The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The numerous characters in this novel demonstrate the sense of community that unifies the plot and gives substance to the political and social conflicts. There is a sense of teeming life, and because the larger question is not about an individual’s fate but about a group destiny, Raja Rao’s mode of characterization is impressionistic. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, and the focus encompasses both the masses in the background and certain salient figures in the foreground.

The female narrator is a medium for storytelling as well as a character in her own right, for she expresses her own radical nature and that of changing India. Though she tells the reader little directly of herself (she admits to owning seven acres of wet land and twelve of dry, it is clear from her mode of speaking that she is willing to accept fundamental social changes. Although she is respectful of Hindu tradition, she is not bound to old ways. She is caught up in all the turmoil, and her at times breathless narration expresses the excitement of the period as well as her own recognition of a movement that is leading to India’s autonomy.

The conflict between acquiescence to time-honored tradition and resistance to old tyrannies is dramatically expressed in the two factions: the Gandhians and their foes. Moorthy is the prime representative of the modern Indian struggling with dignity for freedom. He is linked to Hindu traditions from the outset, for he is the youngest...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Achakka, the open-minded Brahmin female narrator, who recounts the rise of Gandhian resistance to British colonial rule. Weaving Kanthapura legends and Hindu myths into her story, she documents the wisdom and daily routines of village life while recalling her own conversion to Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi’s philosophy. Although she is a grandmother who survives by subsistence farming, she seems ageless in her strength and charity. As Achakka becomes increasingly involved in the resistance, she studies Vedic texts and yoga with Rangamma and participates in boycotts of foreign cloth and in picketing against tobacco and liquor shops, during which she is beaten, along with other Gandhians. When her house, with much of Kanthapura, is burned, she goes to live in the nearby village of Kashipura.


Moorthy, a young Brahmin, the principal organizer of Gandhian resistance and the Congress Party in Kanthapura. Noble, quiet, generous, and deferent in manner, the smart and handsome deep-voiced only son drops out of the university to follow Gandhi and teach reading and writing to “untouchables.” After experiencing a holy vision of the Mahatma (great soul), Moorthy distributes spinning wheels as a measure of resistance, as well as engaging in fasts and meditation. Ever admonishing Gandhians against hatred and violence, he is sorrowful but calm, and submissive but steadfast, in his leadership of nonviolent actions. Although beaten severely and imprisoned frequently, Moorthy remains loyal to Gandhian principles, despite becoming a supporter of the more pragmatic Jawaharlal Nehru in the nationalist movement.


Bhatta, the First Brahmin, or chief priest at ceremonial feasts, and primary landlord of Kanthapura. A clever, overweight opportunist, he exploits the conflict among villagers, siding with the traditionalists who oppose Gandhi’s doctrine of equal treatment for untouchables because his profits are larger as a result of the cheap labor that they provide. He lobbies his cause with phony smiles of religious devotion, wearing holy ashes to enhance his image. Through frequent trips to the city of Kawar, he becomes the official legal agent of the colonial administration and the sole banker of Kanthapura, using his position to raise interest rates on mortgaged lands belonging to Gandhi’s supporters. When Kanthapura is nearly destroyed in the police assaults on the resisters, the untouchables burn Bhatta’s house. He sells the deeds that he holds to Bombay land speculators and moves to Kashi.

Patel Range Gowda

Patel Range Gowda, the primary executive officer of Kanthapura, acting as mayor,...

(The entire section is 1107 words.)