Character of Cyril Fielding in Forster’s novel “A Passage to India”

Cyril Fielding, though not Forster himself, is generally assumed to represent Forster’s point of view in the novel A Passage to India. Forty-five years old, he is exactly the age Forster was in 1924 when A Passage to India was first published. An easy-going, kindly man, he has stepped aside from the politics of conquest and rejected the role of ‘sahib’ with all its connotations of superiority. Fielding is the Principal of Government College near Chandrapore. He necessarily mixes with Indians and, like the missionaries, is despised for encouraging them to advance themselves.

On his first appearance in the novel, he advises Adela and Mrs. Moore to “try seeing Indians’ if they want to get to know India; by this, he means meeting with them, rather than viewing them from a distance. To this end, he arranges his tea party to entertain the visiting Englishwomen and to bring them into contact with two of the educated Indians, Aziz, and Godbole. Imbued with Forster’s liberal humanism he, like Mrs. Moore, is not concerned with color, race, or creed. When he says to Aziz, ‘Please make yourself at home’ (Chapter 7), it is the kind of remark he would have made to any visitor, Aziz thinks it unconventional, which is an Anglo- Indian context it is, but he is nevertheless delighted.

Fielding is more at home with Indians than with Englishmen of the ruling class. He rarely goes to the Club except to play tennis or billiards the Indians, however, he can be himself. The parents of his pupils like him and he finds the company of the educated Indians congenial. His needs are simple; he wants friendship but he has little sexual desire.

A quality in Fielding which Aziz sees as both endearing and worrying is his outspokenness; at the Club, he had offended his compatriots by a joke describing the ‘so-called white races’ as ‘really ‘pinko-gray’; on his visit to Aziz’s sick-bed he scandalizes the Indians by renouncing belief in God; just before the trial, he insists that Aziz is innocent, first at the meeting of the Civil Club and afterward in a letter to Adela. He worries little as long he speaks the truth as he sees it and he does not speak in rancor. Whilst Mrs. Moore’s kindness stems from her religious belief, however, Fielding’s is an entirely human attribute; he is ‘a holy man minus the holiness’ (Chapter 11), traveling light because personal possessions have no appeal for him.

Yet he too becomes involved in the catastrophe of the caves; against his will, he is forced to take sides and he plumps for what he believes is the side of the wronged and oppressed, throwing in his lot with Aziz and his Indian friends. It is typical of him that after the fiasco of the trial he is the only Englishman to show any magnanimity towards Adela, even though it proves to be detrimental to the budding friendship between him and Aziz. His natural sympathy for the underdog is combined with admiration for the honesty which made her speak out in court. At the same time, he is aware of the very Englishness of his gallantry and of the fact that if his Indian friends attacked Adela ‘he would be obliged to die in her defense’.

At the end of part II, Fielding feels enlivened and revivified by the beauty of the form of Italian buildings. A hint of his forth-coming marriage is contained in the last sentence of Chapter 32 when arriving in England, ‘tender romantic fancies’ are reborn in him at the sight of the wildflowers of the countryside.

Two years later he returns to India; now married, he is harder, sterner, traveling less lightly than before. Love, which he had earlier felt no need to is passionate within him. And we see Stella has the first place in his affection. He takes life more seriously, has more responsibilities and his profession has become more important to him financially. He is, too, less easy with Aziz and more ready to criticize him. The rift between them which came about after the trial is finally healed but the desire for friendship is out of tune with the time and place and he accepts the limitations imposed.

Also read: Symbols and Motifs in Forster’s “A Passage to India”