What are the themes in The Serpent and the Rope by Raja Rao?

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The Link Between Personal Relationships and Culture

Rama's wife, Madeleine, is a French woman: an ex-Catholic who becomes interested in Buddhism over the course of the novel. Rama is an Indian elite with little exposure to Indian culture. As the novel begins, he is studying in France, seeking to find...

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The Link Between Personal Relationships and Culture

Rama's wife, Madeleine, is a French woman: an ex-Catholic who becomes interested in Buddhism over the course of the novel. Rama is an Indian elite with little exposure to Indian culture. As the novel begins, he is studying in France, seeking to find evidence of Buddhist influence on the early Christian Albigensian heresy. While Madeleine and Rama are drawn to each other in part because of mutual interest in each other's cultural background, their relationship ultimately proves unhappy. Madeleine's journey into Buddhism causes her to drawn back from Rama and isolate more and more, while Rama's PhD research ultimately brings him closer to another young Hindu intellectual, Savithri. While Rama initially finds Savithri too Western, he eventually comes to see her as his soulmate. The failure of Rama and Madeleine's marriage is in large part due to the fact that outsiders cannot convert to Hinduism. Rama ultimately views Madeleine's interest in his culture as a betrayal of her own heritage. This examination of cross cultural relationships largely points towards an existentialist view of one's origins determining what one's appropriate beliefs are.

Non-traditional Relationships

While much of the novel's plot is centered around Rama's relationships with women, neither of his significant relationships are traditional. His relationship with Madeleine lacks real passion and intimacy, leading to their marriage ultimately falling apart. In contrast, Rama and Savithri are positioned as true soulmates, but they never get married. Savithri marries a friend of Rama whom she does not love instead. This is depicted as a reasonable decision—her bond with Rama is framed as important not because of public recognition or because of physical intimacy, but because of caring deeply for each other and aiding each other on their spiritual journeys.

The Rejection of Western Intellectualism and the Search for Spiritual Truth

All of the novel leads up to Rama's ultimate decision to move to India and study under a guru, rejecting the Western academic world and searching for spiritual truth through Hindu methods. The entire book came be read as a tale of Rama's search for truth, with various choices helping or hindering his search. Concluding with his choice to study under a guru emphasizes the significance of this search and frames the entire narrative as an encounter with the Western world pushing Rama to return to traditional Hindu approaches.

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