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Essays Marabar Caves Symbolism

The Important Role of the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India

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The Important Role of the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India

During the fourteen years that followed the publication of Howards

End, Edward Morgan Forster underwent a harsh mood change that culminated in

the publication of A Passage to India, Forster's bitterest book (Shusterman

159). Forster was not alone in his transition to a harsher tone in his

fiction. A Passage to India was written in the era that followed the First

World War. George Thomson writes that the novel "may be viewed as a reaction

to the disappearance of God in the nineteenth century.... Twentieth century

writers have symbolized this world without God as a wasteland" (293). Post-

war writers were appalled by…show more content…

Throughout the remainder

of the novel's opening section, Forster strategically places scattered

references to the "extraordinary caves" to ensure that the reader does not

forget about the important role that the caves will play. In light of the

sprinkled references, Forster never really provides the reader with any

"meaningful" information about the caves. When Adela first learns of the

Marabar caves, she asks Aziz and Professor Godbole to describe them.

Godbole makes the first attempt, but is unsuccessful. Therefore, he says

to Aziz, "Well, why are they so famous? We all talk of the famous Marabar

Caves. Perhaps that is our empty brag" (75). Not wanting to leave

Adela's request unanswered, Aziz also makes an attempt to describe what makes

the caves "extraordinary." However, he, too, is unsuccessful: "On he

chattered...further than ever from discovering what, if anything, was

extraordinary about the Marabar Caves" (76). Once again, Forster arouses

the reader's interests in the caves. Yet, at the same time, he fails to

provide an explanation, either physical or metaphysical, as to why the

caves are extraordinary. As a result, the reader is left with a burning

desire to find out anything he can about these mysterious caves.

In the second section of the novel, "Caves," Forster finally

quenches the reader's thirst for a

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The Marabar Caves are a central aspect of the novel—a presence in the distance during the first section, the setting of the second section, and the shadow that looms over the third section. The caves represent an ancient, inhuman void, the more terrifying aspect of the universal oneness embraced by Hinduism. The caves themselves are domelike and pitch-black, with nothing beautiful or romantic about them. Inside, any sound—whether human speech or a fingernail scratching the wall—is reduced to a single echo that sounds like “boum.” This echo captures the essence of the Marabar Caves, as it shows the emptiness behind all human action. This is a kind of “unity” like that found in Hinduism, but it is a unity of chaos instead of one of love, as the caves seem almost alien and malicious, unfriendly to humans. Even the Indians of Chandrapore cannot act as real “guides” to them or explain them.

While in the caves, Adela and Mrs. Moore both experience some frightening aspect of life that they had not considered before. Mrs. Moore sees the smallness and hollowness of her Christian faith, and succumbs to a kind of irritable apathy after seeing the void the caves represent. Adela, meanwhile, is confronted with the reality of her lack of feelings for Ronny and then the horror of her assault. The attack is never fully explained, so it almost becomes an embodiment of the darkness of the caves.

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