Two primary themes are interwoven through Rajmohan's Wife by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay. The first is the changing roles of women in nineteenth-century India (as well as its consequences for the women involved). The second is the novel's symbolic quality that sets its characters up as representatives of various aspects of India.
The novel's title character is Matangini. She is indeed Rajmohan's wife, but the marriage is far from happy or satisfying. Women in nineteenth-century India were under the strict control of their husbands, but Matangini is something of a rebel. She disobeys her husband's orders at the very beginning of the book and keeps on doing so. In the process, she falls in love with her brother-in-law, Madhav, the husband of her sister Hemangini, who is a shy, timid, rule-following woman, the opposite of Matangini.
Matangini discovers a plot against Madhav and hurries to her sister's house to warn him. This is in direct opposition to her husband's will, but Matangini knows what is right and what is wrong, and she will not go along with the wrong. Even in the face of consequences, Matangini asserts herself as a strong woman, yet she suffers for it. Her husband sends her back to her father's house, and she dies young.
Matangini, however, is also representative of something larger. According to some scholars, she stands for a new India that is struggling to emerge from the patriarchal, colonial control that has so long kept the nation oppressed. Matangini, like the new India, is willing to strike out in new ways and assert her independence. She wants to partner with Madhav, who represents an educated native elite that can take India to new heights if joined to the spirit of the people (represented by Matangini). Standing in their way, however, is Mathur, a cruel, vulgar man who is the novel's villain and the originator of the plot against Madhav. He wants to keep Matangini and pretty much everyone else oppressed, so he stands for the patriarchal, colonial control that has done the same to India for so long. Rajmohan, too, opposes Matangini and Madhav and is involved in the plot, and scholars think that he represents a complacency in the Indian people that goes along with and will not resist the control of those in authority nor embrace the new spirit of India.