What is a major theme of Heat and Dust?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that a major theme in Jhabvala's work would have to be how physical separation can give rise to emotional liberation.  In both narratives, Olivia and the narrator have to make a fundamental choice between the conformity of their own respective societies and the validation of their own voice.  This has greater implications for Olivia because of her temporal condition, but it is still there for the narrator.  In both cases, India becomes this home where individual voice can be identified and, to a certain extent, reclaimed.  Both women see India as the place where there might only be "heat and dust," but where there is also a subjective reclamation of voice because of the physical separation from the rest of the world.  Both women go to the mountainous reaches of the subcontinent, almost symbolic in how far they wish to be from their conventional social orders.  Jhabvala seems to be suggesting that there has to be a set of active and direct steps taken in order for women to validate their own voices and experiences in a conformist world that might not be entirely willing to do so.  In this, I think one of the most powerful themes is evident.

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