Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The moral and philosophical implications of this work are numerous enough that it is best to consider, in turn, those that are overtly argued and others that are suggested more subtly. Whether a person’s intellectual faculties take precedence over the physical being is a question that is clearly posed by the divergent qualities of the two leading men; this issue is raised more acutely when the head of one must inhabit the body of another. Similarly, problems of personal identity are posed by the transpositions depicted here; this matter must be resolved when Shridaman begins to assert his will over Nanda’s body while the head of his friend must come to terms with a different body. Whether the body has a will and characteristics of its own is a question raised in a peculiarly sensitive manner when Sita feels drawn to the transposed versions of men she knew intimately. Human relationships and, more specifically, the competing foci of Sita’s affections are recast in an oddly bifurcated form when she cannot easily choose between the cerebral and the physical manifestations of a given man once they are shared with another. Furthermore, the aesthetic issue which Shridaman discusses rather early in the novel—whether human forms are to be admired in their own right or as they are judged by the beholder—points to other problems in the mind’s apprehension of those attributes that are deemed beautiful or elegantly formed. These sundry problems of idealism and dualism are enveloped in other concerns which, when dealing with problems of the corporeal being, suggest other themes.

The extinction of one’s existence as a resolution of the dilemmas posed here is an expedient first suggested by Shridaman’s religious learning. His deliberations on this...

(The entire section is 722 words.)