The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Ivory Swing is Juliet’s book. Its rhythms are determined by her moods, its language by the exuberance of her imagination, and its events by her driving compulsion to act. The other characters are important only in relation to her or in the reflections they provide of her dilemmas. Juliet’s energy and intelligence give the book its strength; both her self-pity and her self-indulgence define its limitations.

Despite the centrality of Juliet, Janette Turner Hospital’s use of an omniscient narrator enables her to portray the thoughts of other significant characters at key moments, including those of David, Annie, Prem, Shivaraman Nair, and Matthew Thomas. These characters, while remaining subordinate to Juliet, take on individual lives of their own and enrich Hospital’s portrayal of the complexity of moral decision-making in a crosscultural context. Particularly moving are Matthew Thomas’ efforts to bridge the cultural gaps because Juliet’s obvious outsider status reminds him painfully of his daughter Kumari’s exile in Burlington, Vermont.

The glimpses into the other men’s minds seem more perfunctory. They work to confirm Juliet’s assessments rather than to reveal new insights into character. Chapter 21, recording David’s visit to the Hindu temple, is narrated almost entirely from his point of view yet serves chiefly to confirm Juliet’s view of her isolation, even employing the same metaphors for her entrapment...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Juliet, a housewife and mother. Young, bright, and attractive, she is filled with a zest for life at the same time that she is afraid to embrace it. Torn between the exciting memories of a carefree relationship in Boston with her former lover and the oppressive drudgery of life in India with her husband, Juliet doubts her own identity. She has a spirit of fire and verbally challenges the patriarchy of Trivandrum in Kerala State, but she appears incapable of acting on the values she claims. Even her academic work demonstrates that lack of fulfillment: She has abandoned a doctoral thesis and occasionally alludes to a book that someday she hopes to write.


David, a professor. Restrained but intense, he is introduced as a combination of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker and Saint John in the wilderness. His two main passions are for Juliet, his wife, and for Indian culture, so when she agrees to move to India with him for a year’s sabbatical, he is ecstatic. When Yashoda, an Indian widow, approaches him for help, he is shocked by his physical attraction to her. Because he is absorbed in analyzing his own emotions, he fails to respond to her needs and later blames himself for her death.


Yashoda, a rich widow. Passionate and sensual, the young woman yearns for excitement, but the Indian caste system of which she is a member enforces that all widows remain private and withdrawn. In...

(The entire section is 605 words.)