The Shadow Lines

by

Amitav Ghosh

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Ila Character Analysis

Ila is the narrator's cousin. They're the same age, and their families joke that they could be twins, but they're very different. Ila's family is very wealthy and she lives in a number of foreign cities throughout her childhood, which makes her much less interested in their uncle Tridib's stories. She can recall where every ladies' restroom is in the airports, something the narrator believes was a way for her to find some sort of consistency in an otherwise whirlwind childhood. During her childhood, she lives in London at Mrs. Price's house for a while and attends school with Mrs. Price’s son, Nick. When she visits Calcutta and plays with the narrator, she indirectly tells the narrator about being bullied and beaten for being Indian, and the narrator doesn't piece together what actually happened until years later. Because Ila grows up in a lot of western cities, she thinks about freedom differently than the narrator and Robi do. She loves to talk about having promiscuous sex and wears clothing the narrator finds exotic (mostly jeans and t-shirts). Though the narrator loves her romantically throughout his childhood and into adulthood, Ila either doesn't realize or doesn't care. Ila dabbles in Trotskyism in London, and tells the narrator that nothing that happens in India is important on a global scale. She marries Nick Price and soon discovers that this was a mistake: he has several other girlfriends and refuses to give them up. Though she confides in the narrator and seeks comfort from him, she later insists that she made it up and Nick would never hurt her.

Ila Quotes in The Shadow Lines

The The Shadow Lines quotes below are all either spoken by Ila or refer to Ila. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Houghton Mifflin edition of The Shadow Lines published in 2007.
1. Going Away Quotes

I tried to tell her, but neither then nor later, though we talked about it often, did I ever succeed in explaining to her that I could not forget because Tridib had given me worlds to travel in and he had given me eyes to see them with; she, who had been travelling around the world since she was a child, could never understand what those hours in Tridib's room had meant to me […]

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tridib, Ila
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

I felt a constriction in my throat, for suddenly it seemed to me that perhaps she was not so alien, after all, to my own small, puritanical world, in which children were sent to school to learn how to cling to their gentility by proving themselves in the examination hall.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

For Ila the current was real: it was as though she lived in a present which was like an airlock in a canal, shut away from the tidewaters of the past and the future by steel floodgates.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

She had given me away, she had made public, then and for ever, the inequality of our needs; she had given Ila the knowledge of her power and she had left me defenceless, naked in the face of that unthinkable, adult truth: that need is not transitive, that one may need without oneself being needed.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Mother
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

I said: I'm not meeting you for the first time; I've grown up with you.

He was taken aback.

That must have taken some doing, he said drily, since I grew up right here, in boring suburban old West Hampstead.

I've known the streets around here for a long time too, I said.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Nick Price (speaker), Tridib, Ila, Robi
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

They know they're a nation because they've drawn their borders with blood […] War is their religion. That's what it takes to make a country. Once that happens people forget they were born this or that, Muslim or Hindu, Bengali or Punjabi: they become a family born of the same pool of blood. That is what you have to achieve for India, don't you see?

Related Characters: Tha'mma (speaker), The Narrator, Ila
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

But I knew I had made a mistake the moment I said it; I should have known that she would have nothing but contempt for a freedom that could be bought for the price of an air ticket. For she too had once wanted to be free; she had dreamt of killing for her freedom.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] I thought of how much they all wanted to be free; how they went mad wanting their freedom; I began to wonder whether it was I that was mad because I was happy to be bound: whether I was alone in knowing that I could not live without the clamour of voices within me.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

I began to marvel at the easy arrogance with which she believed that her experience could encompass other moments simply because it had come later; that times and places are the same because they happen to look alike, like airport lounges.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Nick Price, Alan Tresawsen, Dan, Francesca, Mike
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

Well of course there are famines and riots and disasters, she said. But those are local things, after all—not like revolutions or anti-fascist wars, nothing that sets a political example to the world, nothing that's really remembered.

Related Characters: Ila (speaker), The Narrator
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling, and as the hours passed I saw Ila again and again as she was when she stepped out of that car at Gole Park, eighteen years ago; on that morning when she wrenched me into adulthood by demonstrating for the first time, and for ever the inequality of our needs.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
2. Coming Home Quotes

They were all around me, we were together at last, not ghosts at all: the ghostliness was merely the absence of time and distance—for that is all that a ghost is, a presence displaced in time.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Tridib, Ila, Snipe
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Everyone lives in a story, he says, my grandmother, my father, his father, Lenin, Einstein, and lots of other names I hadn't heard of; they all lived in stories, because stories are all there are to live in, it was just a question of which one you choose […]

Related Characters: The Shaheb (speaker), Ila, Tha'mma
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

I could think of nothing to say; nothing that would console her for the discovery that the squalor of the genteel little lives she had so much despised was a part too of the free world she had tried to build for herself.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Ila, Nick Price
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ila Character Timeline in The Shadow Lines

The timeline below shows where the character Ila appears in The Shadow Lines. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Going Away
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...the narrator recognizes that he's happiest surrounded by books. Once, the narrator and his cousin, Ila, discuss this when they're sixteen and Ila and her family visit. When Ila gets out... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
They sit awkwardly for a minute and finally, the narrator asks Ila if she remembers how, as children, Ila, the narrator, and Robi used to go find... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
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The narrator asks Ila how she could possibly forget, and she responds by asking him how he even remembers.... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
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The narrator rambles about wanting to see Cairo but soon realizes Ila isn't listening. Suddenly, Ila snaps her fingers and says that the ladies' room is on... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
A decade later, when the narrator is in London, he and Ila often go out. The narrator is always thrilled to get to take the underground transit... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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Ila visits Calcutta most summers while she and the narrator are children. She always brings her... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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When they're 14, Ila points out a picture of a boy who looks much older and says that he's... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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Years later, when Robi, the narrator, and Ila are drinking in a London pub, the narrator reminds Ila about the yearbooks. Ila laughs... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
The narrator recalls a time when he was ten and Ila; her mother, Queen Victoria; and Tridib came to visit. In the flashback, Queen Victoria tells... (full context)
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
The cook, gripped with fear, refused, so Queen Victoria summoned Lizzie, Ila's new nurse. In the strange, almost-unintelligible dialect that Victoria developed to speak to Lizzie, she... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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One morning, after a party, Ila went outside to read by the pond. The thala-goya was still tied up. As Ila... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
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...goodbye, Tridib suggests that snakes aren't that interesting and asks if the narrator noticed that Ila's house had a sloping roof. Tridib asks the narrator to imagine it: it would mean... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...no division between person and world. The narrator thinks about this as he listens to Ila in the pub, and he reasons that Ila lives so fully in the present that... (full context)
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Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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Right after the narrator arrives in London, Ila takes him out to show him around. The narrator notices a building, fetches Ila, and... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
In the pub, the narrator tries to explain to Ila and Robi the "archaeological" Tridib, but Ila is contemptuous. The narrator insists that if they... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Ila and her family are living with Mrs. Price when they visit Calcutta for a holiday.... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...later, the narrator, his mother and father, and Tha'mma wait at Gole Park to meet Ila's family. The narrator, overcome with excitement at getting to see Ila, jumps and points when... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
After the narrator's mother and the Shaheb finished talking, the narrator was worried because Ila hadn't yet arrived. He ran to Jatin, who said Ila wasn't coming but winked at... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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Ila interrupts, saying she couldn't have been wearing that dress. Robi rolls his eyes and remarks... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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...arrived at the house, which sat way up on a hill. The servants fussed over Ila for a while until she grabbed the narrator and dragged him inside to hide. She... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Ila suggested they play a game and led the narrator to a massive sheet-covered object. When... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
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Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
The narrator returns to the story of his visit with Ila. Ila asked the narrator to get under the table with her to play a game... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Seventeen years later, the narrator finally meets Nick. The narrator, Ila, and Robi visit Mrs. Price, and as soon as the narrator sees Ila, he knows... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
...hit by bombs in World War Two. Nick is incredulous, and he walks ahead with Ila. (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
When the narrator and Robi return to Ila and Nick, Nick is rambling on about Kuwait and not feeling pressure to get another... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
...for a moment and then describes how to get to the kitchen and the cellar. Ila laughs in disbelief, and the narrator tells the reader that Ila was the one who... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
As Ila drew the lines, the narrator suddenly became angry. The lines didn't make sense, even though... (full context)
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
Ila told the narrator that first, they have to get out of bed and change clothes... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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Ila began to tell the narrator what happened to Magda at school: the children stared at... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
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...the narrator says that he always saw Nick as a savior because of this story. Ila, however, burst into tears when she finished her story. (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...that she's going to die from this illness. Tha'mma declares that getting beaten up was Ila's fault, as she had no right to be in England in the first place. Tha'mma... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...heart fills with a mixture of love and pity for Tha'mma. Later, when he told Ila about what Tha'mma said, she said something about her being a "warmongering fascist," and the... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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The next morning, when the narrator returns to Tha'mma's side, Tha'mma insists that Ila is in England because she's greedy. The narrator reminds Tha'mma that Ila is far wealthier... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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The summer before, Ila arranged an impromptu trip to Calcutta at a time when both the narrator and Robi... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
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A few days later, Robi, the narrator, and Ila spent a hot afternoon in Ila's room. Once the sun set, she insisted they go... (full context)
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Ila finally managed to convince Robi to go. She led Robi and the narrator to the... (full context)
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Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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...of the dance floor and invited the room to find a stranger to dance with. Ila excitedly tried to get either the narrator or Robi to dance with her, but the... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
When the businessman agreed to dance, Robi got up, snatched Ila by her blouse, and pushed the businessman back. He paid a waiter and the wait... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...think much of freedom that can be purchased with a plane ticket. Tha'mma spits that Ila can live like a whore in England, but that's not real freedom. The narrator goes... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...to leave. As he retreats, he hears Tha'mma ask why he always defends "that whore" Ila. Tha'mma's condition worsens over the next few days, and she continues to ask the narrator... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...visit prostitutes, and he wonders how she also knew that he was in love with Ila. (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...for the first time, he finally has to face the truth of his affections for Ila. A tune from a Hindi movie gets stuck in his head, and he hums it... (full context)
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
Ila lives with young liberal activists who argue quietly and seriously about small things. The narrator... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
One evening, Ila makes a face at the narrator's shabby clothes and insists on taking him to Brick... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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Ila has no interest in hearing the narrator's explanation for his lateness, and explains that Nick... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
...when Nick's uncle, Alan Tresawsen, lived on the street, and offers to show Nick and Ila where Alan lived. He leads them to a quiet part of Brick Lane and finally,... (full context)
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When the narrator finishes telling Ila and Nick this, Ila comments that they must've been happy in the house, since she... (full context)
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The narrator is flabbergasted. Ila notes that Calcutta experienced riots and famine but not on a scale that affects the... (full context)
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The entire argument bores Nick, so he leads Ila and the narrator into the travel agency. The agent isn't at all friendly, insists they... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
The narrator doesn't see Ila for two weeks. Mrs. Price invites both Ila and the narrator for Christmas Eve dinner... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
...goes to his room. Mrs. Price is asleep in her chair. A half hour later, Ila fetches Nick, they wake up Mrs. Price, and May carves the turkey. Dinner is mostly... (full context)
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Mrs. Price heads for bed as May and Nick settle Ila and the narrator on camp beds in the cellar. The narrator's heart bursts with hope.... (full context)
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Ila laughs, turns around, and stops in her tracks when she sees the look on the... (full context)
2. Coming Home
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
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...and the narrator discuss her visit to Calcutta for the first time the day after Ila's wedding. Ila and Nick married simply in London, and Mrs. Price invited a few people... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
...loses his gift, a tiny saltcellar, at a pub when he stops on the way. Ila is amused to receive it but turns to her other guests quickly. May gives the... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Social Standing and Pride Theme Icon
Borders, Violence, and Political Unrest Theme Icon
...He feels as though his genitals are pushing him to find a way to mourn Ila's marriage. May looks concerned, and the narrator takes her hand in his. She draws her... (full context)
Youth vs. Maturity Theme Icon
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
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...incident. May wasn't angry; she just ruffled the narrator's hair. Later, when the narrator told Ila this story, she snarled something condescending about May's wide-eyed innocence. The narrator explained that he... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
...bedroom) and explains that he has a lady waiting for him on the phone. It's Ila, who has been married for three months now. When the narrator picks up, Ila breathlessly... (full context)
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The narrator and Ila decide to meet at Trafalgar Square and then go to Mrs. Price's together. The narrator... (full context)
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Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
...frailer than usual and seems like she doesn't really want visitors. After they have tea, Ila and the narrator decide to let Mrs. Price be alone, and they look around the... (full context)
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The narrator flashes back to the day that young Ila cried after telling her story about Madga. Tridib appeared, and the narrator invited him into... (full context)
Memory, Storytelling, and Reality Theme Icon
...the story. The narrator says that he could see the story in the cellar with Ila: Snipe telling it to Tridib, Tridib relaying it to the narrator and Ila, the narrator... (full context)
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Back in the present, Ila continues to cry on the narrator's shoulder. Finally, she says that it's Nick, and the... (full context)
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The narrator tells Ila she has to leave Nick, but she insists she loves him too much. Later when... (full context)
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Robi talks about Tridib's death for the first time in London, the day that Ila takes him and the narrator to meet Mrs. Price. Ila takes them to her favorite... (full context)
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...in a riot. The restaurateur is embarrassed as Robi grabs his coat and storms out. Ila and the narrator chase after him and he finally stops at the steps of a... (full context)
Freedom and Identity Theme Icon
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...possible, Tridib's death would've freed him, but the dream continues to haunt him. At this, Ila hugs Robi and the narrator. (full context)
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...He spends his day running back and forth across town for various reasons, and phones Ila at lunchtime. The narrator reminds her he's leaving the next day and wonders why she... (full context)