Materialism v. Spirituality
Globalization has become a growing force of social change since the post-war period of Bowles, and the information technology industry in India is a perfect example of how Western culture travels across great distances and leads to homogenization. Theroux incorporates this phenomenon into both novellas and explores how Western culture is somehow both attractive to the natives, such as in the case of Shah and Amitabh, while also being somewhat repulsive to Westerners like Dwight and Alice.
It would be too simplistic to argue that both sides experience a sort of “grass is greener on the other side” draw towards the new cultures that they are experiencing, but it seems to be the most convenient explanation available because it doesn’t involve looking into the historical origins and sociological implications of globalization.
As a case study, Dwight seems to be a classic example of a Westerner looking to part with material possessions in order to experience some higher spiritual consciousness. Near the end of the story his gives up his cell phone, blackberry, and laptop to Shah for safe keeping and enters the Hindu temple to find the peace that he had been searching for in his life as a “skinny, sun-burned geek” clad in a turban and a loincloth. Dwight realizes how silly he looks, but he embraces his spiritual quest, all while Shah is embracing the Harvard account that he just secured and the material success that is sure to follow. While this may seem like a win-win situation along the lines of “different strokes for different folks”, it has a certain moralistic bent, as if Dwight knows the true value of Indian culture better than Shah who is abandoning it for material success in the West.
This paternalistic tone of “you don’t know what you’re giving up” is also evident in “The Elephant God” when Alice laments that Amitabh has switched out his original telephone greeting, “Can you please inform me, what is your good name, madam?” with the more Westernized “So who am I talking to?” It’s almost as if Westerners believe that the Indians are foolish for abandoning what they perceive as a more authentic way of life, which leads them to oppose globalization and the spread of Western culture to protect non-Westerners from it when in reality they are really trying to preserve these non-Western cultures for what seem like sentimental and slightly selfish reasons.