The Serpent and the Rope Summary

Raja Rao


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Every incident or conversation that Rama describes in this semi-autobiographical story is presented as it furthers or hampers his search for “Truth” and self-knowledge—a quest which is the very heart of the book. “I was born a Brahmin,” says Rama, “that is, devoted to Truth and all that.” Rama is a gentle young student, somewhat frail because of tubercular lungs, who has been living in France for some years. Married to a Frenchwoman, Madeleine, Rama plans, after finishing his thesis on the Albigensian heresy, to accept a teaching post in India and then move there with Madeleine. Yet from Rama’s first reference to his wife, there is a sense that something is not right with the marriage.

Their first child, a son, has died when only seven months old. It is after this tragedy that Rama must return to India, for his father is dying. After presiding over his father’s cremation at Benares, Rama accompanies his stepmother—“Little Mother”—on a pilgrimage to the city’s holy places before returning home. For Rama, this is a trip which intensifies his sense of searching and incompleteness. It is also during this visit home that Rama meets Savithri, a Cambridge student who is betrothed to a friend of his, though she is not in love with the young man she is to marry. At first Rama does not care for Savithri—she is too “modern” for him. Nevertheless, something about her has struck a responsive chord deep within Rama, and he returns to France feeling even more estranged from Madeleine....

(The entire section is 620 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Derrett, M. E. The Modern Indian Novel in English: A Comparative Approach, 1966.

Iyengar, K. R. Srinivasa. Indian Writing in English, 1962.

Naik, M. K. Raja Rao, 1972.

Sykes, Gerald. Review in The New York Times Book Review. XLVIII (April 14, 1963), p. 53.

Time. Review. LXXXI (February 22, 1963), p. 96.