Raja Rao

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Themes and Colors
Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power Theme Icon
Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste Theme Icon
Nationalism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Land, Geography, and Belonging Theme Icon
Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Kanthapura, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Oral Tradition, Writing, and Political Power

The village of Kanthapura is a traditional society based in oral culture: few of its inhabitants can read or write, and storytelling ceremonies are a crucial aspect of the town’s collective life. Oral tradition is a source of power in the village, for it allows Kanthapura’s residents to shape their understanding of history, consolidate their identity as a community around shared religious values, and organize politically against the repressive British colonial government. But Kanthapura’s oral…

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Gandhism and the Erosion of Caste

The conflict between the traditional caste hierarchy and the Gandhian ideal of equality lies at the heart of the first half of Kanthapura. Many of Kanthapura’s residents initially fear Moorthy’s campaign of Gandhian nonviolent resistance, believing that he is “polluting” the village by overturning holy caste divisions, but most ultimately join the rebellion when they see that it promises to liberate them from the hierarchies of colonial governance and caste. By the end of…

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Nationalism and Colonialism

The second half of Kanthapura stages a different conflict: the Gandhian nationalist villagers, who have largely ceased worrying about caste, nonviolently resist the British colonial government in the name of the Indian nation. Gandhism inspires Kanthapura’s residents to fight against the oppression of the British colonial government in the name of India, a mythical nation to come, out of a sense of loyalty to a leader and population that they have never encountered and likely…

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Land, Geography, and Belonging

Kanthapura is as much about a people displaced as about a place that loses its people. As the legendary history of a village, the book emphasizes the topography of Kanthapura’s region as people actually experience it and suggests an inherent link between the villagers and their land. But this sense of belonging unravels throughout the book as the villagers’ national identity surpasses their local one, the coolies (indentured laborers at the Skeffington Coffee Estate) move…

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Labor, Exploitation, and Economic Independence

Besides the military assaults that eventually repress Kanthapura’s dissent, the colonial system’s primary means of oppressing Indians is economic: it makes them work while Europeans profit, deprives them of their land through unfair property agreements, and forces indentured servants into lifelong slavery by saddling them with increasing levels of debt. Moorthy’s Gandhism is primarily focused on redressing this systematic economic exploitation. Because Gandhi recognizes that depriving the British Empire of its profits is the best…

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