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A Passage Of Muddles Essay

1368 words - 5 pages

Intercultural communication is prone to misunderstandings and confusion, or put simply, muddle-prone. While common cultural miscommunications are often minor offences, some have far more detrimental consequences. In E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India, conflict results with the collision of two cultures in the British-Indian city of Chandrapore, which is plagued by racial, class and religious tension amongst Anglo and Native Indians. The novel chronicles the attempted intercultural friendships of Dr. Aziz, a Native Indian, and three English individuals: Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Ms. Quested. While A Passage to India features many potential opportunities of friendship and positive relationships between the Anglo-Indians and Natives, each is inhibited by the muddles of communication featured in Laray M. Barna’s “Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication”.
Although American education has stressed the similarity of all humans, failure to acknowledge cultural differences amongst other individuals while communicating produces the first of Barna’s communication muddles. The assumption of similarities amidst intercultural communication readily allows for misinterpretation. As Barna explains, “The stumbling block of assumed similarity is a troublem,…,not only for the foreigner but for the people in the host country…The native inhabitants are likely to be lulled into the expectation that…he or she will also have similar nonverbal codes, thoughts and feelings.” (371). At their first meeting, Aziz exhibits the Assumption of Similarity when he exclaims his distaste for the his Anglo-Indian superior and his Anglo-Indian wife in response to Mrs. Moore’s vague observation of the wife’s lack of charm (Forster 21). In response to Mrs. Moore’s seeming interest in his plight, Aziz “was excited partly by his wrongs, but much more by the knowledge that someone sympathized with them.” (Forster 21). By interpreting Mrs. Moore’s casual interest as a likeness to the oriental traits embodied in Indian culture, Aziz creates a communication muddle that would result leaves him vulnerable to punishment by his superiors.
Aside from assuming similarities amongst foreign individuals, language differences also readily result in communication muddles. While a basic understanding of a language is beneficial in superficial communication, Barna notes that “Vocabulary, syntax, idioms, slang, dialects, and so on, all cause difficulty…” (373). Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested misinterpret Mrs. Bhattacharya’s limited fluency in English as an invitation to visit, as “Her gesture implied that she had known, since Thursdays began, that English ladies would come to see her on one of them, and so always stayed in.” (Forster 45). While the Englishwomen’s literal interpretation of Mrs. Bhattacharya replies would serve as an invitation, they failed to realize it was what Barna considers “a case where [yes] means [no].” (373). However, there was contextual evidence of Mrs....

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