English 580: World Literature Spring 1998

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Discussion questions/talking points for Raja Rao's Kanthapura

[page references are to the New Directions paperback edition 1967. isbn 0-8112-0168-6]

1. Describe the narration of this story? How would you characterize the style? Cf. the "Author's Foreword" wherein Rao talks about "infusing" the tempo of Indian life into English.

2. What is the physical setting of the novel? What do all the details about the physical surroundings add to the narrative? How is the physical related to the natural (relation to Kenchamma, for example)?

3. What about the coolies at the coffee plantation? What are the living and working conditions? Why was attacking of the toddy stands so important to both the villagers and the coolies?

4. What does this novel demonstrate about gender roles at the time of the action of the novel? What pressures are put on the traditional roles of women? How would you characterize the narrator of the novel? What about some of the other female characters?

5. Is Moorthy a true holy man? What about the quality of his mystical experiences (see, for example, pp 62-4)? What are the basic principles that he espouses?

6. Who in the village opposes Moorthy? Why? What are the arguments of those who oppose, on what assumptions or values do those arguments rest?

7. Rao compares the mythical battle between Rama and Ravanna to the struggle between Gandhi and the British government: Sita is India, Rama is the Mahatma, Jawaharlal is likened to Rama's brother, Bharata. What other analogies does the narrator supply to set the current situation into a larger historical/mythical/cultural context? What purposes does such contextualization serve?

8. What do we learn about the caste system from this novel? What is the significance of Moorthy's visiting a pariah1s house? What are his reactions before he enters?

9. Who might Bade Khan represent? What kind of man is he? Is he a good man just stuck doing an unenviable job?

10. What is the situation at the end of the novel? What, if anything, has been accomplished with all the bloodshed, pain, and sacrifice? The narrator says that ". . .there is something that has entered our hearts . . . "[p. 180]. What might that "something" be?

11. Do Moorthy's views change over the course of the novel? How is he different at the end, after his imprisonment, from when he is first introduced?

12. From what or who do the villagers draw courage to stand up to beatings, gunfire, rapes, imprisonment and so on? Does the novel demonstrate that the non-violent tactics really work?

13. What similarities, if any, does Moorthy have with Raju in The Guide? Do they share any of the same type of experiences?