Please analyze The Serpent and the Rope by Raja Rao.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Waves are nothing but water.

So is the sea.

This epigraph functions well to encapsulate the metaphysical confusion that haunts this novel—a confusion that frequently borders on fatalism. While on the surface the work describes the troubled marriage between an Indian protagonist and his European wife, its true thrust comes...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Waves are nothing but water.

So is the sea.

This epigraph functions well to encapsulate the metaphysical confusion that haunts this novel—a confusion that frequently borders on fatalism. While on the surface the work describes the troubled marriage between an Indian protagonist and his European wife, its true thrust comes from the questions that this cultural contact elicits in Rama.

Both people in the couple struggle to relate to the other on a spiritual level. Madeleine, for example, is mistaken in ascribing to her husband the qualities of the spiritual guru—qualities he does not have. Meanwhile, Rama himself, in his efforts to ascribe Buddhist theory to the eminently European subject matter of his research, demonstrates an inability to remove himself from his spiritual origins. Ultimately, the failure of their marriage suggests an inherent incompatibility between their cultures. The serpent and the rope of the work’s title symbolize these cultures that Rama struggles vainly to interweave, one alive and vibrant, one dead and inanimate—radically different from one another.

Rama’s physical restlessness, shown in his rambling journeys across continents and cultures, is reflective of his internal restlessness and his longing for self-realization. This longing is further born out by his quoting from both Indian and Western traditions in a vein attempt to find continuity between them. In the two romantic relationships he engages in can be seen an effort to escape his uncertainties and to discover himself in someone else.

Because of the diversity and inscrutability of the questions posed by Rama from page to page, the reader comes to wonder, along with the protagonist, about the inscrutability of life in general. Ironically, the western reader comes to think of the universe much as westerners have viewed India for much of history—as an entity too vast and mysterious to fully comprehend. While the novel ends, for Rama at least, with a sense of resolution resulting from his decision to visit his spiritual teacher, the western reader is deliberately left questioning, unsure as to why this seemingly minor decision warrants the sense of resolution with which Rao portrays it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team