The Serpent and the Rope

by Raja Rao

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.


Raja Rao's The Serpent and the Rope is an autobiographically-based novel that follows a man's journey to seek truth. The book was critically acclaimed and was honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award for Literature in 1964. Its narrator, Rama, is a native of India; throughout the book, he analyzes traditions and life in his birth country and brings to light the similarities and differences between Eastern and Western cultures.

Plot Summary

While living abroad in France for his education, Rama marries a French woman, Madeline, and plans to return to India once his thesis is completed. The two have a son, but he dies just seven months after he is born. Rama himself is not in the best shape: he has had tuberculosis and is in frail health. With little time to recover after his loss of his son, Rama has to return to India to attend to his father, who is on his deathbed. Along with his stepmother, Rama embarks on a pilgrimage of holy sites in India prior to returning to France to be with his wife. Influenced by his travels, he begins to question his existence and the lack of fulfillment in his life. He meets another woman, Savithri, who is engaged to his friend, and realizes that he can't forget about her.

The tensions in his marriage to Madeleine rise as Rama continues to think about Savithri, who travels to France to visit him. Together, they go to London, where Rama can work on his thesis research. He realizes he loves Savithri more than his own wife. Rama returns to France and learns that Madeleine is once again pregnant. But she has a premature birth, and their second son dies. In the meantime, Savithri gets married.

Rama and Savithri meet one final time in London and acknowledge that they have to part ways and be happy for one another. Rama divorces Madeleine because there is no love in their marriage—and he desires to seek out his own path.

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