Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As the plot and characterization make clear, The Ivory Swing explores the rewards and costs of interpersonal and intercultural relations. Juliet and David both savor and suffer from “the mysterious incongruities of their lives.” Any reaching out beyond the known, Hospital suggests, involves not only danger but also a compensating excitement what her characters think of as “the Balboa syndrome,” their metaphor for discovery.

Balancing the epiphanic moments releasing the couple into freedom experienced on frozen Lake Ontario and on the warm Indian Ocean are the moments of entrapment, when Juliet sees herself as a caged bird and David sees himself as the helpless victim of his passion and the passive partner in others’ initiatives. Nature offers Juliet and Art affords David brief moments of respite from the tyranny of Society, but the novel insists that one cannot escape from social confrontations into a private peace.

Hospital’s characters must defend and act on the values they cherish, and assume responsibility for the actions they take or fail to take. As a new young faculty wife in Winston, Juliet refuses to wear white gloves when asked to pour tea at a university reception. In India, also, when compelled to serve tea to the Nairs, she refuses to serve it in the proper Indian manner. Her refusal of the customary in both societies makes her a kind of rebel, but unlike Prem, she is a rebel without clear goals. She swings...

(The entire section is 450 words.)