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Outwardly, the conflict is between two cultures and two prominent classes -- the Ruler and the Ruled. The total lack of imagination on the part of the British to understand and appreciate both the Indian way of life and the rich heritage of ancient India adds dimension to the conflict. The final question concerns the affect of the English living in India. More pointedly, the conflict concerns human relations and the possibility of the union of individuals with vastly different ideas of love and understanding.
Protagonist: Dr. Aziz, a surgeon who tries to live peacefully with the members of the ruling class and bridge some of the gap between them, fails miserably to do so, through no fault of his own. His attempt to befriend some British visitors ends in disaster. He finds himself in prison for a crime he did not commit. After he is exonerated, he has an intense hatred for everything British and seeks to find an understanding of the whole of India. In his search and through his poetry, he finds some peace of mind and predicts that the British rule will soon come to an end.
Antagonist: The British ruling class, best symbolized by the Turtons and their "club," are the antagonists in the novel. Their lack of sympathy and understanding, coupled with their arrogance and blind authority, is a threat to all native Indians, and in particular to Dr. Aziz. It is a British woman who falsely accuses him of a crime, and it is the ruling British officials who want him locked away and severely punished. When he is exonerated, the misery of his imprisonment and trial, coupled with the false accusation that took away his good name, cause him to have a hatred of everything British.
Outcome: The novel ends as a tragedy, but Forster indicates some hopeful signs at the end of his story. Although Aziz is found innocent and released from prison, he is a changed man. Like most of the Indians, he is more disillusioned than ever with the British authorities, who still continue their despicable rule of India. No longer comfortable in Chandrapore, Aziz goes away to seek an understanding of the whole of India and to capture its spirit in poetry. He meets with some success in finding peace of mind outside of Chandrapore and through Hindu influence, but he is still tortured by the British rule, which he predicts (correctly) will end some day soon.
To add to the tragic nature of the novel, Mrs. Moore, tired and broken, dies at sea on her way home; Adela breaks her engagement to Ronny and returns to Britain a distressed and disillusioned young woman, and Aziz and Fielding will never meet again, even though they have managed at the end to have some degree of reconciliation.