So this is what I had to say as of my write up done last night. I may have additional comments later based on beppe's
I loved the quality of writing in this book. How well described the weather (the heat, the humidity, the rain), the landscape and buildings (both the beautiful and the ugly), and the character development.
I also liked the story the author developed, in an attempt to explain and justify the very existence of the British administration in India and the unbridgeable gulf between the native Indians and the Anglo-Indian imports.
The author forces even the most sympathetic British character, Fielding, to admit that he really has no answer to the questions: Why are you British here? What right do you have to be here?
“Then excuse me again—is it fair an Englishman should occupy one when Indians are available? Of course I mean nothing personally. Personally we are delighted you should be here, and we benefit greatly by this frank talk.”
There is only one answer to a conversation of this type: “England holds India for her good.” Yet Fielding was disinclined to give it. The zeal for honesty had eaten him up. He said, “I’m delighted to be here too—that’s my answer, there’s my only excuse. I can’t tell you anything about fairness. It mayn’t have been fair I should have been born. I take up some other fellow’s air, don’t I, whenever I breathe? Still, I’m glad it’s happened, and I’m glad I’m out here.
However big a badmash one is—if one’s happy in consequence, that is some justification.”
Then there is the central event of the story, the mystery of just what happened to Miss Quested in the cave. Forster informs us that Aziz was guilty of nothing, and that is all we really need to know. It does no matter if she was assaulted by Aziz's servant, some unknown person, or not at all. The important thing is that she was so ready to believe in Aziz's guilt, and everyone in the Anglo-Indian community, with the exception of Fielding, was immediately eager to believe it as well―what else could you expect from a “nigger.” This Anglo-Indian community immediately turns on her when she admits the truth. The pure racism of the trial actually put me in mind of the trial in To Kill a Mocking Bird
Even though Fielding never believes in Aziz's guilt in the end he even remains loyal to his kind in at the end of the trial first rushing to support Miss Quested, and later using every trick he can think of to convince Aziz not to seek the compensation he is justly due. As for Miss Quested, she is glad it is over but feels no real guilt for what she has done.
She never repined at getting the worst of both worlds; she regarded it as the due punishment of her stupidity. When he hinted to her that a personal apology to Aziz might be seemly, she said sadly: “Of course. I ought to have thought of it myself, my instincts never help me. Why didn’t I rush up to him after the trial? Yes, of course I will write him an apology, but please will you dictate it?” Between them they concocted a letter, sincere, and full of moving phrases, but it was not moving as a letter. “Shall I write another?” she enquired. “Nothing matters if I can undo the harm I have caused. I can do this right, and that right; but when the two are put together they come wrong. That’s the defect of my character. I have never realized it until now. I thought that if I was just and asked questions I would come through every difficulty.” He replied: “Our letter is a failure for a simple reason which we had better face: you have no real affection for Aziz, or Indians generally.” She assented. “The first time I saw you, you were wanting to see India, not Indians, and it occurred to me: Ah, that won’t take us far. Indians know whether they are liked or not—they cannot be fooled here. Justice never satisfies them, and that is why the British Empire rests on sand.”
Finally I consider it rather remarkable prescience that Forster was able to write this in 1924:
Aziz grew more excited. He rose in his stirrups and pulled at his horse’s head in the hope it would rear. Then he should feel in a battle. He cried: “Clear out, all you Turtons and Burtons. We wanted to know you ten years back—now it’s too late. If we see you and sit on your committees, it’s for political reasons, don’t you make any mistake.” His horse did rear. “Clear out, clear out, I say. Why are we put to so much suffering? We used to blame you, now we blame ourselves, we grow wiser. Until England is in difficulties we keep silent, but in the next European war—aha, aha! Then is our time.” He paused, and the scenery, though it smiled, fell like a gravestone on any human hope. They cantered past a temple to Hanuman—God so loved the world that he took monkey’s flesh upon him—and past a Saivite temple, which invited to lust, but under the semblance of eternity, its obscenities bearing no relation to those of our flesh and blood. They splashed through butterflies and frogs; great trees with leaves like plates rose among the brushwood. The divisions of daily life were returning, the shrine had almost shut.
“Who do you want instead of the English? The Japanese?” jeered Fielding, drawing rein.
It was in fact WWII and the threat of the Indian independence movement siding with the Japanese that forced Britain to promise independence at the end of the war.
I would also like to mention another book about much the same subject, The Raj Quartet
by Paul Scott. There is even a similar plot line, an Indian is falsely accused on sexual assault of a Anglo-Indian woman, and this is used to reveal the divide. I found Forster's writing superior to Scott's, but I found The Raj Quartet
more informative about the actual history.