Among the principal aspects of the collectivist mindset is the judging of an individual on the basis of his perceived membership in an often circumstantial and artificially constructed group: a race, nation, or class. While in reality there exist only unique individuals with their own personalities, aspirations, accomplishments, skills, and knowledge, the collectivist mindset disregards all that and instead seeks to portray each individual as just one member of some homogeneous “greater whole.”
Collectivism is profoundly antithetical to the formation and preservation of friendships, especially among individuals perceived by the collectivists as belonging to distinct “groups.”
In E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, collectivism’s destructive effect on friendships can be observed. Cyril Fielding and Dr. Aziz maintain a strong friendship prior to the unjust accusation and trial of Aziz for an assault he did not commit. But collectivism tears their friendship apart. Despite Fielding’s courageous stance in favor of Aziz during the latter’s trial, Aziz gradually drifts away from his friend due to the mutual antagonism present between the British and Indian camps, each orienting itself against the other based on a collectivist perception.
When Fielding returns to India after a sojourn in England and eagerly writes letters to his old friend, Aziz even refuses to read them and hopes that the incessant rains will derail Fielding’s arrival. Despite a momentary reconciliation, a statement in a subsequent conversation between Aziz and Fielding reveals the ethnic collectivism of Aziz that has torn a rift between their friendship: “We shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then… and then… we shall be friends.” (362)
This is a brazen confession that irrational lumping of Fielding in with the Chandrapore elite that had assailed Aziz in court, as well as Aziz’s general and unfounded loathing for Englishmen and Westerners per se (not merely the fact of the occupation), will indefinitely preclude him from connecting with Fielding as an individual, despite their mutual respect for each other’s personalities and Fielding’s dauntless prior attempts to defend Aziz for the sake of objective, non-collectivist justice. Aziz is compelled by his bigoted sociocultural milieu (the group of fanatics, who, after the trial, had nearly demolished Chandrapore’s hospital), as well as by his own tendency to submit to popular prejudices, to reject one of the most productive relationships in his life.
A Passage to India insightfully demonstrates that collectivism is not a mere one-sided phenomenon. In most “group conflicts,” extensive and bigoted collectivism is displayed on both sides — as was the case among many British and Indians in the novel. The best people are caught in the crossfire, forced to abandon cherished relationships as a result of others’ superstitions and violent hatreds.