Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis open access


Drawing upon cultural, historical, and postcolonial methods, I analyze how Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss reflects twentieth century India, an India heavily influenced by the West. This analysis seeks to answer questions the effects of colonization and whether or not the formal education the main female character inherits is worth what she loses in the process. One of the two main storylines in Desai’s novel focuses on Sai, an educated teenage girl in Kalimpong, India. Buried within the flashbacks of her story is that of Bela “Nimi” Patel’s, Sai’s grandmother. Shortly after Nimi’s wedding, her husband, Jemubhai, leaves to study in England. Upon returning, he identifies with Britain rather than India, which causes tensions with his wife who has been taught to embody Indian religious tradition and culture. I argue that Jemubhai and Nimi’s relationship serves as an allegory for the colonizer-colonized relationship between England and India. In contrast to Nimi, Sai stands in a higher social position – defined by her wealth, Western habits, and formal education – than her boyfriend and tutor, Gyan. She stands most in contrast to Nimi at the end of the novel when she resolves to “get out,” which Nimi never could. Drawing upon the idea of the woman as the embodiment of culture, I claim Nimi represents colonial India while Sai reflects postcolonial India. Although Sai has more freedoms and opportunities than Nimi, I argue that Desai criticizes the influence of the West on India, because Sai lacks the very culture Nimi embodied. In order for Sai to inherit freedom, she loses her culture, which also means her story parallels Jemubhai’s and his lack hatred for all that is Indian. This tension – between what Sai inherits and what she loses – reflects tensions common in postcolonial literature: between how England’s colonization positively and negatively affected day-to-day life in India in both the colonial and postcolonial period.