Kanthapura Summary

Kanthapura tells the story of Mahatma Gandhi's independence movement from 1919 to 1930 and is framed as a flashback to a village legend told by a village oral storyteller, Achakka, of an earlier time.

  • A young man of the high Brahmin caste is inspired by the actions and words of Gandhi and returns to his village to lead a fight for equality and the Indian National Congress. 
  • The British army deals with resistance in the village and most of the men are imprisoned or killed.
  • The women fight against the British themselves, and not long afterward, word of impending Indian independence reaches what is left of the village. The women decide to burn the village rather than to return to the old ways.

Summary

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Last Updated on March 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

Kanthapura is a 1938 novel written by Indian author Raja Rao. It tells the story of Mahatma Gandhi's independence movement from 1919 to 1930, describing its impact on the caste-ridden south Indian village of Kanthapura. The story is narrated by Achakka, an elderly woman from the village’s dominant Brahmin caste, who chronicles the events in the village.

The novel’s central character, Moorthy, is a young educated Brahmin man. Originally from Kanthapura, Moorthy moves to the city to study. While living there he becomes a follower of Gandhi and an activist against the caste system, British colonial rule, and social inequality. When Moorthy returns to Kanthapura he becomes the leader of a non-violent independence group following in Gandhi's footsteps. When he is excommunicated by the village priest and his mother dies from the shame, Moorthy moves in with Rangamma, a young woman from the village. Rangamma, a wealthy widow, joins Moorthy’s group and becomes his second-in-command.

Moorthy is asked to spread the word of Gandhi's teachings at a rally of lower-caste villagers who work on a local coffee estate. But Moorthy and the villagers are attacked by a colonial policeman. When the villagers retaliate, violence breaks out; many of the villagers are hurt, and others are arrested. Villagers' protests against the arrests make the situation even more violent, and Moorthy is himself arrested and jailed. The group offers to pay his bail, but Moorthy, feeling responsible for the violence, will not accept it and instead remains in prison. In his absence, Rangamma becomes the group’s leader, and a number of village women join her. As violence from the police and the government continues, the group does not waver from their allegiance to Moorthy and to Gandhi. Three months later, when Moorthy is freed, he returns to Kanthapura, where he is welcomed as a hero.

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