled it directly. The British were able to conquer India for a number of reasons including: the decline of the Mughal Empire, the better arms, discipline, and esprit de corps of the British army, and the British monopoly of sea power.
The reality of British Imperial policy was much different than the theory of “The Just Rule.” The economy of India was made subject to the needs of the British economy. For example, Indian roads and railways were developed so that raw materials needed by British factories could be easily taken from the country and so that expensive finished goods from England could be conveniently distributed. Wealth was systematically drained from India through confiscatory taxes and economic subjugation. British taxes forced peasants to borrow money at high interest rates from money lenders and landlords, virtually enslaving families for generations. Industry was discouraged by Britain’s policy of one-way free trade. Europeans were favored for all government jobs and many Englishmen considered the East to be a career. The British maintained their power by pitting Hindu against Muslim in a policy called “divide and rule.” This policy exacerbated tensions between the religious factions in India and contributed to decades of communal strife, countless deaths, and the eventual partition of India into two separate countries, India and Pakistan.
E.M. Forster lived in India for two years working as a paid secretary at a Hindu court. He had Indian friends and lovers. (Forster was homosexual.) He was anti-imperialist based on a humanist critique of imperialism. This critique is argued forcefully and with telling effects in A Passage to India. Forster was a supporter of Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement of the early 1920s. Publication of A Passage to India made Forster very popular in India. During the Second World War he contributed to a BBC program called “English to India.” His participation is credited with making the program extremely popular in India.
2. Answer these questions about the Marabar Caves:
- Do they represent something different to the British than they do to the Indians?
- What effect did the caves have on Mrs. Moore? Why? How did this relate to the themes in the book?
- What happened to Miss Quested in the cave? What effect did the caves have on her? Why? How did this relate to the themes in the book?
- McBryde, the policeman, visited the caves as part of his investigation. Do you recall his reaction? How did this relate to the themes in the book? Compare his reaction to that of Mrs. Moore.
- What effect did the caves have on Dr. Aziz? Why? How did this relate to the themes in the book?
3. Please answer the following questions about Mrs. Moore. Some reviewers of the book have said that she represents the Christian, moral, sensitive side of Western culture. Do you agree with this assessment? Why did Mrs. Moore flee India and fail to stay to help Dr. Aziz, whom she believed to be innocent? In terms of this story, what is the meaning of the fact that Mrs. Moore died before she reached home and that her daughter later married Fielding? Finally, what was Forster trying to tell us through the character of Mrs. Moore from a political, philosophical and personal perspective?
4. This story has been described as multilayered. How many of them can you describe?
5. What is the meaning of the reference to the “mystery/muddle” that is India? Who sees India that way?
6. Give examples of irony in this story.
See Learning Guide to “Cyrano de Bergerac“. Some examples are: a nonexistent event at the Marabar caves leads to the main event of the story; the incident with the collar stud; the moral superiority of Dr. Aziz who does not press for damages from Miss Quested for the false accusation (after all, he can never be more than a “native”); the social function of the trip to the Marabar caves which no one really wanted and on which no one had a good time; Mr. Turton’s statement that it was social interaction between Dr. Aziz and Miss Quested that caused the trouble when, in fact, it was their brief separation in front of the caves that permitted the trouble to occur; as Mrs. Moore turns away from her Christian spirituality and sinks into despair and indifference, she becomes something of a religious icon to the Indians under the name “Esmiss Esmoore;” Aziz thought that Fielding had betrayed him by marrying Miss Quested when, in fact, Fielding confirmed his friendship with Indians and his connection with the country by marrying Estella Moore who, like her mother, has a mystical connection to India.
7. Describe Professor Godbole’s reaction to the charges against Dr. Aziz. What perspective does he have on the charges? Why does he react that way?
8. Describe Professor Godbole’s role in the story.
9. How does Forster use names in the story? Hea”slop”; “Quest”ed; Godbole; Moore (as in friend of the Muslim or in contrast to her role as the “Christian” in the story). Is this chance or is it intentional?
10. Why is the most important English official in the town called the “Collector”?
11. What does Mrs. Moore’s experience have to say about the concept that nature is fundamentally hostile to mankind? What elements in the story speak to this issue? Do you think that the forces of nature are fundamentally hostile to mankind or are they indifferent and we view it as hostile because we personalize it?
1. As long as the British Raj continued, could Englishmen and Indians be true friends? What does A Passage to India have to say about this? Can they be friends now that India is independent?
2. As described in the story, one of the difficulties that the English and the Indians had in being friends is their differences in lifestyles and in their differing interpretation of events. Give some examples of this in the story.
3. Why would Miss Quested agree to marry Ronnie Heaslop if she didn’t really love him? What role did the Marabar caves have in Miss Quested’s realization that she did not love Heaslop and should not marry him? Does this explain what happened to her in the cave? Let us in on the secret.
4. Why did the British community reject Miss Quested after she exonerated Dr. Aziz? What does this have to say about the agenda and beliefs of the Anglo-Indians?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. Describe the effects of Miss Quested’s false charges against Dr. Aziz on him and the Indian Community in general?
2. Does the fact that Miss Quested’s false charge against Dr. Aziz was the result of a mental breakdown on her part make it any less damaging to him and his community?
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
3. Analyze the garden party from the standpoint of this Pillar of Character.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
- Compare Mrs. Moore’s experience in the Marabar caves and its devastating effect on her with Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, op. 35 (Funeral March). [In the Funeral March, the higher refrain seems to capture all of the hope, accomplishment, and love inherent in humanity. All Mrs. Moore could hear, after her experience in the Marabar caves was the low relentless march of death.]
BRIDGES TO READING
The book, by E.M. Forster, is a classic of English literature.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 17, 2009.