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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
PART ONE: MOSQUE
The novel is set in Chandrapore, a hot, dry, nondescript city on the banks of the Ganges. The impression one gets of the place is of vast emptiness, divided between the English and the Indians. The Indian settlement is brown, ugly, and dry, while the British settlement is palatial and garden-like. Little interaction is seen between the two groups.
Chandrapore is a dull town. It is only the existence of the Marabar Caves, twenty miles away, that gives the town any distinction. The only break in the monotonous landscape surrounding Chandrapore is the rise of the Marabar Hills.
Forster starts the novel on a subdued note. In the opening chapter, he points out the difference in appearance between the British and Indian sections of Chandrapore, hinting at an underlying conflict; but he intentionally does not indicate the racial tension (the great cultural divide) between the two groups. Neither does he mention the utter lack of statesmanship and administrative ability of the British ruling class. The main purpose of the first chapter seems to be the description of the stark Indian setting and the air of mysticism that will drive the plot. Although houses are falling apart and people are drowned, some form of indestructible life continues to breathe and move in this desolate township.
Forster's description of the sky is poetic and symbolic; he imbues it with divine powers, implying that it controls the seasons and the climate. He also foreshadows that the two disparate parts of town cannot peacefully co-exist under this sky; the only thing they share in common is the earth below and the sky above.