Just below the Surface

This study guide will help you analyze the short story  “Just below the Surface” (1993) by Kate Nivison. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective

Presentation of the text

Title:  “Just below the Surface” (1993)
Author: Kate Nivison
Genre: Short story

Kate Nivison is an English author of fiction and travel books who often focuses on social issues in her literary works. Some of her works are Tiger Country (1998) and Travelling Light (2011).


Here is an extract from our study guide:


The title of the short story “Just below the Surface” by Kate Nivison has both a literal and a symbolic meaning. In the literal sense, it refers to Indrani and Kumar’s rat problem. The title appears in the story, as the man from the Council explains the presence of the rats: “‘The sewage from half London comes through this way (…) It’s like rush hour on the Underground down there. There’s millions of them, just below the surface.’ ” (p. 133, ll. 41-44, p. 134, ll. 1-3). This suggests there are numerous rats hidden very close to the house, threatening to take over the house.

The symbolic meaning of the title is portrayed through the contrast between what is beneath the house and Indrani and Kumar’s expensive home in a beautiful suburban neighborhood (p. 128, ll. 13-14) where one would not expect rats to appear: that appearances can be deceptive. Specifically, the symbolism refers to how the apparently friendly people whom Indrani encounters actually seem to stereotype and judge her. 

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Just below the Surface

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