What is the importance of Rajkumar's character in Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Amitav Ghosh's novel The Glass Palace, about the fall of Burma to the British Empire, Rajkumar is a central character. As an orphan who rises to fortune but later loses it all, he is both antithetical to and parallel to the Burmese royal family and is used to show the detrimental effects of imperialism.

Rajkumar's family had moved from India to Burma not long before Burma's fall to England. However, as soon as they arrived in the village of Akyab, his father, brothers, and sisters had all been plagued with and killed by malaria. He and his mother tried to flee up the Irrawaddy River, but his mother is soon killed by malaria as well. Orphaned and alone, he is taken in by a woman named Ma Cho, who gives him a job selling produce at a stand in the market. At the market, he meets Saya John, a man who teaches him the timber trade of teakwood through which Rajkumar makes a fortune and also takes Saya on as a partner.

Rajkumar's story of acquired wealth stands in great contrast to the story of the Burmese royal family. After the queen orders all possible successors to the throne to be executed, England sees that Burma is vulnerable enough to be successfully invaded. Burmese troops surrender after only fourteen days of battle, and the Glass Palace is invaded. The royal family is then driven to live in poverty in India at a time when Burma was in a golden age, a time of economic abundance.

However, sadly, England's exploitation of the Burmese changes the economy, and, soon, Rajkumar's business fails. The failure of his business parallels with the royal family being driven to poverty and shows us the severe consequences of imperialism.

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