The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s characterization achieves a balance between the round character, who seems fully human in psychological development, and the flat character, who represents types or ideas pertinent to the action. Not even Prem, who is the most fully rounded character in The Householder, is developed sufficiently for readers to believe that they know him well. Yet even a seemingly flat character such as the guru is given sufficient dialogue to escape the predictability of stereotype. Jhabvala peoples her novel with characters who are individualized but also capable of representing various types in modern Indian society. Furthermore, by using both European and Indian characters, Jhabvala establishes cross-cultural relations as well as dissecting the manners of middle-class urban India.

Hans Loewe represents the naive European who believes that everything, and everyone, in India is gifted with spiritual wisdom. He befriends Prem, apparently one of the first people he meets, with a fierce determination to achieve enlightenment as soon as possible. Although Hans lasts only a few weeks in India, he is there long enough for his flattery of Prem to have its ironic consequences, for it is Hans who first renews Prem’s interest in his own religion’s spiritual legacies. By the end of the novel, his shallow approach to any sort of discipline is enough to convince Prem that friendship, with Indu or Raj, is much like the discipline of householding.

Kitty, who runs a poorly kept boardinghouse that caters to wandering Europeans and who rents Hans a room, is representative of the expatriate European who has been in India long enough to develop a jaded, cynical attitude toward both India and...

(The entire section is 704 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Prem, a newly married young teacher of Hindi at an undistinguished Delhi college. Himself a second-class graduate of a college in the smaller city of Ankhpur, where his father was the principal, Prem is inexperienced in all of his new roles: as teacher, as husband, as father-to-be, and as lonely resident of a big city where he knows few people. During the course of the novel, Prem slowly becomes accustomed to and more competent in his new life, especially in the important role of householder, a concept that includes the assumption of husbandly, parental, and economic responsibilities. Prem’s most visible maturing is sexual: As he gradually loses his prudishness and sense of shame, Prem is able to enjoy and appreciate his wife and his role as husband, which leads to his adjustment in the other aspects of his life.


Indu, Prem’s young and pregnant wife. Sure and competent in her household and in family matters, Indu is as inexperienced maritally and socially as Prem and is less well educated. At the outset, Indu and Prem each find it difficult to communicate with the other. Indu has a strong sense of her own worth, demonstrated in her returning for a visit to her parents’ home when Prem has asked her to stay for his mother’s visit. The separation makes each realize a growing fondness for the other, and the marriage really begins on Indu’s return.

Sohan Lal

Sohan Lal, an older professor of mathematics at Khanna College who becomes Prem’s friend. Not an especially competent teacher, Sohan Lal is a devoted family man, spiritual and religious in his outlook, resigned to the difficulties and limitations of his life. It is these qualities that attract Prem, despite Prem’s knowledge that his father would have advised him to seek a more successful model.


Raj, Prem’s college friend from Ankhpur and a minor official in the ministry of food. Raj has been married longer than Prem and already is a father. For most of the novel, Raj is a reluctant friend who frequently...

(The entire section is 856 words.)