Ice Candy Man Themes

Bapsi Sidhwa

Ice Candy Man

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Ice Candy Man Themes

Religious Intolerance

Throughout the novel, characters’ desires for power or influence over others mirrors the desire for political power that fuels religious intolerance. Religious intolerance erupts into violence, pitting different religious and ethnic groups against each other. Lenny witnesses many acts of killing, maiming, and death, including finding Masseur, Ayah’s beloved, dead in a sack on the sidewalk.

As Lahore becomes a refugee center and an entrance to the new country of Pakistan, now a majority-Muslim country, the Hindus and Sikhs are driven out of the city.

Religious intolerance also becomes a way for men to subjugate women. For example, Ayah is taken prisoner by the Ice-candy-man, whom she has rejected for Masseur, and he pimps her out to other men as a “dancing girl.” Women become victims of extreme sexual violence, including rape and sex slavery, under the guise of religious intolerance.

Lust and Sexual Desire Cause Powerful Obsessions

Just as the Ice-candy-man stalks Ayah until he possesses her, body and soul, Lenny experiences a powerful sexual desire for and obsession with her Cousin. Through this experience, Lenny grows up to understand lust and desire as powerful motivators.


Betrayal is a central theme in the novel. The country of India betrays its own people—whether Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, or Parsee—by enforcing a hasty, ill-conceived plan of moving millions of refugees from one country to another. The loss of life, lands, houses, crops, livestock, and kinship stands as the reminder of this betrayal. Ranna’s story of the massacre of his village by Sikhs demonstrates the betrayal of the neighboring Muslim and Sikh villagers’ promises to protect one another.

On a personal level, Sidhwa uses betrayal as a theme to reveal hidden character traits, loyalties, and the truth through various characters. For example, early in the novel, after Lenny’s surgery, she wakes in terrible pain. Her parents lie to her, saying that her father has gone to call the doctor and fetch him to the house to help her. In reality, no such call is made. Lenny learns her first lesson in betrayal: even those you love will not always come to your aid.

Furthermore, Lenny betrays many people because she cannot lie, including her beloved Ayah. When the Ice-candy-man arrives with his Muslim gang to kidnap Ayah, he uses his relationship with Lenny to persuade her into betraying Ayah’s hidden presence in the household (194). Lenny is devastated by her betrayal, and her family cannot believe her naivety. Everyone is shocked that Lenny would betray Ayah. In the aftermath, the Ice-candy-man forces Ayah into prostitution, as her pimp. Lenny blames herself for Ayah’s ruination, but the women in her family, including Godmother and Lenny’s mother, will not stop until they have found and rescued Ayah from the terrible life resulting from Lenny’s betrayal.

Subjugation of Women

Women are oppressed and sexually victimized repeatedly throughout the novel. Some examples include Papoo’s child marriage to a middle-aged dwarf; the rape, mutilation, and killing of women throughout the violence of Partition and its aftermath—as exemplified by the house of fallen women next door—; and specifically Hamida’s, Ayah’s, and Ranna’s stories.

The only glimmer of hope in the book about the treatment of women comes from Lenny’s mother and her gang of family and friends, who engage in dangerous, illegal work rescuing women from their oppressors and returning them to their families. Both Hamida and Ayah are success stories through their survival and their ability to continue their lives, though they remain broken.

Illusion versus Reality

Cracking India portrays the theme of illusion versus reality on several levels. As the novel opens during 1942, the illusion of a united India is already beginning to crack: Lenny sees the Salvation Army band as a frightening caterpillar that dissolves into individuals as the band approaches her (27).

Lenny herself retreats into a dream world rather than face the reality of her own life, though as a child with a deformity, she has plenty of reasons to evade reality. However, her growth demands that she face reality in the end; all of her illusions are shattered, even her illusions about her own goodness, as when she betrays Ayah.

Ice-candy-man’s changing character supports the illusion of his many identities: as a popsicle seller, a poet, a good friend to Lenny, a romantic in his pursuit of Ayah, and a spiritual prophet. However, the novel reveals him to be in actuality an angry, power-hungry man, cruel and cunning in the pursuit of his own best interests.

In addition, Lenny believes that her mother and her aunt are burning parts of Lahore down with a hidden cache of black-market petrol, when in reality her mother, her mother’s friends, and other relatives secretly work to help women escape death and kidnapping. Lenny’s understanding is the opposite of what her mother is actually doing.

Finally, adults often create illusions to protect their children. One example is Lenny’s mother’s story of the little mouse with seven tails. Though the little mouse originally loses all of his tails to the cruelty of the other teasing mice, Lenny’s mother changes the ending of the story and leaves the little mouse with one triumphant tail. This story symbolizes Lenny’s mother’s attempts to protect Lenny, even from a sad children’s story. Additionally, Lenny’s mother does not trust her daughter with the truth about her secret work rescuing abused women and returning them to their families, even though this important work involves all the women of the Sethi clan, as well as their friends. Parents such as the Sethis keep the children in the dark, intending to not frighten them with the truth. However, just as Lenny and her brother find the gun in the bathroom, the children always find out what the parents are trying to hide.