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“Oh why is everything still my duty? When shall I be free from your fuss?” mutters Mrs. Moore as she collapses into the raving madness of spiritual despair (228). After serving as E.M. Forster’s most sympathetic character through nearly all of A Passage to India, she is suddenly immobilized after her experience in the Marabar Caves; her perspective, thoughts, and even language degenerate into withered cynicism and virtually incoherent ramblings. Indeed, the last of these seemingly irrational monologues convinces Ronny that his mother has fallen off completely; he sends her back to England believing that India has warped her sense of reality.
In looking more carefully at one of these thought-driven monologues, however, we find that Mrs. Moore has experienced a realization that has completely annihilated her set of distinctly “English”values. By analyzing the structure of these thoughts, the new ideology driving them, and the possibility of their resolution, we discover that Mrs. Moore’s revelations and subsequent transformation stem from a startling anti-vision. The Caves’ undifferentiated echoes have convinced Mrs. Moore that her value scheme is prosaic and worthless, and her final collapse is the result of her most profound realization that without the superficial tendencies of everyday life, she is left with nothing at all.
Though Mrs. Moore seems to rattle on endlessly in her last conversation with Ronny and Adela, one short passage stands out that begs close interpretation:
Oh, why is everything still my duty? when shall I be free from your fuss? Was he in the cave and were you in the cave and on and on… and unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given…and am I good and is he bad and are we saved? and ending everything the echo. (228)
When observing the structure of these thoughts, the interrogative pattern clearly deserves attention. What prompts Mrs. Moore to ask such seemingly vague questions? More importantly, does she receive any answers to them? One would suspect that her queries are either rhetorical or stream-of-consciousness ravings. Yet, a structure clearly exists the entire monologue is a statement, rather than a question. Instead of leaving these inquiring thoughts open-ended, the echo ends everything. A question mark means nothing, a question itself means nothing the echo (and whatever this echo represents) ends all curiosity, all discovery, all possibility for a new perspective.
In a sense, Mrs. Moore realizes that her own ideas are futile since the echo will indiscriminately wipe out every thought she produces. In this realization lies the source of her despair: her constant questions concerning spiritual depth and understanding are to be echoed instead of answered. The echoes themselves seem resistant to critical interpretation, but Mrs. Moore’s earlier explication of them “everything exists, nothing has value” proves remarkably lucid (165). All thoughts, no matter how significant or trite, are undistinguished when reflected against the walls of the Marabar caves. “Everything exists” in that it persists without definition, without aesthetic or spiritual texture; at the same time, however, “nothing has value” since everything is negated in this echo (165). The superficial order of her culture – and her value scheme – is completely obliterated by the chaos and disorder reflected in the echo. Her only choice is to retreat into the self, an entity that she has neither nurtured nor examined in her earlier life. As a result, she collapses into frustrated despair and empty remorse, realizing that she has neither the strength nor the perspective to continue living.
Looking at the passage again, Forster’s use of pronouns also proves important to understanding the structuring of Mrs. Moore’s thought process. When these pronouns are highlighted, the questions appear framed in order to emphasize them:
Oh why is everything still _my_ duty? when shall _I_ be free from your fuss? Was _he_ in the cave and were you _in_ the cave and on and on…and Unto us a Son is born, unto _us_ a Child is given…and am _I_ good and is _he_ bad and are _we_ saved? (228)
Mrs. Moore uses these pronouns deliberately to emphasize the essence of her antivision. First, the pronouns illustrate the progression of her realization: she moves from the idea of her own duty to that of another single human and finally to the collective whole. In a sense, Mrs. Moore has discovered the isolating nature of her experience in the caves. Not only are her own thoughts and feelings worthless, but so then are the thoughts and feelings of Ronny, Adela, Aziz, and everyone else surrounding her. She cannot look to others for strength indeed, she feels almost compelled to muster enough inner strength for both herself and the rest of those who are unenlightened. Additionally, the pronouns accentuate just how crucial the words “I,” “we,” and “us” are to the value scheme which Mrs. Moore and in fact, the rest of British culture champion.
The British consciousness finds its center in personal interest, collective duty, and most importantly, the dogma of both personal and collective salvation. Yet, the Caves’ rejection and negation of this consciousness destroys Mrs. Moore’s conception of her world. She has, in fact, come face to face with a fundamental tenet of Hinduism the highest experience requires an abrogation of the self and finds herself unable to recover from the intensity of the vision (Flod, 75). Interestingly, the source of Mrs. Moore’s ultimate despair involves her failure to find an adequate substitute for the pronouns: she perceives the echo in terms of her own ego and thus cannot evolve a more universal perspective. In addition, Mrs. Moore’s heavy pronoun use reflects her cognizance of the falseness of interactions. Realizing that her value scheme has no inherent importance, she also sees nothing but superficial triteness in the feelings and beliefs of others. Personal interactions, then, simply become aimless (and ineffectual) discourses between two artificially constructed sets of values.
Also packed within this loaded passage are undertones of the British and Christian ideology which Mrs. Moore abandons, as well as references to Hindu ideology which she cannot accept. The experience in the Caves forces Mrs. Moore to reject her two most sacred value conceptions: the existence of spiritual absolutes and the idea of interpersonal love. Of the former, Mrs. Moore discovers that Christian principles are, in a sense, not adequate; her religious convictions have been based in the belief that God is always present as a physical force. But her central question reflects her sudden disillusionment: “and Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given…and am I good and is he bad and are we saved? and ending everything the echo” (228). In even the most fundamental and basic doctrines of Christianity, Mrs. Moore now sees nothing but meaningless rhetoric. Christian dogma depends on the search for a divine presence; the prophecy of the Resurrection, for instance, calls for an actual physical reinvigoration of the Lord. Hinduism, on the other hand, stresses the absent aspect of God and finds transcendence only in intangibles.
Yet, Mrs. Moore cannot accept the possibility that absence implies presence. She grasps the her lifelongconcerns of personal salvation are futile and misdirected, but she cannot find any source of redemption in the formless, indefinable echo. Her religious ideology has been grounded solely in spiritual absolutes: the glorification of Jesus who was “born” and “given” to absolve the sins of man, the guiding force of divine judgment, and a vigorous commitment to achieving salvation and avoiding damnation. Interestingly, as Mrs. Moore has grown older, her commitment to these absolutes has hardened; she has found it “increasingly difficult to avoid” mentioning God’s name (65).
In a sense, she has come to India to find God manifested physically and is thus shattered when she discovers that her incessant search for his presence has been doomed from the outset. (Suddenly, her seemingly profound claim in the mosque that “God is here” appears remarkably literal and painfully simplistic.) Realizing that the motivations and questions that have guided her life have been reflected and blunted by the echo, Mrs. Moore repudiates Christianity. Yet, she cannot repudiate her own ego and is thus left in a precarious limbo between her previous self-centered principles and Hindu enlightenment. Stripped of a stable perspective and fully aware that time is running out, Mrs. Moore cannot find the inner strength to continue living or to save those she loves.
The first two questions of the passage deal explicitly with Mrs. Moore’s disillusioned renunciation of interpersonal relationships and more broadly, her rejection of love. Suddenly, Mrs. Moore’s entire conception of personal interactions is transformed; no common bond truly exists between people, and human understanding exists as nothing more than a rhetorical myth. Love whether between family, in a “church”, or in a “cave” exists purely as a construct that vanishes in the amoral, indiscriminate echo of the caves. Mrs. Moore must accept a fundamental truth which drives Hindu faith: love is more abstract, more intuitive, more removed from the individual’s desires than for the Christian. Love is not derivative of the self, but instead an intangible force completely detached from the precise order of Western philosophy.
Once again, the echoes convince Mrs. Moore that “Everything exists, nothing has value”; as a result, her concern for others fades into weary cynicism, impatience, and ultimately indifference (165). Suddenly, nothing connects her to Aziz, Adela, or even Ronny she cannot impart her enlightenment to others because she cannot even begin to accept it herself. Indeed, the only thing Mrs. Moore can do is mutter out loud various condemnations of Westernized thought. In particular, her attacks focus on the idea of “marriage” (or “love in a church”). Convinced that “the human race would have become a single person centuries ago if marriage was any use,” Mrs. Moore tries to convey the opinion that even though men have practiced “carnal embracement” for centuries, they are nowhere near truly understanding each other (224, 149). (This opinion, is of cours, startlingly accurate when placed in the larger context of Forster’s narrative.) “Duty” and “fuss,” mentioned in the stream-of-consciousness thoughts above, are directly linked to this idea of fundamental misunderstanding in human interaction (228). Why believe in moral duty or waste one’s time loving another when it will ultimately end in worthless frustration? If duty, marriage, or relationships were of “any use,” universal understanding would have produced a single consciousness, “a single person.” Achieving nirvana would involve a profound human understanding, rather than the realization that the self exists only as a social and thus meaningless construct.
Yet, the question remains: can Mrs. Moore possibly resolve these conflicting ideologies and at least find some form of redemption? Indeed, the echo which, ironically, silences everything proposed to it annihilates Mrs. Moore’s values and saps her strength. She retreats not only from the crisis immediately presented to her, but also from life itself; she seems trapped in a spiritual death long before her physical demise. It is no surprise, then, that she refuses to become involved in the Adela-Aziz melee; in fact, she treats the entire situation with contempt: “Was he in the cave and were you in the cave and on and on…” (228). Mrs. Moore struggles to put her convoluted thoughts into words, but the meaning is clear: the events on that fateful day ultimately signify nothing in the larger scheme. Why should it matter, she implies, if Adela was in the cave with Aziz or whether Adela was in the cave alone the echo dissolves all questions of time, space, even physical presence. This abrogation of time and space is a key element of Mrs. Moore’s despair.
After wrestling with questions of religious absolutes, social duty, and even personal obligation, she has realized that the echo ends everything including her unfulfilled life. Part of this final disillusionment involves her abdication of a previously strict moral code. The caves’ echo convinces her that “everything exists”outside of a moral framework; nothing has “value” since morals cannot be attributed (165). Thus, not only does Aziz’ imprisonment have no moral repercussions, but Adela’s lies are blunted by the echoes as well. Mrs. Moore, in fact, is fully aware of Aziz’ innocence but the obligation to bear his moral burdens are intolerable. Her previously steadfast convictions melt into withered meekness and finally, a pedestrian death. But what of this death? Does Mrs. Moore ultimately matter as a character since her final thoughts (as in the passage above) are left untranslated and thus virtually meaningless?
The irony, of course, is that Mrs. Moore is immortalized in the posthumous “Esmiss Esmoor” chant a hollow echo that indirectly saves Aziz. Though she disavowed all involvement in the legal proceedings and even destroyed all ties to Aziz and Adela before her death, she still manages to play a crucial role in the trial; it is her influence that brings Adela to her senses and the truth. She becomes the undefined, transcendent idol of the Indian people, a God-like figure who remains invisible and resistant to questions of time and space (much like Queen Victoria, who is treated with the same attributes earlier in the novel). Strangely, then, the Indians worship Mrs. Moore as a symbolic representation of human nirvana an enlightenment, in fact, that she never even had the strength to pursue. Indeed, Mrs. Moore would certainly be horrified that her soul remains only in the form of a meaningless echo that connects the masses behind a cause that she believed prosaic and unimportant.
Ironically, she finally achieves the oneness with the universe she knew was so vehemently important albeit superficially (and unconsciously). Thus, Mrs. Moore never resolves her own muddle and yet somehow manages to be a spiritual absolute to the people who she ultimately deserted. Forster’s paradox, thus, remains startling and profoundly frustrating. Mrs. Moore’s questions are never fully answered and neither are those of Forster’s audience; instead, our concerns are silenced by the echo which blunts all questions of self and immediate understanding. The only certainty involves the renewal of the Indian cycle of human frustrations and spiritual extinction: a new questioner will emerge and ultimately take unresolved secrets to a worldly death.
Mrs. Moore’s final thoughts, then, are crucial in grasping Forster’s larger narrative framework. Her character naturally attracts audience sympathy; thus, her discovery forces readers to take the novel’s events involving Aziz, Adela, and Fielding and place them in the thematic context of human understanding. By analyzing the structure of even one of these sets of thoughts, the ideological motivations driving them, and the consequences of her trying to resolve them, we discover the essence of Mrs. Moore’s antivision; without the superficial tendencies of everyday life, she is left soulless and regretful.
Life suddenly seems nothing more than an empty expanse of time. It is not this realization itself, however, that ultimately debilitates Mrs. Moore. Accepting Hindu enlightenment requires profound strength, and the ability to renounce all that one has previously valued for the sake of a new, less defined perspective. Mrs. Moore still cannot disengage herself from absolutes; she reduces the revelations in the Caves to the scale of her own ego and thus remains trapped within the confines of a meaningless echo. Looking inwards, she ultimately realizes that she is unprepared to relinquish her selfhood to a transcendent world soul. Without the least resistance, she falls into a spiritual death, waiting to embrace the extant arms of silent unconsciousness.
Flod, Gavin. Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 75-77.
Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. Neew York: Harcourt Brace, 1984.
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