The Serpent and the Rope Characters

Raja Rao

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Rama, as he stresses throughout his story, is a Brahmin, that is, a member of the Hindu caste of priests, teachers, and scholars. Indeed, Rama the scholar steadily pursues not only his doctoral studies but also his study of the Truth, wherever it might lead him. He is striking for his gentleness and kindness, as well as for the nameless unhappiness burdening his life. “Something had just missed me in life,” he says, “some deep absence grew in me, like a coconut on a young tree, that no love or learning could fulfil.” Rama embodies the universal search for meaning and self-knowledge, a quest which has a particular urgency for him, since the need to approach self-awareness is fundamental to Hindu belief.

Rama’s conviction that woman can only find her God through man, however, is a belief likely to exasperate the Western woman reader, and it is symptomatic of Rama’s problems with Madeleine. She is, simply, too Western. Beautiful and golden-haired, she seems to be a prototypical Western female, even to her slightly comical fear of bacteria in the Ganges River. She is a college lecturer and a lapsed Catholic who, at the time she meets Rama, is also an avowed atheist. Her studies of Buddhism, meant initially to bring her closer to Rama, ironically drive them further apart. Though Madeleine eventually becomes a practicing Buddhist, Rama points out that “one can never be converted to Hinduism.” Her independent conversion, in fact, represents two...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

K. R. Ramaswamy

K. R. Ramaswamy, or Rama, the narrator and protagonist. He is a South Indian Brahmin, a research scholar and historian who is living in France while writing his doctoral dissertation on the Albigensian heresy. Twenty-six years old, this handsome, consumptive, gentle, sensitive, and self-conscious intellectual leisurely recounts the story of his family background, his stay in Europe from 1946 to 1954, his marriage with a Frenchwoman at the age of twenty-one, his two trips to India, his discovery of a soul mate in a young Hindu woman studying at Cambridge, his subsequent estrangement from his French wife resulting in divorce, and his determination to go back to India to seek truth under the spiritual guidance of his guru. Deeply rooted in Indian culture and tradition and equally conversant with the philosophies of the West, Rama has chosen the abstract dialectical path in his quest for truth. He revels in abstruse thinking, metaphysical analysis, aphoristic sayings, and mythological ramblings. His two trips to India have reinforced his spiritual heritage. At the end of the novel, having finished his thesis, he is ready to embark for India to fulfill his spiritual destiny.

Madeleine (Mado) Roussellin

Madeleine (Mado) Roussellin (rew-seh-LAHN), Rama’s French wife, a teacher of history. Five years older than Rama, this shy, beautiful, golden-haired intellectual is attracted to Rama’s spiritual heritage and falls in love with him. After marriage, she tries to be a devoted wife and learns to venerate everything that is sacred to him. Although she is a self-avowed atheist, she turns to Buddhism to understand India and her Brahmin husband. After the death of her two infant children, however, she becomes cold, withdrawn, and aloof, absorbing herself in meditation and other Buddhist rituals. Unaware of Rama’s emotional involvement with Savithri and his brief sexual encounter with Lakshmi, she initiates divorce proceedings through...

(The entire section is 826 words.)