Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550

Scott’s opening paragraphs of The Raj Quartet quickly come to the point on which the novels will elaborate:This is is the story of a rape, the events that led up to it and followed it and of the place in which it happened.... Since then people have said there was a trial of sorts going on. In fact, such people say, the affair that began on the evening of August 9th, 1942, in Mayapore, ended with the spectacle of two nations in violent opposition, not for the first time nor as yet for the last because they were then still locked in an imperial embrace of such long standing and subtlety it was no longer possible for them to know whether they hated or loved one another, or what it was that held them together and seemed to have confused the image of their separate destinies.

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In this work, rape is three things: a specific criminal act, an image of interlocked, struggling bodies, and a metaphor for other, more complex and equally violent personal and political embraces. This opening narrative explanation gives the reader the primary message of the four novels: Rape is failure; nothing taken by force will remain long in the possession of the rapist. No matter with what fervor the British Raj clutched at India, India’s initial submissiveness would turn to revolt; rape is failure to love or understand.

Each novel’s title relays a strong thematic content. The Jewel in the Crown describes Miss Crane’s Indian schoolroom, complete with an allegorical painting of Queen Victoria receiving homage from representatives of her Indian empire. While the picture’s title, “The Jewel in Her Crown,” refers to India’s position as an important crown colony, her students prefer to think of the literal sparkling gem that a prince is presenting the Queen. Kneeling before her and surrounded by his retinue, he holds out the jewel on a velvet cushion. Made uncomfortable by the significance of the picture, Miss Crane nevertheless finds it useful as an English vocabulary lesson, a ploy her naive fellow teacher thinks will teach both English and love of the English.

During the course of the four novels, a replica of Miss Crane’s painting will change hands several times; each recipient views it in his or her individual way. Gradually, it becomes a deeper, richer symbol as it migrates from Miss Crane to Barbie Batchelor to Ronald Merrick to his stepson, Edward Bingham. Ironically, Edward, the child, approaches the allegory with the same simplicity as the Indian students under the tutelage of Miss Crane. The picture tests character as well; each individual’s reaction to the allegory reveals the personality and prejudices of the viewer.

The Day of the Scorpion picks up the symbol of fire, an element of both cleansing and destruction. A ring of fire threatens the embattled Raj; there is war without, the conflict with the Axis powers, and war within India. The Towers of Silence, a place for the Parsee class to leave their dead to the ministrations of the vultures, is used as the title for the third volume and clearly states Scott’s view of the progression of Raj influence in India. A Division of the Spoils portrays an India looted from without and within.

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