Comment closely on ways in which Forster introduces the setting of the novel in the opening chapter. Forster introduces his novel to us through the setting. He describes Chandrapore as an impoverished city whose pain and low life is shielded by a romanticized view of its British inhabitants. He describes the Indians as barely people who have very little significance and value. He does this through descriptions of the city itself and connecting it back to the people and poverty. Forster still manages to shock the reader by what is hidden behind the fantasy construed by the British.
All through the chapter, Forster discriminates the Indians against the English indirectly, by making religious references and by just describing each side of the city according to what the people living there might be like. He also begins with the Marabar caves and ends with them. Forster establishes a clear sense of racism by describing the Indians in such a way that they seem to be of little value compared to the English. “The very wood seems to be made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving” – Here, Forster uses a lot of alliteration which highlights his reference to “mud”.
This makes it sound like dollops of squelching mud rather than just a word and makes the Indians seem mud like; thick yet slimy. However, this only gives us an introduction to the Indian’s low value. He then writes, “Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting”- here, the readers are taken aback and are shocked but at the same time disturbed by the image of dead, rotting bodies left there as just part of the setting, like part of the ground; part of the mud.
The fact that he describes all these as just a normal day in Chandrapore; normal scenery that people come across and pass by in their daily lives makes it even more depressing because for us, they are still people that we have a natural emotional sympathy towards them. Forster gives us a good insight on this lowlife part of India through close descriptions which help us picture and sympathize with the setting. Throughout the chapter, Forster makes occasional references to religion as well. He mentions the Ganges but describes it as a river that’s “not so holy”.
As ironic as this might be, it gives us a better picture of the river being unclean and connects it with the term “holy” as we think of the Ganges as not being worthy enough to live up to its religious trademark. He also uses the word “glorify” while talking about the English side of the city. He says “they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise”. This suggests that the English are greater and more superior as is their side of the city, or so it seems. Later on, he also describes the night sky saying the “stars hang like lamps from the immense vault”.
The term “vault” gives it a Godly view, like it was a God-created roof. This connection to God gives it a certain majestic image. Forster adds these religious references just subtle enough for us to differentiate between what lies in the Chandrapore and what lies above. Lastly, the use of personification towards the end when he is talking about the sky just about completes the setting of Chandrapore. Forster describes the sky as having a mind of its own as he said “the sky settles everything”.
This also introduces us to the great power that the sky bestows upon the city; it gets to decide the changing climates and seasons and with time, the view of the city itself- “When the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars. ” He continues this sentence by saying “or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon”. His choice of words here highlights the greatness and vastness of the sky. Since the word “benediction” means a closing prayer or a blessing, it represents the sky as majestic and omnipresent.
The phrase “horizon to horizon” gives us a feeling and image of the sky being never-ending and just infinite and vast; so vast that each you can see horizon after horizon yet none of them joining with one another. Infinite until they finally reach the Marabar hills which Forster describes as “fists and fingers” which puts a very familiar image in our head of hills that seem to be sticking out of the ground as if pushed from underneath. He finally concludes his paragraph and chapter by mentioning that the “extraordinary” Marabar caves are on the hills.
Throughout the chapter, you can see a pattern as Forster begins with the worst flaws of the city where the “mud –like Indians” live. He then goes on the say how the English side seems to be better and makes religious reference when it came to describing this side which gives it a slightly racist yet perhaps realistic view that the English are greater. He finally comes to nature, ending the chapter with nature suggesting that the sky is the main power and the most superior. In these subtle and connecting yet drastically changing descriptions, Forster embeds the image of the very city of Chandrapore into our minds.