Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Jhabvala’s dominant theme is the difficulty of reconciling traditional belief with contemporary life in modern India. The householder is the traditional third stage of four in Hindu philosophy. The other three stages are: the child, who must learn patience and love from the model of the family and who delights in his innocence; the student, who expands his knowledge and learns to accept a disciplined existence; and, fourth, the recluse, who, leaving family and friends behind, must pursue a solitary path toward spiritual growth. As a householder, Prem is not yet ready to relinquish his student life, which was secure and at which he was very good; he fears his marriage because it demands that he consider others beside himself. He is tempted by the guru’s appeal and Lal’s example to leap to the fourth stage, but, ironically, it is both the guru and Lal who indirectly assist him in realizing the devotion that is a necessary discipline for a healthy household.

Complicating the theme is the further conflict between materialism and spiritualism. Prem teeters on extremes: when he is materialistic, he is obsessed with ambition and status but rendered helpless by the obsession; when he is spiritual, he is relieved of his worries but unable to repress his growing love for Indu. His sense of failure comes, ironically and comically, from his failure to see that householding teaches a balance between material and spiritual concerns, the patience to develop...

(The entire section is 416 words.)