The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Rukmani, or Ruku, the female narrator, who nostalgically recounts the story of her life, beginning with her marriage at the age of twelve to a poor tenant farmer in a South India village and ending with the poignant death of her husband in the city and her subsequent return to the village. Although she is in her early forties, she calls herself an old woman who has helplessly witnessed the destruction of the pristine beauty of her quiet village and of a way of life by the onslaught of industrialism in the form of a tannery set up near their village. With her unbounded faith and capacity for love, sacrifice, suffering, and endurance, this simple woman of heroic courage goes through the fires of life and survives not only the calamities of nature but also many personal sorrows: the shock of her husband’s infidelity, the deaths of her two sons, her daughter’s turning to prostitution for survival, her eviction from the land they had farmed for thirty years, and, above all, the agonizing loss of her husband. Finally, she returns to her village and finds peace in taking care of a young leper boy whom she and her husband had adopted in the city.


Nathan, Rukmani’s husband, older than her, an illiterate tenant farmer who, having no knowledge or skill except those related to farming, cannot live except by the land. Unlike his wife, however, he readily accepts the forces of change and heralds the tannery as an inevitable step of progress. Although he is a loving husband and an affectionate father, he betrays his wife by having an illicit relationship with the village slut, Kunthi. As the size of his family grows and nature becomes more and more relentless, he feels powerless to provide for his family. Beaten by flood and famine and victimized by the landlord, he eventually is forced to leave the land and move to the city with his wife in a futile search for their son, Murugan. There he works as a stone breaker in a quarry, but before they can earn enough...

(The entire section is 823 words.)