A Review of the Character of Fielding and Aziz in E.M. Forster’s Book, A Passage to India
Emotional Unorthodoxy in Personal Relations
Of Forster’s many declarations in his essay “What I Believe,” the most salient is that personal creeds or beliefs “stiffen” a person and render them less open-minded about everything that defies that creed. The budding friendship between Anglo-Indian Fielding and native Indian Aziz in Forster’s novel A Passage to India demonstrates the value of personal relationships over the value of creeds that generally obstruct those relationships. Forster does this in a way that highlights the unorthodox emotional and temperamental qualities of both men, suggesting that, without these, a friendship between the two who be unlikely.
The relationship between Aziz and Fielding, while eventually descending out of real friendship, is based on their joined effort of overlooking the prejudices about Anglo-Indians and native Indians, respectively. However, to say that they are able to connect by ignoring prevailing prejudices is inaccurate; their ability to connect as they do is primarily because they are both of specific temperaments that allow them to be more emotionally accessible to the other. Fielding, according to the narrator, believes that “[t]he world…is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and can best do so by the help of good will plus culture and intelligence” (62), and we are told that this is only because, unlike many of his fellows, Fielding has had ample time away from the “herd” of the English. He is not without prejudice or assumptions about non-English peoples. However, even when Aziz and Fielding’s emotional connection is strained by an ignorant comment—like when Fielding implies Aziz, “an obscure Indian, had no right to have heard of Post Impressionism” (66-67)—the obvious underlying “good will” to both of their intentions softens the blow of their fumbles.
If not for this perceptiveness, or indeed the willingness to perceive the character of the other as opposed to the stereotype of the other, both Fielding and Aziz could easily have written the other off as just another Anglo-Indian or just another native Indian. For his part, Aziz, who is generally unimpressed with Anglo-Indians, is eager to meet Fielding, as he perceives in Fielding a “true courtesy” and a “good heart” (60). This is unconventional for Anglo-Indians, and it is the continued emphasis on Fielding’s unconventionality and optimism about personal relations that attracts Aziz (67); Fielding is unconventionally willing to be vulnerable around Aziz—in a subtle way. Allowing an eager Aziz to assist him with his collar stud, for example, dispels a tension that might otherwise exist in a new meeting between any other Anglo-Indian and Indian. Aziz, of “so emotional a people,” appreciates and even idolizes this tendency in Fielding (65). While Fielding shows his prejudice by recognizing the tendency as a stereotyped action of Indians in general, he also acknowledges the tendency as useful in “[dispensing] with preliminaries” and getting right to the intimacy of friendship (65). Aziz’s openness to this unconventional Anglo-Indian and Fielding’s appreciation of Aziz’s ice-breaking emotionality paves the way for a friendship that might not exist if either had been of the mind to accept the prevailing prejudices toward each other’s “type.”
While both men manage to set aside those prejudices and expectations of either’s behavior for the sake of friendship, that friendship is in constant jeopardy of collapse. By the novel’s end, the conflict borne of differences in the display of emotions and intentions finally unravels, and both Fielding and Aziz concur that the friendship they once cultivated cannot continue as it once had (316). While this is potentially a regression into their stiffening creeds, the moments when both men were able to approach the other as a person rather than as a character of India or a character of England illustrate the positive, if not completely enduring effects of personal relations over creeds and beliefs.
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Emotional Unorthodoxy in Personal Relations Of Forster’s many declarations in his essay “What I Believe,” the most salient is that personal creeds or beliefs “stiffen” a person and render them […]