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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686

  • Topic #1

    The novel offers a contrast between the acceptance of one’s fate, which is Rukmani’s philosophy, and Kenny’s battle against the status quo of poverty and sickness that pervades rural India. The author’s aim in providing this contrast is not to take sides in the argument, but to show how the very different life circumstances of each character make their very different philosophies possible.

    I. Thesis Statement: Markandaya portrays two very different views of poverty, as embodied in Rukmani and Kenny, which are based not on one’s innate nature but on the circumstances of one’s life.

    II. Rukmani’s philosophy: To be able to accept one’s fate is noble.
    A. Religion: she is taught that suffering in silence is good for the soul.
    B. Her position as a woman means that she has no freedom.
    C. The power of the caste system means that there is a lack of equal rights for the people.
    1. Her sons’ failure to elicit change at the tannery because the laws do not exist to protect them.
    2. No laws exist to protect Rukmani and Nathan from being cast from their land.
    D. Rukmani’s deep love for the land means that her greatest fear is that of starvation. But the land also provides her the security of place and hope for the future.

    III. Kenny’s philosophy: To fight against poverty and elicit change for the better.
    A. Kenny cannot understand Rukmani’s acceptance of starvation and poverty.
    B. Rukmani points out that Kenny is not of their society, which is why he doesn’t understand their ways.
    C. Kenny’s socioeconomic circumstances provide him with a much better means and freedom to pursue the eradication of poverty.
    1. Kenny is male.
    2. He is white and British.
    3. He is educated.

    IV. Conclusion: Kenny is outside of the circle of poverty that Rukmani has no choice but to stay within. This provides irreconcilable differences in their worldviews and philosophies.

  • Topic #2

    There are two prostitutes in this novel, Ira and Kunthi. Their stories and characters are very different and serve as contrasts to each other. The contrasts between these two characters illustrate a double standard in Indian society regarding women and sexual and economic freedom. Analyze this double standard.

    I. Thesis Statement: The contrast between Ira and Kunthi, who both live as prostitutes, illustrates a double standard regarding women and their economic and sexual freedom.

    II. Ira’s case.
    A. Ira’s nature: consistently described as obedient, caring, selfless.
    B. Her husband divorces Ira because she is unable to bear children. Her family accepts the divorce as reasonable, which illustrates that woman’s only valued role in society is to bear children for her husband.
    C. Rather, it is a purely sacrificial act.
    1. The most important role of a woman is to be a caretaker; a woman’s highest honor is to sacrifice for her family.
    D. With no husband or children, Ira does not have security for the future.

    III. Kunthi’s case.
    A. Kunthi’s nature: consistently described as vain, selfish, complaining, mean.
    B. Kunthi’s prostitution is evil and is based on her vanity and her need to seduce men. For instance, Rukani describes her prostitution in degrading language.
    1. Nathan’s affair with Kunthi: Rukmani places the blame on Kunthi, who she views as “evil” in nature, a “seductress.”
    C. Kunthi’s infidelity to her husband is a means to beget sons for herself.
    1. Her husband is impotent, but unlike Ira’s husband, Kunthi is unable to divorce her husband. She engages in deviant behavior (affair with Nathan) to bear sons.

    IV. Conclusion: Woman in this society are expected to be selfless, sacrificial, chaste, and devoted to their husbands. Any deviation from this prescribed role places women in the position of being characterized as “evil.” Although Kunthi is portrayed as evil, and Ira is portrayed as selfless, on some level they both turn to prostitution because of the standards that their society has set up for them. They both effectively see prostitution as a way to have children and thereby increase their future security.

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