Tobi Ete/ A Sense of Rootlessness in the Major Characters of Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide

Tobi Ete

Research Scholar,

Lovely Professional University,

Punjab, India


One of the pioneers of English literature in Indian subcontinent and best known for his novels in the English language, Amitav Ghosh occupies a prominent place in the literary scene of modern English language authors from the country. His novels The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide delineate the characters who are the victims of displacement or dislocation, immigration, exodus, clash of cultures and rootlessness. He is greatly influenced by the cultural and political environment of post independent India. Cultural fragmentation, colonial and neo-colonial power structures, cultural deterioration, the materialistic offshoots of modern society, fading of human relationships, amalgamation of facts and fantasy, search for love and security etc. are the major preoccupations in his writings. The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide portray a poignant picture of the characters subjected to unfamiliar and ever rejected state of affairs. The present study involves the in depth investigation of the pathetic and gloomy plight of the estranged and fragmented human beings as a result of their rootless bases.

 Keywords: Alienation, migration, rootlessness, identity crisis

The term rootlessness is the sense of feeling of alienation in which a man finds himself displaced in the society. A person becomes rootless when he has no place or position in the society. He becomes a wanderer and has no home to return. A rootless person frequently moves from one place to another place because he doesn’t have any association with any community, any society. It is also a feeling of homelessness when he/she doesn’t have a basis and becomes alien losing his identity.

Once a person becomes rootless, he starts to have a feeling of alienation in an unfamiliar place because there he has no strong communication with any community and moves frequently from place to place and society to society. He is unable to establish his own identity in that particular society or group and it makes him estranged from that social order. In this research, an effort is made to examine the impact of rootlessness and alienation upon the major characters of both the novels. The term rootlessness is the representation of the particular people who voluntarily move from his/her place to an expatriate. It also disturbs those people who are forced to exile due to colonial practices. The consequences of the rootlessness are the relocating of people as slaves and captivating them through imperial means.

This research aims to explore and analyze the pangs and pains faced by rootless people and their hope for the rehabilitation. It also aims to discover the problems of the selected particular characters, their political and social conditions, their psychological state of mind, homelessness and alienation in selected novels. It is an attempt to understand the human predicament in distinct human conditions.

 The theme of alienation and rootlessness dominates the major part in the novels of Amitav Ghosh. His novel The Glass Palace is highly filled with numerous notions like displacement, migration (voluntarily or involuntarily), colonization, rootlessness, homelessness, cultural clash between the native and the migrated people in a particular place. In The Glass Palace, Dolly, Rajkumar and Arjun are the three major characters who are victimized as rootless and isolated due to different circumstances that lead them to dislocate and separates them from their own native society and their people.

Amitav Ghosh’s most of the novels bring out the theme of Rootlessness and Alienation. These are stories of expatriates. In The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide, the theme runs throughout the novels. The Glass Palace delineates the forces of war and governments and the role they play in shaping the fate of individuals. It is a novel about places, war and displacement, exile and rootlessness. Rajkumar becomes rootless after he has been transported to Mandalay at the age of eleven. His parents have died due to severe illness that has spread in a town of Chennai. He worked in a tea stall with a matronly lady, Macho, who always addressed him as ―Kaala. When he landed in Mandalay,his lifelong search for places and acquaintance began. He became a complete destitute in an alien city without any acquaintances.

Because of his skill in the art of survival in a difficult world, Rajkumar slowly and gradually succeeds in becoming a rich and a powerful member of the Indian community in Burma. Even after acquiring lots of success in his life he is still a man of nowhere. He has no true identity that he can proudly refer himself to a particular place. When the Japanese troops enter Burma, he has to return India in Calcutta at Uma Dey‘s home. Though he is an Indian origin, he still feels suffocated with his life in Calcutta. Just for the sake of his orphan granddaughter whom he becomes too close and attached, he lives an adaptable life out there. He lived an adjustable life in Uma Dey’s house. He had a small room of his own, next to the kitchen, furnished sparsely, with a narrow bed and couple of book shelves. The only essential object in his room was a radio — an old fashioned Pillared with a wooden cabinet and a textile-covered grille (The Glass Palace 83). He cannot go back to Burma because nothing has left with him there. His house was collapsed and his families were also shattered. He could never find his true identity throughout his life in Burma and now in India.

Another important Rootless and Alienated character in The Glass Palace is Dolly who was a loyal maid of the Royal Burmese family. She is a ten year old girl whose duty is to look after the younger princess. She was adopted by the king of Burma at her early age as she could not even remember of her parents. Along with the royal family she was exiled to India where she lived for over twenty years in Madras and later at the Outram House in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. At this age she was capable of adopting Indian culture and becomes a typical Indian woman. She almost forgets everything about Burma and its cultures during her stay in India. She has lost her hope of going back to Burma again. But her fortunate marriage with Rajkumar changes her fortune but the happiness of her married life does not last till the end.

However, both Dolly and Rajkumar have the same agony and pains for being displaced from their own native places, but their circumstances were different from each other. The suffering that Dolly gets are not only because of colonial powers but also due to her slavery to the Royal family. She is dominated by both the outsiders (British colonial power) and by insiders (the royal families) whom she considered as her own family. There was no sign of freedom at all in her life. Her marriage with Rajkumar was not accepted by the Royal family and that she has to move away from India to Burma without the consent of the Royal family. She leaves the Outram house with Rajkumar and from that day onwards she has never seen any of the members of the Royal family. In Rajkumar’s situation, of course he was a person without any identity or a home, but he tries to get the freedom he wants in his life. He tries to feel that he is the master of his own. So he has not been dominated or ruled by other people in Burma. He is floated from his place to a new place because of his ill-fated fortune. Nobody forces him to move away but it is his choice to stay back in Mandalay. So it cannot be concluded with a thought that Rajkumar was a victim of colonial forces but Dolly can be taken as an example of it because there are different situations for both the characters to see them feel rootless and divided.

Apart from Dolly and Rajkumar another most important character as a fragmented identity in The Glass Palace is Arjun. He becomes a part British army. He was not a person who has been homeless or deprived in alien place but it was his attitude towards his own country people that makes him alienated from others and also from himself. On one hand, he was loyal to his duty towards the Britishers, and on the other hand he was unfaithful towards the people of his own nation. He was so proud of himself for being an officer and considered himself as superior as the European people. He becomes very proud of being the part of ruling class. He forgets the existence of reality and lives in a world of fancies. His attitude and behavior towards his friends and family was changed. It is Hardy, another army officer who tries to make him aware about the Britisher’s prejudice, pessimism, distrust and suspicion towards the Indian soldiers as well the Officers.

The influence of the western hypothetical restraints can be easily seen in the behavior of Arjun. His conceptions about ‘inferiority‘, ‘superiority‘, ‘innate‘ and ‘Whites’ are deeply rooted in his character. He lives like an Englishman because of his status as an honored officer. His prominent acknowledgement of the English people, the superiority of his colonial rulers and his respect and loyalty for the Whites, turns him to adopt their cultural behavior like a westerner. He implements the European morals, manners, garb and even the eating habits by imitating those Britishers. He feels proud while announcing his colleagues that being an officer he is superior and is qualified to be a respectable member of an elite class and now he is suitable to become a ruler. According to Arjun, modern and western are the same word. In order to become a modern man he is ready to expunge all his Indian identity and sheds away his past and adopts western habits of thoughts entirely. At this period, he never realizes of what would be the consequences of being a proud slave towards his own captivators. But, by the end of the novel Arjun realizes his misdeeds and joins the Indian National Army to fight against the British Empire. His loyalty and respect for the Britishers is all gone but his search for identity remains till his death. It was only at the end that he realized his faults and tried to save his own native people. He dies full of regression and deterioration without gaining any respect or salutation from the people of his nation.

In The Hungry Tide, the most important ruined character is Kusum. She is traumatized due to the devastation caused by the confrontations between the Bangladeshi immigrants in Morichjhapi and the Bengal government. At the age of five she lost her parents and her mother was cheated by a man called Dilip Choudary and was sold off. Kusum was supported by her uncle Horen. She was brought to Lusibari and was kept under the custody of the Women‘s Union under the guidance of Nirmal and his wife Nilima who had set up a union for the protection of poor. As the year passed she grew older and was able to trace her mother and finally meets her in a place called Dhanbad with the help of a man called Rajen with whom she gets married later on. After few months, her mother dies followed by the death of Rajen and she becomes all alone and there was nowhere else to go. She moves to a refugee camp with many Bangladeshi immigrants to a new place called Morichjhapi where they have entered illegally. Morichjhapi has been a protected forest reserve since a long time but many Bangladeshi refugees had occupied the island. This illegal settlement causes conflicts between the settlers and the Bengal Governments in which the refugees experience a lot of brutalities and cruelties. Kusum becomes one of the victims in that war and she had to stay there and fight against her enemy. Throughout her life she suffered a lot in every situation. She is actually left with her only son Fokir and becomes homeless because of her uneven circumstances. The ongoing war finally kills Kusum and she ends up her life in Morichjhapi. Kusum’s life story is revealed through the journal book written by Nirmal. The character of Kusum cannot be concluded as a main character in the novel but she is one of the most important disenfranchised characters among all.

A human being survives and succeeds the best in the place of his origin. The essence of life doubles itself if lead in the place of its origin. When people leave their native land in any circumstances they come across numerous situations which can lead to a ditch in the limitless problems and ultimately doom their lives. The concept of rootlessness as discussed above does give the picture in entirety. Amitav Ghosh has successfully been able to create such notions of the existent reality through the characters in his novels The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace. He has given a clear vision of those unfortunate people who are destined to live a life full of sorrow and distress due to natural phenomena or unusual situations. In these regards, human beings are fated to live and associate themselves with the chosen lot in life, and if the circumstances force them to divert away from their course and community they cannot thrive as expected, but it does happen with many people across the globe.

Under varied situations and circumstances people leave their native land. The love of the motherland does bother them but not more than the feelings of alienation in the land of others. The people during the time of colonization too suffered a lot from the sense of rootlessness and alienation. They were forced by the colonizers to leave their land and migrate to new places; in this process many died because of the problems of adoptability and adaptability. The situations of the people were the worst in the new colonies because everything of theirs were left behind and had to start a new life once again. A sense of loneliness and ‘out of place’ does hover over the minds of the new settlers indeed and the life becomes hellish. Sense of rootlessness is the cause of many social problems in the society. The people behind the criminal activities in most of the societies globally are definitely the people who do not have any permanent place to associate to. Indeed, when the life leaves no hope in the people, the people go astray. Those people who have been uprooted from the society by one means or the other become the greatest threat to the humanity as a whole. Thus people with the experience of rootlessness can be detrimental to the human society.

The study of the psychological aspect of those people who have been uprooted from their society never really have any experience of love, oneness and brotherhood, so there is psychic annihilation of their feelings for the other human beings. They do not get those positives aspect of life, including warmth, thus they turn out to be the heartless criminals at times. Rootlessness is a curse to those who experience and also to those who are the victims of that heartless human being created by the very act of uprooting them from their land. The other problems that erupt in the society are numerous but it does not end up with disturbing other’s social life only, it goes further on to spread the sense of violence in the minds of the people by the process of retaliation and creates social disharmony and total anarchy everywhere. How does this happen? What is the cause? The obvious answer is, it is the result of forcing the man to leave his home land by forcefully bifurcating them from their motherland or the birth place. There are many means deployed to alienate a person from his homeland. Often it is the power politics, one’s financial constraints, economic crises, martial dispute and domination by the bourgeois society. In each of these cases the people are made to leave their places and settle somewhere in an alien land, away from the beloved ones and beloved land.


Primary Text:

Ghosh, Amitav. The Hungry Tide. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2004. Print.

Ghosh, Amitav. The Glass Palace. New Delhi: Ravidayal Publisher, 2000. Print.

Secondary Texts:

Abrams, M.H. “Marxist Criticism.” A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth:

Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

Cuddon, J. A. (revised by C. E. Preston), Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory,

4th ed, 2013.

Hawley, John C. Contemporary Indian Writers in English: Amitav Ghosh.

New Delhi: OUP, 2005.

Mahanta, Namrata Rathore. ―History in Retrospect: Amitav Ghosh‘s The

Glass Palace”. Littcrit: Indian Response to Literature 29.1(June


Mukherjee, Meenakshi. ―Rev. of The Glass Palace. 2007. Web.

20 February 2013.

Sonia, M. A., and Sonia M.A. “Fragmented Identities: A Study of Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace.”Language in India 13.11 (2013):

Vinoda T, “A Tale of Three countries: The Glass palace as a post colonial

Text”. Littcrit 30. 2004.

Drop your message here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s