The Clash of Cultures
Perhaps the most prominent element of The Elephanta Suite is sexuality, specifically sexual relations between tourists and natives. What is notable is that there is never a sense that the relationships are egalitarian or even purely consensual. Dwight’s relationship with Indru is nothing more than that between a “John” and a prostitute, yet he regards himself as a generous benefactor. In some ways, Theroux is nearly obtuse with his metaphor of the exploitation of India by America. However, in “The Elephant God” the situation is changed. With Alice’s rape, the relationship between India and America is called into question. Before the rape, Alice made numerous references to how cheap India was to navigate around, which re-introducing the commercial exploitive theme seen earlier in the novel. However, when Amitabh rapes Alice he becomes the one exploiting her femininity, her weakness. The entire relationship changes. Within the novel, sexuality is closely tied to the ideas of exploitation. Theroux also cares to remind the reader that manipulation often works both ways.
Finally, there is the issue of outsourcing, which is closely tied to the issue of economic exploitation. Dwight, who at first bemoans the fact that he would be sent to conduct business in India, notes, “Everyone gets what they want. But at the same time you’re going something you didn’t bargain for” (154). He becomes very comfortable with the fact that India can supply his company with exactly what they need, at a great profit, however he remains weary of the idea. On the other hand, Alice does not go to India for business, but rather for strict enjoyment and personal growth. Her experience with outsourcing was coincidental. There is a theme that echoes in both “The Gateway of India” the “The Elephant God” when it comes to the idea of economic exploitation and that is simply this: as much as Americans are abusing the resources of India, the Indians are always making a profit. Even when Americans are not making a profit, Indians are. At its heart, the story is about the exploitation of India, but more than that it is about the power struggle between two nations and culture, which are deeply enmeshed due to business and tourism.