Posted: July 19th, 2023

Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back

Passage to India

The E.M. Forster book A Passage to India shows the value of human relationships across cultural and physical boundaries, but also addresses the significance of how the majority of individuals find that they do not really want to “befriend” those who are different from them, because globalization has not been enough to provide actual equality.

The book has key components that set the stage for analyzing it in the context of globalization. The main component that provides this is the way those who are different are viewed. While they are seen to be worthless by some, the main characters of the novel want to meet Indians. They are excited to do so, and do not hold strong value judgments against those who are different from them. Throughout the course of the novel this will change, even as they befriend and enjoy the company of Dr. Aziz. He will eventually be accused of assault by Miss Quested, and even though she recants at trial the damage will already have been done. By providing a fictional story of the risks and rewards of globalization, Forster provides readers with a look at how unaccepting people truly are, regardless of how much they say they want to meet others and explore other cultures.

There are several elements in the novel that provide insight into how the book addresses globalization. Among these are the first scene in the mosque where the men are using the hookah and talking to one another (Forster, 5). This is stereotypical of people in that area of the world and time period, and a representation of how people from other places may see them. However, it is not necessarily a representation of how they actually are or how all of them act at any given time. Many fictional stories that are written about others areas of the world base themselves on stereotypes and theories, instead of actual visits to the region or what is true for the culture (Chanda, 35).

The scene is important for setting the stage regarding the “kind of people” Forster is portraying the Indians to be. Much of the book is based around the characters themselves, and the multidimensional lives they lead. Without understanding how different the Indians and the English really are in the eyes of Forster, it is difficult to understand how they could be friends but not friends, and how an accusation and a misunderstanding could change everything and basically tear apart what was starting to become a good friendship between the main characters in the book. The age of the book is part of the information that has to be considered when it comes to how Forster portrays different cultures, as well. Through globalization, much has been discovered about other cultures that may not have been known in previous years (Chomsky & McChesney, 12).

Additionally, the global society produced through the internet has changed some cultures, as well, and made them more blended with other cultures than they were in the past (James, 48). That is something not seen in Forster’s book because it had not yet taken place, so the portrayal of cultures was more stilted than it might have been in a more modern-day rendition of Forster’s book. The opening scene is important for another reason, as well, in that the reader is introduced to Dr. Aziz before being introduced to any of the other main characters. That allows readers to build up an impression of Dr. Aziz and his culture before seeing him interacting with the English people who are the other main characters in the novel.

Another element of the novel that shows how globalization has changed the world is the theme of the differences between the English and the Indians. In the year when Forster wrote the book, the idea of globalization as it is today was unrealistic. With that in mind, the way people in other countries were portrayed was often different from the way they would be portrayed in the modern day. Much more can be learned and understood about different people and different cultures now because of the internet and the level of international interaction that takes place online and through travel (James, 115). Forster not only shows the Indians as being more savage and far less cultured than the English, but he uses the accusations against Dr. Aziz to create the feeling that the Indians are not to be trusted even though they appear to be friends with the English.

As a third example of elements in the novel that address global differences, the characters themselves provide a great deal of insight into globalization. That is especially true with the English characters, but it is also seen with the Indian characters — most notably Dr. Aziz, as he is among the main characters throughout the novel. Dr. Aziz likes the English visitors, but at the same time he does not like them, and this comes across in their interactions (Foster, 22). When he is accused of assaulting Miss Quested in the cave it is both expected and not expected, since the main characters seemed to be getting along well and forming a friendship. At the same time, however, it is important to remember that they are of very difficult cultures, and that can also mean that they have very different ideas and beliefs. Being very different from one another can lead to significant difficulties when it comes to how people interact, whether they are “used to” globalization or not (Chanda, 55).

The development of globalization throughout the world is not a product of the internet, although there are many people who would assume otherwise. The internet is just another tool that has been used in order to expand the global presence of companies and individuals, and allow them to connect with one another. While it has definitely contributed to globalization, there were adventurers and others who were interested in life on a global scale long before the internet became a reality. The English visitors in Forster’s novel are among those adventurers. Some important assumptions about globalization and development are reinforced by Forster’s novel. The developments that are being reinforced include the cultural differences between groups of people and the assumptions that other groups are very different and/or not to be trusted.

A lack of trust is part of the issue that many people face when they struggle with globalization, whether they are trying to reach out on a personal level or they are reaching out based on business (Chomsky & McChesney, 74). That does not mean that other groups are untrustworthy, though, or that other cultures are “out to get” a person. It simply means that people are largely distrustful of people who are different from them. That is true of most cultures, and not something that is only seen by people in the United States when they travel to or interact with other cultures. Forster’s book goes a long way toward reinforcing the stereotype that people who are different culturally should not be trusted, and that these people will find ways to cause trouble or will accuse people of things they may not have been guilty of doing. For those who were already suspicious of another culture, Forster’s book can provide reinforcement that they may be correct.

Of course, one has to realize when reading Forster’s book that it was written many years ago, and that thoughts and feelings about other cultures have largely changed. Many of these changes have come about through globalization, because it has allowed people to work more closely with those from other cultures and has allowed these people to see that there are more similarities than differences. That does not imply that everyone likes everyone else, or that all cultures get along equally, but it does imply that there is a different level of understanding that has been developed now that people from other cultures are more able to interact with one another easily.

Personally, an analysis of the novel has encouraged me to question my own beliefs about other cultures, and to understand that there is a great deal about these cultures that I don’t know. When a person lives in one area for a long time, it becomes easy to assimilate to the culture and even have trouble understanding that other cultures exist. Then when the person is exposed to those other cultures, he or she does not know how to handle the differences that are seen. Sometimes a person reacts positively, and other times he or she reacts negatively to people of other cultures. I have been encouraged by the novel to question why people are so focused on their culture being the “right” culture, and why they seem to have so much trouble understanding that a number of different cultures can be valuable and acceptable.

There is a not to be learned from other cultures, and they can teach a person a lot of things about life, family, business, and other aspects — but they can only do that if the person is open to the idea of experiencing what other cultures offer. A fresh perspective on culture can change the way a person looks at the world and what he or she thinks about that world. Globalization is one of the ways that perspective is being provided to so many people today, and those who are more open to interacting with other cultures are learning a great deal about themselves and their world. That is valuable, because the globalization of the world is not going to go away. If anything the world will only continue to become more global in nature, because the internet and international travel have made things easier for those who are interested in the world outside of their own culture. Other cultures can be highly valuable for what they can teach people about the world, and they can provide a lot of insight into how other people see things. Different does not mean wrong or bad.


Chanda, Nayan. Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Warriors and Adventurers Shaped Globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2007. Print.

Chomsky, Noam and Robert W. McChesney. Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order. New York: Seven Stories Press. 2011. Print.

Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. NewYork: Mariner Books. 1965. Print.

James, Paul. Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back In. London: Sage. 2006. Print.

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