Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like Sadie, the author of this story, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a European who married an Indian. She likewise returned to the West after nearly twenty-five years of married life in India. Of her own Indian experience, Jhabvala has said that she never felt that she really belonged, and this is the central theme of “The Englishwoman.” Even after spending thirty years in her adopted country with a husband, children, and grandchildren, fifty-two-year-old Sadie still feels that she would be more comfortable in the land of her birth, although she admits that she now “knows almost no one there.”

Sadie is not particularly unhappy or ill-treated in India. From her own impressions, she began her life there with much enthusiasm and excitement, and although all that gradually disappeared, she has always been well cared for by her husband’s family. Although her marriage has disintegrated, her relations with her husband (and his mistress) have remained amicable. One thus gets the distinct impression that it is not unhappiness that drives her away. The major reason for her decision is her realization, after twenty years, that her own ways are so different that she can never really adapt to Indian society. Her homesickness for the place to which she believes she truly belongs—despite having had no connections with it for thirty years—has grown so unbearable that she can no longer stay away. The fact that she has indeed never connected with her adopted country is proved by her indifference to carrying anything to England to remind her of India. It appears that Jhabvala is using her fiction to prove to herself that one cannot really belong anywhere but in one’s own homeland, and that however late it is, one can always go back. The essence of Sadie’s story is captured in an early sentence as she prepares for her return: “Her heart is light and so is her luggage.”