The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As is the case in Desai’s other novels, Fire on the Mountain is more memorable for its characters than for its plot or “action.” In fact, plot is important only in terms of what it reveals about the characters, Desai’s primary concern. Desai focuses not so much on physical appearance—unless it reflects an inner reality or serves a symbolic purpose—as on her characters’ inner lives. Nanda, the protagonist, is a case in point, for Desai tells her readers little about Nanda’s appearance but does tell the readers, through the use of a stream of consciousness narrative technique, much about her thoughts, values, fears, suppressed hostility, and unconscious need for love.

Carignano, Nanda’s “retreat,” suggests Nanda’s determination to withdraw from her former active life, replete with its duties, obligations, and roles. Among the roles she rejects is the role as sacrificing nurturer of others: “The care of others . . . had been a religious calling she had believed in till she found it fake.” At the end of part 1, she pleads, “Discharge me. I’ve discharged all my duties.” In her desire to simplify her life, Nanda “jettisons” her past, strips it to its necessities, and attempts to reject other people. Like Carignano, she is “barren,” and like the garden, through age and “withering away” she has arrived at a “state of elegant perfection.” The setting is both “perfected and natural” in that she has...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Nanda Kaul

Nanda Kaul, the aged protagonist. The widow of a university vice chancellor and once at the hub of a large, demanding family and a hectic social life, she now lives in seclusion in Carignano, a desolate old house on the ridge of a mountain in Kasauli. Aloof, indifferent, and irritable, she frequently lapses into a reminiscent mood and wants no intrusion or distraction to violate her privacy. Her cloistered life is upset when her great-granddaughter Raka is sent to spend the summer with her. Tired of a long life of duties and responsibilities, Nanda wants to be left alone; therefore, she does not pay much attention to the child. She manages to stay detached until she observes that the child, instinctively withdrawn into a world of her own, completely ignores her great-grandmother. Challenged by Raka’s indifference, Nanda reluctantly comes out of her self-imposed quietude and makes a desperate, though futile, attempt to attract the child to her by telling her fantastic stories about her own childhood. In a final climactic moment, when she hears the news of the rape and death of her longtime friend Ila Das, her psychological defenses suddenly break down. Before she collapses, she splutters the truth that all the stories she told Raka were fabricated, that her husband never loved her and had carried on a lifelong affair with a Christian woman whom he loved but could not marry, that she always felt alienated from her children, and that she...

(The entire section is 528 words.)