What is the significance of the novel's title, The Serpent and the Rope?

The title of Raja Rao's novel is significant in that it represents Ramaswamy's spiritual quest. He struggles with his real-world commitments to his wife and his determination to gain a spiritual understanding of the world. We're told, "The world is either unreal or real—the serpent or the rope. The rope just is—and therefore there is no world." Rama's drive to transcend the world and discover a deeper truth is central to the novel and its title.

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Mokshapath or Moksha Patam is an ancient Indian game, introduced to the West in the nineteenth century as "snakes and ladders." Its name in Sanskrit means "path to salvation," and it was used to teach children the tenets of Hinduism.

The Snake and the Ladder would have been a somewhat less euphonious and more childish-sounding title for Raja Rao's novel than The Serpent and the Rope, but the reference to the game is clear enough, since serpent is a synonym for snake, while ropes, like ladders, are used for climbing. A rope, however, resembles a snake in a way that a ladder does not, giving it greater value as a symbol and an image.

Mokshapath, however, is a game for children. In the game, the snakes are bad, and the ladders are good. The "path to salvation" lies in using the ladders and avoiding the snakes. The same might seem to be true for Ramaswarmy at the beginning of the novel, but Rao soon shows that life is more complicated than that. While taking about philosophy to Madeleine,...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 1049 words.)

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