Rukmani and Kenny are the novel’s most memorable characters, because they are poles apart in their fundamental attitudes to life. Rukmani, in one sense, defies credibility as a character, for she uses a diction that is overwhelmingly Western and far too sophisticated for her background. Markandaya obviously needed an articulate voice for the description of conflicts, and Rukmani’s eloquence highlights the gallantry of her struggle. At heart, however, she is a peasant, for she never loses her appreciation of the land or village life; nor does she make an attempt to repudiate nature. A knowing victim of the vagaries of nature, she exhibits a characteristically Indian acceptance of custom, duty, and fate. In this, she is bolstered by Nathan’s patience and persistence and by an innate pastoral sense that is drawn to “the sweet quiet of village life,” untampered by modern technology. Although there are periods when her composure cracks and she becomes restlessly rebellious, she is not an adversary of tradition. She is bound to the very land that claims her husband and sons, and although her optimism is her grace, it is also her constraint. Where every agony is borne with the implicit conviction that nothing can really change, the hope in survival is simply a weak bargain with fate. Certainly, she endures. Certainly, her spirit is strong—but does her poignant suffering redeem the tyranny of nature or lessen its sting?
Kenny, the foreign doctor, embodies a challenge to Rukmani’s philosophy of acceptance. Although he is not given the sort of dramatic force he deserves, he is the outsider cast in the role of critical witness. His love for children and his chosen vocation draw him into...
(The entire section is 695 words.)