M Forster offers the reader a critique of English colonists, or Anglo-Indians as he refers to them, in colonized India. Forster illustrates in detail the cultural misunderstandings that result when the Anglo-Indian culture, marred by a bigoted and restrictive ethos entrenched in customs that discourage opposition to the masses, clashes with the wholly different culture of the native people of India, â€œa world whose richness and subtlety they [the English] have no conceptionâ€ (â€œNotes on the English Characterâ€ 5). In the Bridge Party that takes place at the start of the novel, the reader is introduced to some of these prejudices and cultural misunderstandings that are formed with the fusion of these two divergent cultures. Using the characters of Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, Forster demonstrates the differences between the attitudes of the English who have lived in India for an extended period of time and those who are newly arrived in India and tend to have a more sympathetic, unbiased view of the native Indians.
Forster believes that one of the greatest flaws in the typical English character and a primary reason the English frequently encounter cultural misunderstandings abroad is an â€œunderdeveloped heartâ€. Many facets of English society encourage conformity and an unquestioning obedience to traditional customs, thereby inhibiting the outward expression of individual emotion. More specifically, Forster condemns the polarized public-school system in England as the principle source of this deadened, underdeveloped heart, stating â€œit is not the Englishman canâ€™t feelâ€”it is that he is afraid to feel. He has been taught at public school that feeling is bad formâ€ (5). Even with the best intentions, the British are plagued by this emotional detachment, and throughout the novel it serves as a crucial basis for the cultural misunderstandings that ensue.