Character Sketch of Uma Dev in The Glass Palace

Uma is another pillar of the novel. Uma is a particularly interesting character as she illuminates one of the ideas central to Ghosh’s novel. When we first encounter her, she is constantly worried about being the proper memsahib, following traditional domestic etiquette, and living up to the standards of her husband, the Collector. She soon realized, however, that her husband‘s dream was not in accordance with the rules of Indian custom. He longed ‘to live with a woman as an equal in spirit and intellect,’ and she could never, according to custom, fulfill those expectations. We see a monumental change, a transformation in her when she returns to India from New York.

With Uma, we encounter the growth of a new political consciousness. Uma experiences her own awakening, not into an enterprising capitalist like Rajkumar, but rather into a cosmopolitan intellectual and activist, traveling from India to England to the U.S. and back, learning from displaced Indian populations and questioning the inevitability and rightness of British rule.

The power of Ghosh’s narration is such that the moment Uma enters the novel, the reader knows that she has come to stay. The Collector and Uma go to the house of the King and Queen. The meeting is awkward and stiff. But Uma makes her mark. The Queen Supayalat gets impressed by her. Uma develops a close friendship with Dolly. Their friendship lasts for a whole lifetime. But for all her sophistication, liveliness and charm, there are problems in Uma’s life that she has not been able to sort out. The bond between her and her husband is weak. The Collector has been educated abroad. He does not fit into Indian scheme of things. The author makes an indirect comment on the state of Indian marriages when he says, the wifely virtues she could offer him he had no use for: Cambridge had taught him to want more, to make sure that nothing was held in abeyance, to bargain for a woman’s soul with the coin of kindness and patience. The thought of this terrified her. This was subjection beyond decency, beyond her imagining. She could not bring herself to think of it. Anything would be better than to submit.

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