Uma is a forty-three year old upper-middle-class unmarried Indian woman still living with her parents near Mumbay. Contrary to her younger brother Arun, who has had the opportunities to obtain an education, Uma has been denied the right to go to school and has remained in the paternal household to serve his parents. Uma's parents only concern for the future of their daughter seems to be how to arrange a respectable marriage for her. This process, however, is something Uma herself is not allowed to have a say and her parents' actions lead to repeated failures.
Desai's self-description as a writer who "feels about India as an Indian" but thinks about it as an outsider can be useful to frame the novel which, through the character of Uma, shows the oppression Indian women are still subjected to in a patriarchical society. Uma is not simply denied the right to attain an education; throughout the novel she is consistently denied the right to develop her own distinct personal identity, desires and ambitions.