Redefining the Shadow Lines: A Reinterpretation of History Through Narratives
Restructuring the Patriarchal Norms: Sarita as a Champion of Women Empowerment
Merging the Shattered Selves: The Question of Self Realization in Disgrace by J. M Coetzee
Euphemisms of Existence: A Reading of the Relationship Between Food and Gender .
Trauma Theory: A Retrospective Analysis
Gender Stereotypes and Fairy Tales: A Reading
The Thousand Faces of Night: A Reading of the Relationship Between Indian Myths and Gender Stereotypes.
Unearthing the Green Elements in The Hungry Tide:
This is an anthology of essays compiled under the general title Euphemisms of Existence: Gender, Ecology and History in Fiction. This collection consists of several essays concerning gender, ecology and history in the works of selected writers including Amitav Ghosh, Githa Hariharan, Shashi Deshpande and J.M Coetzee.
The fictional corpus of Amitav Ghosh has always been concerned with issues like gender, memories, history and ecology. If we closely analyze the patterns of Ghosh’s early and recent works of fiction, we can clearly trace a shift from history and memory to environmental problems and ecology. The Shadow Lines (1988) and The Gun Island (2019) will serve as a testimony for this statement. The works of Githa Hariharan and Shashi Deshpande, to a great extent, deals with the issues of gender in patriarchal societies. Most of their characters are drawn from an Indian background and assimilate the plight shared by Indian women. Hariharan’ s The Thousand Faces of Night and Deshpande’s The Dark Holds No Terrors are discussed here. J.M Coetzee, a South African Nobel Laureate, in his works deals with the issues of gender in particular and discrimination based on caste, religion, race etc...in general. The essays in this book is an attempt to trace and locate how gender, ecology and history are explored in the works if this selected writers.
Redefining the Shadow Lines: A Reinterpretation of History Through Narratives
If we for a little while disentangle ourselves from the intricacies of facts and logic, we would become aware of the fact that histories are nothing but vivid and varied imaginations appropriated by certain people to produce a culture and identity of their own. According to Philip K. Dick, “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words”. Very often, narratives are deliberately used to serve this purpose of manipulation as well as reinterpretation. In this paper, I propose to explore how narratives are used as a medium to reinterpret or deconstruct history with special focus on the works of Amitav Ghosh, especially on The Shadow Lines. Ghosh is famously known for his historiographic narratives and in The Shadow Lines, Ghosh presents us with a narrator who functions as a historian connecting the thread of fiction and history from what he had already known and possibly would find out in the future. Moreover, in his works there are many instances in which the author constantly makes us aware that he is trying to interpret history in accordance with his own perceptions: “Everyone lives in a story because stories are all there to live in, it was just a question of which one you choose” (Ghosh, TSL). Here in this study, I attempt to analyze the manipulative nature of narratives, how they deliberately extenuate or enhance historical events by problematizing its very authenticity and how they are effectively employed to re-interpret history.
Amitav Ghosh is famously noted for the directness of his storyline and the lucidity of his expression as well as his brilliant portrayal of the intricacies of human relations in a multicultural world. He was thrust into the limelight with the publication of his 1989 Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel The Shadow Lines. This novel deals with man’s notions of home, freedom as well as the existential problems that arise from the demarcation of national boundaries. In order to present these themes clearly and effectively Ghosh used different narrative techniques.
In The Shadow Lines, first person narration is used with the help of an unnamed narrator. The events described in the novel starts even before the narrator’s birth and continues through his lifetime. Many of the events portrayed in the novel are mainly the recollections of other characters. Hence this novel is also a memory novel in which an anonymous narrator is trying to connect the unknown threads of past and present, thereby giving new interpretations to certain events occurred long time ago. Here, Ghosh used innovative narrative techniques by employing an unnamed narrator who desperately tries to find out a connection between and reason for past events.
The novel is mainly focused on the impact of certain historical events on the lives of ordinary people. In order to point out those events in a more reliable and authentic way, Ghosh employed several techniques like the blending of history and fiction, first person narration, non- linear narrative mode, chronological shifts etc.… While praising the narrative technique in The Shadow Lines Novy Kapadia comments that:
There is extraordinary density in the narrative of The Shadow Lines. The overall story emerges in layers and each layer is a fusion of private lives and public events all linked in to a thematic unity. Ghosh uses first person narrative from dual point of view, that of a child and the adult ‘I’. this gives a sense of inhabiting both past and present simultaneously. (21)
Ghosh being a scholar in history, sociology and social anthropology, employed a tinge of all these disciplines in his fictional corpus. This can be best viewed in The Shadow Lines which describes post independent India, even though the narration starts in 1939. At the beginning of the novel we are introduced to an anonymous narrator who traces the incidents through his personal memory. The novel stretches over four decades, recounting the story of three generations of two families - one is the family of the narrator and the other is an English family living in London. Tridib and Thamma are the main characters in this novel, and both of them are connected to the narrator as uncle and grandmother respectively. It is mainly through their recollections of the past that the novel progresses. They give the legacy of their reminiscences and experiences to the narrator who in turn used these stories to reconstruct the history of his family as well as his nation.
The recounted stories are narrated within various geographical locations like London, Bangladesh and Calcutta. The novel depicts the lives of several people from different national, religious, social and cultural backgrounds. Non- linear narrative technique is used as is evident from the shifts and leaps in temporal and spatial factors during the progress of the narrative. Moreover, the narrator heavily depends upon the oral stories, which he had listened as a child and tries to correlate incidents and their reasons to provide a logical reinterpretation of history.
Like many of the novels written by Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines also has historical events as its background. This novel explored certain historical incidents, its reasons and how these incidents are interconnected with each other. These major themes are portrayed through Tridib’s death in a riot in Bangladesh. The events that overtake and destroy Tridib have a random irrationality about them. The Mu-i-Mubarak, the hair of the prophet Mohammad, disappeared from its place in the Hazratbal mosque. Srinagar remained peaceful. But in Khulna, a small town in the distant east wing of Pakistan, a demonstration that was marching in protest against the theft of the relic turned violent. Some shops were burnt down and a few people were killed. Soon the riot spread outward from Khulna into the neighboring towns and districts towards Dhaka. Looting, killing and burning destroyed the collective sanity of the people. Rumors fueled the desire for vengeance and soon Calcutta, too, was burning. It was in the riot in Dhaka that Tridib was killed. He went there with his mother and aunt to take his maternal grand uncle home. So, the theft of a relic in Srinagar 2000 kilometers away claims the life of Tridib in Dhaka where he has gone with his mother and aunt to bring Jethamoshai back to India. By describing the events that led to Tridib’s death, our narrator was trying to make sense of what had happened in the past and how these incidents are interconnected irrespective of the shadow lines demarcating the boundaries of nations which are otherwise connected to each other by their culture, traditions and people. Thus, he was trying to reinterpret a national history that has long been forgotten.
In the novel a reinterpretation of history is done through a reconstruction of the private and personal history and in this process of reconstruction the author tries to achieve a validity of his narrative by employing effective techniques and in doing so he constantly makes us aware of the manipulative nature of his narrative. Here is an example to illustrate:
I shook my head violently. . . You’re lying, I shouted at her. That can’t be staircase because it’s flat, and staircases go up, they aren't flat. And that can’t be upstairs because upstairs has to be above and that isn’t above: that’s right beside the drawing room. I dropped to my knees and began to scrabble around in the dust, rubbing out the lines, shouting: You’re lying, you’re mad, this can’t be a house . . . you’re stupid, she said. Don’t you understand? I’ve just rearranged things a little. If we pretend it’s a house, it’ll a house. We can choose to build a house wherever we like (TSL, 70).
Here the reader is puzzled with the question of authenticity and validity. They cannot distinguish between fiction and reality and what are the factors that make a narrative valid or invalid. The instance of Tridib’s returning to Gole Park after his absence of a small period of time is an example to illustrate. On being asked where he had been, Tridib replies:
“I have been to London . . . to visit my relatives” (TSL, 11). During the course of the events that followed the reader learns that it is a lie when our narrator shouts out: “Tridib da, you’ve made a mistake! I met you last month, don’t you remember? You were in your room, lying on your mat, smoking a cigarette . . .” (TSL, 12). But later, Tridib justifies this lie by saying that
“Everyone lives in a story because stories are all there to live in, it was just a question of which one you choose”
(TSL, 179), thus making the manipulative nature of narrative evident.
Tridib is the main source of narrator’s stories and imaginations. He has a momentous impact on narrator’s life. It is through Tridib’s peculiar, logical and detached eyes that the anonymous narrator gets the attractive picture of the outside world and gradually he is trained to contemplate through Tridib’s vision, evidently highlighting narrator’s reliance on Tridib: “Tridib had given me worlds to travel in and he had given me eyes to see them with” (TSL, 20). This influence of Tridib on narrator becomes clearer when our narrator goes to London as a student. He never felt like he had reached in an alien country. Every streets and corners of that city were so familiar to him “The streets and buildings of that foreign metropolis greet him like long lost friends for he has heard them described so often, seen their photographs so often”
(Indian English Fiction 1980-1990: An Assessment. 155). Thus, we are made clear of the impact of Tridib’s oral narratives upon our narrator. It is through these stories told by Tridib that our narrator fabricates a history and a world of his own.
The Shadow Lines is a perfect specimen of several fictional accounts integrated by certain historical events. These events included partition, the communal riots of 1963-64 in Calcutta and Dhaka and also the second world war. Memory is the only constant in this novel upon whose reliability that the entire novel is drawn. The Shadow Lines is all about memories and recollections. In order to make these recollections authentic and valid, Ghosh made use of several material objects as well as true places and names in the novel. An instance of such a situation is Tridib’s narration of Solent and Sumatra Roads in London. On our narrator’s first arrival at London, he claims to know all the streets and roads there, including Solent and Sumatra Roads. But his assumptions were thwarted when he encountered a well-built street instead of a bombed-out road. This invalidation of Tridib’s narration was later cleared by the author when he stated that much has changed since 1940. Hence an authenticity of the narrative is achieved by the author by justifying narrator’s despair that he had hoped to see a street of 1940s in 1980. Thus, it is proved that narrative validity is based on the coincidence of temporal, spatial and material factors. We are manipulated at the beginning when the author portrayed Tridib as an archaeologist and the chief narrator as a history research fellow because the importance of materiality, temporal and spatial factors to the archaeologist and historian for validation of oral narrative and to reconstruct history cannot be ignored. The photographs of the Brick Lane Group are only an instrument of this manipulation.
Another important aspect of this novel is the description of historical events. Several incidents are depicted throughout the novel including partition, world war, communal riots etc. . All these incidents are recollected by some of the major characters in the novel including Tridib,Thamma and at times, the narrator himself. The validity of all these incidents are achieved through the depiction of several photographs and newspaper cuttings. Towards the end of the novel, the adult narrator tried and to some extent succeeded to correlate all these events and in doing so he deliberately reconstructed and reinterpreted a history of his own.
Ghosh, Amitav. The Shadow Lines. Penguin Books, 2009.
Bharucha, Nilufar and Vilas Sarang, editors. Indian- English Fiction
1980-90: An Assessment. B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1994.
Chowdhary, Aravind, editor. Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines: Critical
Essays. Atlantic, 2002.
Jha, Vivekananda, editor. The Novels of Amitav Ghosh: An Analytical
Appraisal. B. R. Publishing Corporation, 2012.
Kapadia, Novy, editor. Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines. Asia Book Club,
Piciucco, Pier Paolo, editor. A Companion to Indian Fiction in English.
Prasad, Murari, editor. Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines: A Critical
Companion. Pencraft International, 2008.
Restructuring the Patriarchal Norms: Sarita as a Champion of Women Empowerment
The hands became a body. Thrusting itself upon me. The familiarity of the sensation suddenly broke the shell of silent terror that had enclosed me. I emerged into the familiar world of rejection. My rejection that had become so drearily routine. I struggled to utter the usual words of protest, to say... No, not now, stop it. But the words were strangled in my throat. The face above mine was the face of a stranger. Blank , set and rigid, it was a face I had never seen. A man I did not know.
― Shashi Deshpande, The Dark Holds No Terrors
The Dark Holds No Terrors is the debut novel of the prolific author Shashi Deshpande, published in the year 1980. This novel is about an educated, economically independent middle-class woman, Sarita. The novel exhibits the oppressive silence and surrender of the Indian women. Women’s struggle, in the context of a contemporary Indian society, to find and preserve her identity as wife, mother and most important of all, as a human being, is Shashi Deshpande’s major concern as a creative writer and this appears in all her important stories. Saritha is the female protagonist of the novel. It unfolds the life of Sarita from her childhood to her youth as the narration moves back and forth in time. The theme of this novel is Sarita’s search for self-identity and liberation. Saru’s journey is a journey from self-alienation to self- identification, from negation to assertion, from diffidence to confidence in which she learns to trust her feminine self. In this novel, Sarita attempts to break her silence in order to attain self- identity. Her efforts to free herself from the dark experiences of her childhood days and marriage life is emphasized. The novel explores the trauma of Saru who was caught in a trap in the male-dominated society and the novelist brings out powerfully the psychological problems of a career-oriented woman and discusses it artistically.
The novel begins with Saru’s return to her ancestral home after a gap of fifteen years. Sarita, a well-known doctor and an established practitioner, is married to Manohar (Manu), who is an underpaid college teacher. They were married against the will of her parents and hence stayed detached from her family for long. Sarita had estranged herself from her family even before her marriage because of the bitter childhood she had experienced in her ancestral home. It was because Sarita was accused of killing her little brother Dhruva, even though it was not her fault. Her mother blames Sarita for killing her only son and she hates Sarita to the extent that she asks: “you killed him. Why didn’t you die? Why are you alive, when he is dead? (191). Thus came the alienation and loneliness in her life which continued even after her marriage.
Sarita was born and brought up in a family which strictly followed the rules and regulations put forward by a patriarchal society. Even though her mother is depicted as a strong woman in the novel, she also followed the ways of patriarchy. Another fact, which is of much importance in this novel is that the female characters are much stronger than the male characters. The new roles of woman as an educated housewife and job holder makes Deshpande’s male characters feel inferior and they find it difficult to adapt to the changing modes of family system and society. Even after having a stronghold in the family, Sarita’s mother always treated her daughter inferior to her son. She always reminded Saritha that she does not belong to her paternal family but is a part of her husband’s home. One day she will be married off and thence she will not have any right over her ancestral house. Thus she always makes Saritha feel that she is a burden to them. Saritha’s mother always kept two different measuring yards, one for the son and the other for the daughter. Here is one example to illustrate:
Don’t go out in the sun. You will get even darker.
We have to care if you don’t. We have to get you married. I don’t want to get married.
Will you live with us all your life?
He’s different. He is a boy (45).
The above conversation clearly depicts the fact that Sarita’s mother kept a distinction between her son and daughter and when her son dies because of a negligence from her daughter’s part, her hatred and enmity towards her daughter was endless: “...Daughter? I don’t have any daughter. I had a son and he died. Now I am childless” (196). If a mother cannot empathise with her own child then who would the child turn to? Was it her fault that she was dark and ugly? These are the questions this novel arises. Saru’s defiance towards her mother awakens her careerist ambitions which later becomes the reason for her unhappy married life.
The Dark Holds No Terrors presents a marriage which is in jeopardy; on the verge of collapse. Sarita, whom all consider and esteem as a very reputed doctor finds herself as a trapped animal in a cage when her husband sexually assaults her at night. Thus she becomes a victim of marital rape; a theme that Deshpande, later on, picks up in The Binding Vine in the character of Mira. The trauma of this brutal act is too much for her as she married Manohar according to her own wishes and against her parents’ command. This silence which exists between the two is the result of the incompatibility which emerges out of Manohar’s incapacity to deal with his wife’s growing social status as contrasted to his own status which fades into a pale in comparison to hers. There is professional jealousy between Manu and Saru. She is ready to resign her job when his “affected indifference” towards her increases. But then he wants to enjoy life with her money and status. For Manu, she is only a prized possession to show off to his friends. Manu’s simmering inferiority complex explodes when in one of the interviews, a female journalist asks Manu “How does it feel when your wife earns not only the butter but most of the bread as well?(35-36). At that time, he laughed with Saru. But this question underestimates his confidence and he feels inferior to Saru. So he lets his wounded male pride manifest itself in the form of sexual sadism. He does it unconsciously because next morning he will be a normal husband as usual. This incident changes him into a sadist from that day onwards. Since then Manu continues to tease Saru in bed and behaves normally during daytime. She has to suffer the rape mutely. At first, she thinks that it is only a nightmare . But the bruises reveal the reality.
In modern times, both men and women work hand in hand. Women refuse to wear the caps of ‘traditional women’ who used to sit idle at home doing only the household chores. They are equal partners in the family earning bread for the family. But still, in some part of the Indian society, this fact creates havoc in the family life. The situation sometimes gets aggravated when wife’s earning is markedly more than the husband’s; a fact that husband finds quite hard to cope with. Manohar, Sarita’s husband is typically an ‘Indian man’, who is expected to control the family. When the role of a woman changes from domestic life to a socially established professional, the man or the husband finds it very difficult to cope with his role. In the novel, Sarita is a well-known doctor whereas her husband Manohar is an underpaid college teacher. In the beginning, their life was normal but when Saru became an established practitioner and when people started to respect her, Manu develops a kind of inferiority complex in him. Here, the protagonist Sarita earns double than her husband and her recognition in the society is noteworthy. People know her well and admired her for being a self-made person; one who has worked day and night to achieve her dreams. But the same fact overhauls her husband’s perception about her and Sarita notices metamorphosis in him; one who becomes a mentally sick, moron and sadist to degrade himself to such an extent that he starts pushing his masculine lust on his wife at night; a fact that she cannot live with. He doesn’t behave like a husband in the privacy of their room at night but as a rapist. Thus the pain she gets in her father’s house by sleeping on the floor is contrasted with the pain that she suffers at her own home. It is the pain of being brutally raped. The pain of sleeping on floor is a blessed pain as it contains nothing of the ignominy. Sarita’s body is enthralled by a male’s ego.
She struggled to a sitting position, her body waking up to an awareness of new pains, of new areas of soreness, that come from sleeping on the hard ground. Blessedly clean pains. Not like the others. I am dark, damp, smelly hole, she often thought when the pains of the night come back to her in the day, shaming her as if they were evidence of her wrongdoing. I am like a house full of unclean things, never cleaned, never opened ( 29)
Going back to her father’s house after a hiatus of fifteen long years is the beginning of the novel. Her visit to her father’s house is occasioned by her mother’s demise. Staying away from her husband Manohar seems a good riddance for some time. “It was not to comfort her father that she had come. It was for herself” (43). She had been living with Manohar in a very oppressive silence. That is why she does not keep her word that she will never to step into her father’s house; an oath that she has taken when her parents did not consent to get her married to Manohar as he belonged to another caste. Here, in this house , she scans her life from the very beginning till the present and feels empowered to have her say. After this, the rest of the novel is her own musings on the past as the past seems unavoidable and haunts her time and again. Her past presents the reader with the suffocating silence and the emotional disinterestedness between her and her husband. The words of her father: “silence has become a habit for us” (199) are quite applicable to their relationship too. She reflects on her past and examines her relationship with her mother, her brother, Dhruva and her husband, Manohar. She then realizes that the dark is no longer a scary thing and hence the novel’s title proves apt as dark holds no terrors for her. Her rumination not only articulates before us the sufferings but also enables her to have a new understanding of her relationship and she ultimately comes out of her fears. As she thinks, “The dark holds no terrors. That the terrors are inside us all the time. We carry them with us, and like traitors, they spring out, when we least expect them, to scratch and maul” ( 85).
Distressed and anguished at heart to know that the man she loved more than her own life can be so ruthless is a fact that she can never digest easily and she becomes a neurotic; a mental patient who loses all her power to live her life nonchalantly. Every night is a horrible night for her:
The hurting hands, the savage teeth, the monstrous assault of a horribly familiar body. And above me, a face I could not recognize. Total non – comprehension, complete bewilderment, paralyzed me for awhile. Then I began to struggle. But my body, hurt and painful, could do nothing against the fearful strength which overwhelmed me. ( 112)
She endures as it is a woman’s fate to endure. But every night she has to keep silent, “and each time it happened and I don’t speak. I put another brick on the wall of silence between us. Maybe one day I will be walled alive within it and die a slow, painful death”( 88).
Towards the end of the novel, we see that Abhi's letter informing Saru about Manu's arrival disturbs her as she is totally upset about her relationship and does not want to face him. But after a bit of pondering over the issue, she is able to find out her way. The moment she realizes the importance of life, she determines to live with full gusto. She has also been aware of the fact that her coming to parental house was an exercise in futility. Even though she got trapped in the norms of the patriarchal society for awhile, she decided to fight back and to snatch every bit of happiness she deserves.
Rape is a devastating kind of victimization that destroys a person’s sense of safety and self and frequently produces emotional trauma that outlasts physical injuries. From time immemorial, rape has been used as a weapon to destroy women’s self and identity. Very often, the victims along with their perpetrators are regarded as guilty and treated as outcasts. They are expelled from every social activities and gatherings and are expected to live their lives with bowed heads, carrying the stigma of rape throughout their lives.
Deshpande, Shashi. The Dark Holds No Terrors. Penguin Books, 1990.
Sangeeta Tirkey. “ Character of Saru in the Novel The Dark Holds No Terrors”. International Journal of English Language, Literature and
Translation Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (2017) 136-138.
Sekhar, V. “Women’s Enduring Silent in Shashi Deshpande’s ‘The Binding
Vine’, ‘The Dark Holds No Terrors’ And ‘Roots And Shadows”. International Journal of Research - GRANTHAALAYAH, Vol. 4, No.7 (2016) 56-61.
Merging the Shattered Selves: The Question of Self Realization in Disgrace by J. M Coetzee
According to Lenore Terr, “psychic trauma occurs when a sudden, unexpected, overwhelming intense emotional blow or a series of blows assaults the person from outside. Traumatic events are external, but they quickly become incorporated into the mind” (Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood, 8). Here, in this study I attempt to analyze J M Coetzee’s Disgrace as rape trauma narrative and how this external act of rape (which also inflicts physical injury) becomes incorporated into the mind of the victim and how this event forms itself as a background for trauma. This story focuses not on the attack so much, but rather on its responses and also the trauma associated with rape. In this novel, Disgrace, there is a female protagonist who fall victim to the brutal act of rape and she, even though chooses to remain silent and to cope with the situation by enduring the pain that rape had inflicted upon her, fought back and analyzed the reasons behind the act ( which is not justifiable however much they try) and decided to move on with her life.. Lucy restructure the traditional concept which portrays the victims as guilty and expected them to live their lives with a bowed head. Instead, she represent the strength of women who are capable of facing and fighting any atrocities forced on them. Thus, Lucy and Melanie encapsulate the idea of a strong and determined woman within them. In this study I am focussing on the psychological impacts of rape, society’s attitude towards rape victims, the trauma associated with rape both in the premarital and marital contexts and also how women are capable of handling any situations bravely. Issues such as gender inequality, colonialism, patriarchy and apartheid, and the manner in which these issues form themselves as a background and justification for that brutal act will also be analyzed in this project, though the main focus will be on the trauma of rape and its aftermath.
She doesn't reply. She would rather hide her face, and he knows why. Because of the disgrace. Because of the shame. That is what their visitors have achieved; that is what they have done to this confident, modern young woman. Like a stain the story is spreading across the district. Not her story to spread but theirs: they are its owners. How they put her in her place, how they showed her what a woman was for.
― J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
Disgrace is a Booker Prize winning novel published in the year 1999, making J.M Coetzee the first writer to win the award twice (first with Life & Times of Michael K). In 2003, he was also awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. But beyond the awards, Coetzee is notable as a great South African writer who, together with Breyten Breytenbach and the late Andre Brink, grappled with the savage complexity of the apartheid and post-apartheid years. Coetzee also took the novel in English into new imaginative and moral territory. From his many outstanding works of fiction, Disgrace is his masterpiece.
Set in post-apartheid South Africa, J. M. Coetzee’s searing novel tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes that he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. His "disgrace" comes when he seduces one of his students, a girl named Melanie Isaacs, plying her with alcohol and other actions that arguably amount to rape. This affair is thereafter revealed to the school and amidst a climate of condemnation for his allegedly predatory acts, a committee is convened to pass judgement on his actions. David refuses to read Melanie's statement, defend himself, or apologize in any sincere form and so is forced to resign from his post.
Dismissed from his teaching position, he takes refuge in his daughter Lucy's farm in the Eastern Cape. Shortly after his arrival, David is forced to come to terms with the aftermath of an attack on the farm. Three men, who claim to need Lucy's phone to call for aid for a sick sister, force their way into the farmhouse. The men, armed with firearms, rape Lucy, and attempt to kill David by setting him on fire. In addition to these actions, they also shoot all the caged dogs which Lucy is boarding, since black people in South Africa consider dogs as symbols of white power and oppression. The men drive off in David's car. The car is never recovered and they are never caught.
Lucy becomes apathetic and agoraphobic after the attack. David presses her to report the full circumstances to the police, but she does not. She had become pregnant by one of the rapists, but ignores the advice to terminate the pregnancy. She does not want to, and in fact did not, discuss the attack with David until much later. Meanwhile, David suspects Petrus being complicit in the attack. This suspicion is strengthened when one of the attackers, a young man named Pollux, attends one of Petrus's parties and is claimed by Petrus as a kinsman. Pollux ultimately comes to live with Petrus, and spies on Lucy bathing. When David catches Pollux doing this, Lucy forces David to desist from any retribution. David surmises that ultimately, Lucy will be forced into marrying Petrus and giving him her land, and it appears that Lucy is resigned to this contingency.
Returning home to his house in Cape Town, David finds that his house has been broken into in his long absence, either by looters or by students protesting his affair with Melanie. Either way, his house is in shambles. He attempts to attend a theatre performance starring Melanie, but was compelled to leave by her boyfriend who had earlier threatened him. He also attempts to apologize to Melanie's father, leading to an awkward meeting with Melanie's little sister. Melanie's father insists that his forgiveness is irrelevant: David must follow his own path to redemption.
At the end of the novel, David returns to Lucy's farm. He works with Bev Shaw, a friend of Lucy's, who keeps an animal shelter and frequently euthanizes animals, which David then disposes of. David has been keeping a resilient stray from being euthanized, but at the end of the novel, he himself “gives him up" to Bev Shaw's euthanasia.
Violence and varied reactions to it take very unpredictable forms in J.M Coetzee’s novels, demanding a new theoretical paradigm to conceptualize it comprehensively. This is well illustrated in this novel Disgrace, which portrays two rape victims, Melanie and Lucy, and their perpetual silence to that brutal act committed upon them as a means of registering their protest. But the kind of silence that follows an act of violence or brutality, or that which the victim prefers to maintain cannot always be characterized as being employed by the victim in protest against the cruel act. Very often the silence that the victim maintains is a direct result of the horror caused by violence and injustice. The victim is traumatized by the gruesome act of violence, rendering his or her mind and senses disabled beyond any point of repair. The incomprehensibility of the cruel treatment at the hands of the tormentor is mainly responsible for the psychological trauma suffered by the victim. This silence is often followed by an urge to sever every form of communication with the world. This turning away from the existential reality, either out of sheer disgust or of horror, by the victim is the central theme in many of Coetzee’s novels, especially Disgrace. In Disgrace, silence itself is impregnated with an immense degree of suggestiveness.
Disgrace is partly based upon Coetzee’s deep conviction that it is the absence of love on the part of the whites in South Africa which is responsible for that nation’s misery. The novel revolves around the life of its protagonist, David Lurie, who has, from time to time, made necessary arrangements to gratify his lust. David, in his attempt to quench his insatiable sexual desire, seduces one of his students, Melanie, into sleeping with him, and this act, nothing short of rape, brings about his undoing. The story involves one more rape: the rape of Davis’s daughter Lucy, living in a farm house, allegedly by a group of black men. The victims of both the rapes, Melanie and Lucy, either out of utter helplessness or inexpressible trauma, refuses to talk about the crime committed upon them. The novel, while providing a political background of a post-apartheid South Africa, also analyze the trauma of rape and the difficulties faced by the victims to cope with their anguish.
Rape, which is a worldwide problem, has always assumed many dimensions in a predominantly patriarchal society. In Disgrace, Coetzee addresses two female victims of sexual assault by two aspects of patriarchal power in a post-apartheid setting. Through the portrayal of the brutal rapes of Lucy and Melanie, Coetzee makes a strong statement about a history of imposed silence and brutality on a gender that has undergone years of oppressions at the hands of patriarchy. Cathy Caruth claims that “history, like trauma, is never simply one’s own, that history is precisely the way we are implicated in each other’s traumas” (23-24). This novel draws parallels between the aftermath of sexual assault of female victims in Disgrace and the effects of trauma suffered by the female victims in the apartheid and post-apartheid settings.
It can be said that the increase in violence in South Africa, especially against women and children, is an aftermath of the traumatic experiences that the black male experienced during apartheid. After enduring years of racialized oppression and humiliation, many male victims of apartheid sought to regain the power they feel so important to their patriarchal identities, a power they lost under the regime of apartheid. Sadly, the ways they adopted to establish their power include certain cruel and brutal acts which inflict pain and suffering on those weaker than themselves, and rape, which is a worldwide problem, is also adopted as a common method of inflicting pain and asserting power by the male. “It was done with such personal hatred. That was what stunned me more than anything. The rest was … expected. But why did they hate me so? I had never set eyes on them” . “It was history speaking through them”, her father replies, “A history of wrong. Think of it that way, if it helps. It may have seemed personal but it wasn’t” (Disgrace 156). Very often rape springs from and thrives on the sexist ideologies and misogyny, rather than on a private problem of interpersonal hostility. Rape is defined as a heinous crime meant to violate the integrity of a woman’s body and her identity as well. It cannot be conflated with other forms of crime; it is a personalized crime that destroys one’s sense of humanhood. Rape as a means of subjecting women to intense humiliation has been used by patriarchal societies from times immemorial. Yet, there seems to be little understanding of the kind of trauma the victim of rape suffers. However, it ought to be remembered that Disgrace is more complex in its approach to the issues of truth, rape, race, and violence.
In short, it becomes clear that rapes in J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace are representations of South Africa’s inverted racial power structures and its traditional gender structures; structures that silence Melanie and Lucy. This becomes clearer in the words of Farodia Rassool, a member of the committee of enquiry and herself presumably a woman of colour, refers to, when she protests:
Yes, he says, he is guilty; but when we try to get specificity, all of a sudden it is not abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist, with no mention of the pain he has caused, no mention of the long history of exploitation of which it was part (Disgrace 53).
Very often rape springs from and thrives on the sexist ideologies and misogyny, rather than on a private problem of interpersonal hostility. Rape is defined as a heinous crime meant to violate the integrity of a woman’s body and her identity as well. It cannot be conflated with other forms of crime; it is a personalised crime that destroys one’s sense of humanhood. Rape as a means of subjecting women to intense humiliation has been used by patriarchal societies from time immemorial. Yet, there seems to be little understanding of the kind of trauma the victim of rape suffers.
Coetzee's choice of the rural Eastern Cape as a setting for the rape of Lurie's daughter by three black men emphasises complex historical relationships between issues of race, gender and land:
In another time, in another place it might be held to be a public matter. But in this place, at this time, it is not. It is my business, mine alone. This place being what? This place being South Africa. (Disgrace 212)
Lucy accepts her fate as a symbol of the redistribution of power in post-apartheid South Africa and sees her rapists as gathering apartheid debts: “What if . . what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it; perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something. They see themselves as debt collectors, tax collectors. Why should I be allowed to live here without paying? Perhaps that is what they tell themselves” (Disgrace 158). Lucy’s comparison of her rapists to “debt collectors, tax collectors” calling in apartheid’s outstanding dues, or her question to her father- “What if. .what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on?” (142) - must in this reading be seen as the deluded attempt of a traumatized woman to make logical sense of what has happened to her, to make her experience meaningful by construing it in some sense as necessary or deserved. To infer that Coetzee is insisting that the price whites must pay for “staying on” in South Africa is “Subjection”. Subjugation to blacks, with humiliation commensurate to the disgrace, seems unlikely. When Lucy and her father finally get to talking about the rape and its aftermath, she insists that he does not understand “what happened to her that day,” does not because he cannot (Disgrace 157). The rape has broken her life and will be a part of her consciousness wherever she goes. Leaving Salem will change nothing and indeed amounts to running away, accepting defeat. In a note to her father she writes: “I am a dead person and I do not know yet what will bring me back to life. All I know is that I cannot go away” (Disgrace 161). She must face the situation and deal with it, integrate the awful memory into her experience to render it manageable so that she can begin to live again. In a comparable stroke of psychological verisimilitude, Lucy refuses to have an abortion, revealing that she has had one before and knows in her heart, her body “this has nothing to do with belief” (Disgrace 198-99) that it would be wrong for her to have another. Above all, as she insists time and time again, it is her life, and any decision about it must be made by her, not by her father or by anyone else. She seems to be insisting on the uniqueness, on the non-generalizability of her situation. Disgrace points to a context where women are regarded as property, and are liable for protection only insofar as they belong to men. As a lesbian, Lucy would be regarded as 'unowned' and therefore 'huntable',and there is even a suggestion that her sexuality may have provoked her attackers. Lucy insists that in South Africa, 'in this place, at this time', the violation she has suffered cannot be a public matter, and her refusal to report the crime may represent a rather extreme refusal to play a part in a history of oppression.
A comparison between the victims of rape and the rapists reveal the fact that a clear discrimination on the grounds of race is highly emphasized in this novel. When we consider the first rape described in this novel, that of Melanie’s, the victim involved is a coloured girl and her perpetrator is a highly educated white man, David Lurie. In the case of Lucy, the rapists are coloured people. Even though both the cases are explicitly described in the novel, much attention and emphasis were given to the case of Lucy, mostly because the culprits are those marginalized people belonging to the ‘Other’ category. The tormentor of Melanie, the well educated and highly qualified David Lurie, is not even ready to acknowledge his brutal act as rape and instead he describes their sexual encounter as “not rape, not quite that”. David never acknowledges having raped Melanie, but he does have some awareness of that he has crossed a line. Even if he accepts that he is guilty, it is not the abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist, with no mention of the pain he has caused. David pleads guilty:
‘I have stated my position. I am guilty.’
‘Guilty of what?’
‘Of all that I am charged with.’
‘You are taking us in circles, Professor Lurie.’
‘Of everything Ms Isaacs avers, and of keeping false records.’
Now Farodia Rassool intervenes. ‘You say you accept Ms Isaacs’s statement, Professor Lurie, but have you actually read it?’
I do not wish to read Ms Isaacs’s statement. I accept it. I know of no reason why Ms Isaacs should lie. (Disgrace 49)
Although it could certainly be argued that David is being gracious toward Melanie by not contradicting her statement, his refusal to even hear what she has said effectively silences her. David’s choice not to accept the allegations is one of the reasons why he loses his job. However, what is also clear is that David actively chooses not to meet Melanie’s allegations; it is his line of defense. By reporting David to the university, Melanie tries to speak up, but her voice is silenced as David refuses to read her statement.
Further adding to the silence that Coetzee constructs around Melanie is the fact that David apologizes to Melanie’s father instead of Melanie. In analyzing David, the incident where he seeks out Melanie’s father to apologize is sometimes viewed as one of the first signs of atonement from him. However, David’s thoughts do not exactly reflect regret as he, during the same visit, encounters Melanie’s sister Desiree: “he thinks, fruit of the same tree, down probably to the most intimate detail. Yet with differences: different pulsings of the blood, different urgencies of passion. The two of them in the same bed: an experience fit for a king” (Disgrace 164). David is not apologizing for hurting Melanie, raping her, and silencing her. He regrets that what he has done has made a relationship with Melanie impossible. He is not sorry for Melanie’s sake; he is feeling sorry for himself. Meanwhile, Melanie is once again left out of the equation.
Furthermore, focusing on Melanie instead of David, it is clear that this episode echoes the days when raping a woman was viewed as a crime committed by one man against another. David’s apology thus further silences Melanie because by turning to her father instead of her, she is excluded from the exchange. Thus, he does not acknowledge Melanie’s sovereignty, but views her instead in relation to her father, revealing his staunchly patriarchal view of women.
While considering the silence of Lucy, the rape of Lucy is found by many to be provocative. Her silence negates Western cultural norms for rape-victim behavior, and we find her silence disturbing. In the novel, Lucy’s silence makes David concerned. He realizes that because of Lucy’s absence of voice, her rapists own the narrative, and it bothers him. When Lucy does not want to go to the market on the first Saturday after the rape, David thinks, “like a stain the story is spreading across the district. Not her story to spread but theirs: they are its owners. How they put her in her place, how they showed her what a woman was for” (Disgrace 115). While David realizes that Lucy is silenced by her rapists, he does not seem to recognize how male voices relate to female silence in general, and how his own voice relates to the women in his life; to Melanie, and to Lucy, who is his daughter. Lucy attempts to make him understand when he returns to the Eastern Cape that she is pregnant. He admonishes Lucy for not telling him about her pregnancy. Lucy’s response, while directed to David, also mirrors Lucy’s frustration of living in a society that privileges the male experience. She says:
You behave as if everything I do is part of the story of your life. You are the main character, I am a minor character who doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through. Well, contrary to what you think, people are not divided into major and minor. I am not minor. I have a life of my own, just as important to me as yours is to you, and in my life I am the one who makes the decisions. (Disgrace 198)
Lucy cannot make this assertion in society anymore; she has to settle for making it to her father. Nonetheless, this is Lucy’s voice. Lucy is aware that she is being silenced.
By establishing a parallel between these two instances of sexual violence in the novel, Coetzee highlights how the critical attention paid to black on white sexual violence in the context of post-apartheid South Africa masks its link to the similar forms of violence perpetuated in white liberal contexts. The novel throws light not only on the discrepancy between the response to these two instances of sexual violence that Disgrace helps bring into relief, but also depicts the plight and aftermath of the attack on the lives of the victims. It shows how the women are treated in the hands of patriarchy and also how they are forced to keep silence. The ‘Silence’ in fact is portrayed in this novel as the aftermath of trauma which the victims have undergone during the brutal act of rape. It also accounts for their helplessness and protest at once. The victims of sexual assault depicted in this novel belong to different racial groups and the novel exposes not just the contingency of justice but also the consistently racialized nature of this contingency, whether the response to sexual violence occurs in black South Africa or in the white liberal context of the university.
At the end of the novel, we see that both the victims had decided to move on with their disgrace. Melanie continues her studies while Lucy decides to stay at her farm, neglecting her father’s advice to leave that place. This strength to sustain, even though it is achieved at the cost of certain compromises made by them, presents Melanie and Lucy as the embodiment of feminine power. This strength comes from their realization that they are the victims and whatever happened had happened without their consent and there was nothing that they could do to prevent the violence. They assimilated that they should not be ashamed of being victims, that they are not guilty. Thus, Melanie and Lucy integrated their shattered self and moved on, paving a new way of reaction against gendered violence.
Hence, both Lucy and Melane restructure the traditional concept that women should silently endure and suffer the assaults inflicted upon them. Now, the perspectives of the society are changing. They are trying to be more humane with the victims and treating them with compassion and sympathy. Such a change in the perspectives of the society is rooted in the realization that rape is a hideous crime inflicted upon the women by men in which the victims are innocent and helpless whereas their perpetrators are guilty and should be punished accordingly. Now the society is accepting and acknowledging the fact that women need not be ashamed of being victims, instead they should stand up and fight.
Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. Secker & Warburg, 1999.
Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative And History.
The John Hopkins University Press, 1996..
Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives. Ed. Sorcha Gunne and Zoe
Brigley Thompson. Routledge, 2010.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond The Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey. W.
W. Norton & Company, 1961.
Graham, Lucy Valerie. “Reading the Unspeakable: Rape in J. M. Coetzee’s
Disgrace”. Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2003)
Herman, Judith L. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - From
Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. Basic Books, 1992.
J. M. Coetzee Critical Perspectives. Ed. Kailash C. Baral. Pencraft
Mardorossian, Carine M. “Rape and the Violence of Representation in J. M.
Coetzee’s Disgrace”. Research in African Literatures, Vol.42, No. 4 (2010) 72-83.
Euphemisms of Existence: A Reading of the Relationship Between Food and Gender
The discussion of the political impact of food on gender has focussed on a number of issues including men’s and women’s ability to produce, provide, distribute and consume food. This abilities vary in accordance with certain factors including one’s culture, class, family organization and above all, the economic structure of their society. To an extent, we can analyze how gender is constituted through men’s and women’s roles in the production, distribution and consumption of food. Nowadays, it is rather clear from the food commercials that what we consume is heavily gendered. Marketers exploit several masculine and feminine traits to make certain foods appeal to us. For example, those foods which are shown as healthy, light and weight- losing are marketed with such intentions as to attract women. Whereas unhealthy and junk food are mainly associated with men: “real men don’t eat Quiche” and “salad is for girls”.
The relationship between food and gender also exhibits a relationship of identity and power. From time immemorial cooking is always associated with females. Women are expected to stay at home and cook for their men. Hence, cooking was employed as a weapon of subjugation to keep women forever chained within the walls of a kitchen. Even now this trend is followed and it is explicitly emphasized in the advertisements of food and cooking utensils.
In this paper I propose to explore how men and women address or organize their relationships or social roles through food production, distribution and consumption and how certain codes and attitudes surrounding food define masculinity and femininity.
If we are to find ourselves in the middle of a globalized, rapidly developing, multicultural world, we would become aware of the fact that everything in this world, every aspect of life and existence are highly gendered. This genderism can be seen even in the very basic necessity of existence, ie, in food. Nowadays, wherever we turn we come across gendered food. There is even an assumption that “real men don’t eat Quiche” and “salad is for girls”. This and lots of other gendered attitudes influence men’s and women’s health practices including the types of food they choose to eat. For example, we are continually attacked by advertisements and social media telling us that eating in smaller quantities and having salad is feminine while eating larger quantities and consuming large amount of meat is manly. This oversimplified rendition of male and female eating habits may seem old fashioned but they are still persistent for many of us.
In recent times, this kind of demonstration is increasing at a rapid speed. Unhealthy eating habits and foods (like junk foods, beer etc. . .) are psychologically associated with masculinity and healthy eating habits are psychologically associated with femininity. From time immemorial, eating meat has been recognized as a marker of masculinity, which exhibits the age old patriarchal notions of power and identity and hence people, especially men, try to manage their gender identity through food choices.
Previously, meat has also been recognized as a symbol and celebration of male power and dominance. People with power have always preferred meat over other food. It is seen that men who choose not to eat meat repudiate one of their masculine privileges. The European aristocrats ingested large quantities of food filled with every kind of meat while the people belong to the working classes consumed the complex carbohydrates. These dietary habits demonstrated class and patriarchal distinctions. Women, who are normally considered as second class citizens are more likely to eat those foods that are considered to be second class in the patriarchal culture : vegetables, grains and fruits rather than meat. Hence class, race, caste and gender hierarchies are maintained, in part, through differential control over and access to food. Differences in the consumption patterns are one way in which the rich distinguish themselves from the poor and men from women. This gendered attitude in eating habits reiterate the class distinction with an additional twist : a mythology pervades all classes that meat is a masculine food and eating meat is a male activity.
Another important factor to be noted is that gender is a social construction created deliberately by the patriarchal society to subjugate women. By categorizing certain types of food as feminine, they are trying to attribute certain qualities to women. Men, with more power, suggests the types of food that women should eat thereby expecting them to embrace and exhibit the qualities associated with that food. While associating specific foods like chocolate, wine, fruits etc. . . with women, men are also expecting the women to be sweet and soft like the food that embodies their feminine qualities. Thus the relationship between food and gender also exhibits a relationship of identity and power. It should also be noted that cooking had always been associated with women. Cooking being an important part in preparing food was always seen as the responsibility of women. They were expected to stay at home and cook and were not advised to involve in any social activities or to take part in any social gatherings. It is also assumed that cooking is a way of keeping women within their houses , which can also be seen as an alternative way of subjugation. This genderism is visible even in the advertisement of cooking utensils. The tagline of a famous utensil brand goes like this : “ jo biwi se kare pyaar wo Prestige se kaise kare inkaar”, which means that a loving and caring husband should never say ‘no’ to the cooking utensils of this specific brand because this utensils will ease his wife’s works and thus it will make her happy. The marketers are very careful in not saying that a loving husband should help his wife in cooking. It is because since time immemorial cooking is always assumed as the duty of women and it is not manly to cook. Hence cooking has become an important feminine quality. Thus, along with food, cooking has also become highly gendered.
Science is one of the factors that decrees what foods men and women are drawn to, but education and societal attitudes unquestionably play a more vital role. Masculinity and femininity in all cultures are associated with specific foods and rules controlling their consumption. Between men and women food is a means of differentiation as well as a channel of connection. By claiming different roles with regard to food, men and women define their maleness and femaleness, their similarity and difference. They use food and food metaphors to achieve the power and identity that they exert upon each other. Men can exert power over women by refusing to provide food or by refusing to eat the food that they have cooked. Women can also exert power over men by refusing to cook, controlling their food or manipulating the status and meaning systems embodied in foods. Thus the exchange of food can be a way to mediate contested meanings and power relations between sexes. Class, gender and ethnic distinctions are also manifested through foods and the rules about their eating. Attitudes towards food and body vary across cultures and provide a window into understanding gender identity and power. They also address how men and women establish their relationships and social roles through food production, consumption and distribution. They also exhibit how meanings and values surrounding food and eating define masculinity and femininity.
Adams, Carol. J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical
Theory. Bloomsbury Academic, 1990.
Food and Gender: Identity and Power. Ed. Carole Counihan and Steven L.
Kaplan. Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998.
Trauma Theory: A Retrospective Analysis
Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings, we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning…. Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life…. They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror, and evoke the responses of catastrophe.
(Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery)
The earliest and detailed approaches to the study and analysis of trauma can be traced back to Sigmund Freud and his highly influential work Beyond The Pleasure Principle (1920). Though references to trauma and its effects can be seen in his other works like Moses and Monotheism and The Aetiology of Hysteria, it was in Beyond The Pleasure Principle that Freud first give a detailed account about traumatic neurosis. Hence the origin of trauma theory can be traced in psychological sources but it is more empathetically and strongly articulated in literary practice.
It was since the early 1990s that the trauma theory started to take its position in the arena of literary studies and humanities. The growth of interest in trauma within humanities can certainly be linked to the publication of particular texts that have since become seminal within this field. These texts are Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub’s Testimony: Cries of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (1992), Cathy Caruth’s edited collection Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995), and her monograph, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History (1996).
Initially it was assumed that mental illness resulted from physical weakness and that it was hereditary. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, trauma is defined as “a wound, or external bodily injury in general.” It relates to the sense of physical piercing or wounding. It was then that Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer published their essay “On the Physical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena” in 1893 which challenged the notion that hysteria was the result of physical degeneration. This essay encapsulated the idea that the strange physical symptoms of the hysteric- trance states, mood swings, recurrent and intrusive recollections, flashbacks, nightmares, partial paralysis of the body, and so on- can be linked to the traumatic effect of accidents. In their detailed analysis of ‘traumatic neurosis’, they argued that the operative cause of these symptoms was not the footling physical injury but the effect of fright- the physical trauma. Further studies by Freud and Breuer suggest that it is not so much the traumatic event itself as the memory of the trauma that ‘acts like an agent provocateur’ in releasing the symptom. In other words, a physical trauma is something that enters the psyche that is so anomalous or overwhelming that it cannot be processed or comprehended by conscious memory, yet is still present in the mind like an intruder or a ghost. This is exactly the reason why Freud said “Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences”(Freud and Breuer).
Earlier, Freud had associated trauma and hysterics to sexuality in his work Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In his 1896 lecture The Aetiology of Hysteria, Freud announced that “whatever case and whatever symptom we take as our point of departure, in the end we infallibly come to the field of sexual experience”. But later, after 1890s, he returned to the subject of traumatic neurosis with an entirely new approach. The basic reason behind this renewed consideration was World War 1 which placed the military and medical authorities in a dilemma, a new form of physical wounding: shell- shock, now popularly known as Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. According to Freud, a soldier in the warfield, who is confronted with sudden and massive deaths around him, for example, suffers not only memory gaps but also repeatedly re-experienced those extreme events in memories, hallucinations and nightmares. Such a situation of reliving this terror is beautifully illustrated in Siegfried Sassoon’s extraordinary poem Repression of a War Experience. It was in 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association officially acknowledged the long-recognized but frequently ignored phenomenon of trauma under the title ‘Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder’, which included the symptoms of what had previously been called shell-shock, combat stress, delayed stress syndrome and traumatic neurosis and referred to responses to both human and natural catastrophes. Later, responses not only to combat and to natural catastrophes but also to rape, child abuse and a number of other violent occurrences have been understood in terms of PTSD, and diagnosis of some dissociative disorders have also been switched to that of trauma.
The concept of ‘Repetition Compulsion’ is an important factor put forward by Freud in his study of trauma and hysteria. This concept suggests the idea that after the traumatic event takes place there is an attempt to act as if in preparation before it. Repetition Compulsion has shaped many ways in which individuals and even cultures replay their anxieties over and over again, and each of this repetition is an attempt to control and conquer the traumatic incident that has pierced the protective fillers. This Repetition Compulsion mainly occurs in the form of nightmares, hallucinations, flashbacks and dreams. Hence, it is necessary for a psychiatrist to study and analyse the dreams of his patient in order to find out the root cause behind his trauma. In the words of Freud,
The study of dreams may be considered the most trustworthy method of investigating deep mental processes. Now dreams occurring in traumatic neuroses have the characteristic of repeatedly bringing the patient back into the situation of his accident, a situation from which he wakes up in another fright. This astonishes people far too little. They think that the fact that the traumatic experience is constantly forcing itself upon the patient even in his sleep is a proof of the strength of that experience: the patient is, as one might say, fixated to his trauma- Fixations to the experience which started the illness have long been familiar to us in hysteria (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 7) .
Another prominent figure who excelled in the field of trauma studies is Cathy Caruth. She is famously noted for her work Unclaimed Experience:Trauma, Narrative and History (1996). Robert Jay Lifton describes her as “one of the most innovative scholars on what we call trauma, and on our ways of perceiving and conceptualizing that still mysterious phenomenon”. For Caruth, trauma is both peculiar and paradoxical. In her work Unclaimed Experience, she states that:
In its most general definition trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomenon (32).
Caruth suggests that trauma theory has a problem with language. According to Van der Kolk and neuroscience generally, traumatic experience is so sudden and overwhelming that it cannot be put into words. Because trauma is registered but never quite assimilated to experience or language, the truth cannot be linked to only what is known, but also to what remains unknown in our very actions and our language. This traumatic temporality means that history can only be grasped in the very inaccessibility of its occurrence. Perhaps it is because Caruth claimed literature as the discourse that foregrounded how ‘knowing and not knowing’ intersect , that her book has become an important reference point in the development of cultural trauma theory.
Caruth also gives a brief definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as:
a response, sometimes delayed, to an overwhelming event or events, which takes the form of repeated, intrusive hallucinations, dreams, thoughts or behaviors stemming from the event, along with numbing that may have begun during or after the experience, and possibly also increased arousal to (and avoidance of) stimuli recalling the event. (Unclaimed Experience, 134)
This definition brings to light the fact that this pathology cannot be understood either by the event itself - which may or may not be catastrophic, and may not traumatize everyone equally - nor can it be defined in terms of a misrepresentation of the event, achieving its haunting power as a result of distorting personal significances attached to it. The pathology consists, rather, solely in the structure of its experience or reception: the event which forms the basis of trauma is not comprehended or experienced fully at the time of its occurrence, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences. According to Caruth, “to be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or event” (4-5).
Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience Trauma, Narrative And History.
Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1996. Print.
Feminism, Literature And Rape Narratives. Ed. Sorcha Gunne and Zoe
Brigley Thompson. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond The Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey.
London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961. Print.
Herman, Judith L. Trauma And Recovery: The Aftermath Of Violence - From
Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books,
Gender Stereotypes and Fairy Tales: A Reading
Fairy tales have always been a source of inspiration and imagination to the children. It nurtures their creativity as well as provides them with pleasure and delight. But the content that has been stuffed in these stories are, to a great extent, not relevant in today’s society. Since most of these tales portray women as weak and feeble and ought to be protected by male heroes, it will naturally inculcate a notion in the mind of the reading children that women, as a whole, are weak and should be taken care of. Hence women are deprived of their own individuality and self-reliance. Take for instance the fairy tales like The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty. All these stories eventually points to the fact that none of its female protagonists are capable of a redemption for themselves. They have to depend upon some male heroes for their ultimate recovery.
Today fairy tales are often reinterpreted through the medium of animation and movies. When these stories are depicted in the silver screen, they give emphasize to the same gender inequalities and stereotypes as have been popularized by their book version. Here in this paper, I attempt to analyse and demystify how the cinematic medium reinterpret this gender cliches portrayed in the world of fairy tales.
Fairy Tales began with the oral traditions of engaging an audience with tales of extraordinary happenings. But within these narratives the plot unravelled in a linear way and it was often only the central characters who received a voice and an identity. These stories documented by Grimm brothers and several others like Hans Christian Andersen, are even now often criticised for being anti-women, racially insensitive and biased in several other ways. But at least, they were devoid of any intentional propaganda that served capitalistic ideology and free of any intent to tailor itself to the popular ideology of the times in order to sell best. Today, fairy tales that are often reinterpreted through the medium of animation and movies are not so innocent anymore. They are indeed told with ever increasing novelty that is realized through means of creative distortions and by incorporating several new characters within them. They are retellings of the much-criticized fairytales of the past, but they are still focussed upon a particular group, attracting both their interest and attention in order to profit from such vulnerability. They more or less seem to harbour within them a capitalist propaganda. It is largely in the age of “new media” and new narrative spaces that narration has become all the more concerned with positive public response and popularity. This paper tries to read through the tendencies of today’s fairytale movies to narrate their art in order to suite the palate of those whom they can milch.
Most fairy tale reproductions today do nothing more than creating icons. These icons later sell in the market as products. Fairy tales of the past are being criticized for their racial, patriarchal and colonial prejudices. If in the past fairy tales were used to shape the minds of the young and to make them conform to social roles, today they harbour within them capitalist ideology and also bourgeoisie politics.
A very good example to begin with will be the animation movie Tangled produced by Disney, which is a reproduction of the story “Rapunzel”. The original story as written by Grimm Brothers involves just a man and wife wishing for a child and a witch next door whose house beheld the most beautiful garden. From this garden the wife of the neighbouring garden wished to have a fresh rampion. In a pursuit to get this for his wife the man takes the risk and ventures into the witch's garden. Her wish once satisfied gets all the more intensified the next time and she longs for more. The man trespasses again only to be caught by the witch this time and to pocket her curse and to be trapped by the conditions laid down by her. She asks for their first born and the couple’s first girl child is given over to the witch to be kept locked up in a tower until there came the prince.
However, the animation film Tangled, produced by Disney in 2011, has the people of the palace involved. Thus, comes along the fancy titles of king, queen, princess, and prince. The glamour necessary to capture minds, especially young minds sets in. The tale opens with the narration about a magical flower born out of a drop of sun that fell onto the earth. The flower being born out of the sun belonged to everybody. But then there comes a witch into the picture who kept the flower hidden for a long time, using it for her own selfish need of staying young. But at least she let the flower stay where it was and never made a move to destroy it. However, when the pregnant queen falls ill, the folk at the palace ventures out in search of the magic flower. They find the flower uncovered by the witch, as in a haste to flee out of sight she disturbs the covering. Interestingly, they uproot the whole plant and take it to the queen in order to heal her (whoever decided that the queen’s life was more important than that of the witch.). Thus, a flower whose powers had to be shared is single handedly swallowed up by the one more powerful. This is truly a fairly tale representation of the general pattern in which the distribution of resources occurs in the real world around. This scene itself gives a screen space for capitalist psyche. It is no surprise that the witch takes the drastic step of abducting the baby princess who has the magic personalised in her hair and yes, the witch is made the made guy—indeed a true reflection of how the society creates and ostracizes extremist groups. But you cannot merely blame the story line. Possibly it just reflects what these fairytale retellings truly intend to do. So as the witch in the movie Into the Woods sings, “...No off course! What really matters is the blame and you can blame. Fine. That is the thing you enjoy placing the blame if that is the aim give me [the witch] the blame”, we always need a witch to blame.
These retellings of the fairytales on screen space is quite commendably filled with elements of women empowerment, where a locked-up women ventures out to face the world, and proves herself to be a worthy and strong companion of a man who accompanies her along. But, all this, one may guess, is to please the ideological mindset of the times, just like how the advertisements of today wields such changed social scenarios in order to sell their wares through emotional means. It is packed with enough of feminism that exuberates from the heroine who is almost always beautiful. She also harbours extraordinary morals that set her apart from the rest, thus, making her an icon for women to follow. One may note that, in not one of these fairytales such an ideal icon created for boys. Therefore, it is still the woman who is pretty disagreeably focussed upon and forced to live in a fairyland and in a dream. So even today hallmarks and standards are set only for women. And in almost all these reproductions there is still magic involved, making girls wait for a magical intervention.
Similarly, Barbie dolls were created originally by its creator to disseminate the idea that a woman can don the role everything under the sky that can be imagined. But ultimately it is nothing but a business that was spawned by number of fancy Barbie movies. So, the screen space has provided ample opportunity for advertising these makes, attracting little girls again with its colours and fashion statements. And to give a framework for such marketing intentions there are a number of fairy tale themes like the story of the mermaid, snow white, Cinderella and so on. So, what are fairy tales really doing in the screen space?
Previously, at a time before the fairy tale characters crept onto the screen space, such marketing could have never even been imagined. So that is magic! The Elsa and Anna dolls and costumes were sold in such a rate that profits were made in billions just after the movie won everyone’s heart. So the markets were freezing our brains and draining out our pockets when we were busy charting down its pro-women qualities. So as consumers the target is still on feminine victims.
Another movie to be considered here is Cinderella again produced by Disney in 2015. Here again there is a woman involved, who is not as helpless as the original fairy tale character, but who all the same is presented with a bright and beautiful costumes. Thus, for the girl child who forms the target audience, morals and values come along with costume. Costume never possibly played such a visual impact in the oral traditions of the past.
Susan Cahill in her essay quotes from Marina Warner’s lecture on cinema and fairytale delivered in 1992: “The cinema’s investment in female beauty also creates an affinity with fairy tale, where beauty usually represents the side we should be on, and ugliness represents the enemy.” (60) In the oral narration at least a part of the picture was left to the child to imagine and construct an idea of beauty and the fairy tale world. But in the visual space, a well defined figure of beauty is doled out before the viewer. Though the heroine harps the moral statement “kindness and courage” almost all the time, she is finally destined to be at the mercy of the fairy godmother who runs her magic. So again contrary to all feminist notions that the creator of such fairy tale films strive to make space for, there is the image a female in perpetual wait for magic buoying on to the surface.
But there is no fairy tale without magic or extraordinary happenings. Maria Tater in her essay elaborates on the observations of the capacity and the power of fairy tales:
Fairy tales have the very capacity captured by Lowry and Spufford to serve as portals to wonder worlds, to sites that combine danger and beauty in ways so alluring that they inspire the desire to wander into new imaginative domains. They enable us to “subjectivize”, to explore the “might be, could have been, perhaps will be”. (56)
This is in a way true. But, fairy tales in the cinematic genre has much scope than it possibly had in its previous oral or written incarnations. So in this new genre of fairy tale narration, the form itself should form the new magic.
Several of these fairy tale movies enjoy the artistic luxury of being able to fit in new and weird characters. This indeed is something commendable because no other earlier genre could incorporate within it the visual feast of happy-go-lucky snowman (in Frozen) entertaining your fancy and imagination. Nor could you ever have the pleasure of tapping your feet to the tune of the song that the snowman chooses to sing, while also witnessing his dance in the summer of his imagination. All this is made possible by the genre of the film. Something that would not have been possible in the oral tradition owing to the limit in the duration of the narrative (one cannot usually narrate orally for say more than an hour), and also it would not have been effective in the written form as well.
But it is truly in a film like Into the Woods that the magic of the genre works. This movie, also brought out by Disney, has the magic of the genre predominating over any other, and there hardly seems to be any idealizing of a particular character. The binary of angel and monster get erased in a movie like this and that is something more true to the times, unlike those movies that create an ideal figure within whose individuality is stuffed all the edicts of the feminist along with the “values”, thus creating an ideal figure all over again.
First of all the movie makes use of all the possibilities of the genre. It is a musical movie and therefore the beauty of the musical narration cannot be reproduced with the same magical effect in any other preceding genres. So the work has, by virtue of its musical narration severed its ties from most of its other predecessors. And then there is a mixing up of fairy tale characters coming from different fairy tales—little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and the witch, Cinderella, the childless baker and his wife, Jack and his mother and so on. And that is indeed what is meant by utilizing the full potential of the genre in narration. Here there are no ideal females created, packed and dressed up before the female audience, all are just human still in possession of some values even while being lost in the woods. And certainly there is no much emphasis placed on the costumes as you may note by the kind of colours used. The lighting and background colours are also realistic. So there is enough realism and magic in the fairy tale narration. Also, unlike other fairy tale movies, it goes to the extent of the mental turmoil of not just the female characters, but also the male characters—princes and otherwise. Every character undergoes a noble transformation of character. And all this is done in a musical way again. Thus, this sort of narration is in itself magical—a magic that the genre can afford. Thus, the fairy tale in this new genre needs to undergo certain metamorphosis.
Fairy tales in films have in recent times have been little more than extended advertisements and creative consumer traps. Though it has lost its innocence in this respect, it certainly can reclaim its glory and innocence by the very process of sheer dedication to creativity that can make best use of the new genre and the new space of narration.
Brothers, Grimm. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Trans. Edgar Lucas.
DoubledayPage & Co., 1909.
Cinderella. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, performances by Lily James and
Richard Madden, Walt Disney, 2015.
Into the Woods. Directed by Rob Marshall, performances by Ian McShane and
Emily Blunt, Walt Disney, 2014.
Tangled. Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, Walt Disney, 2008.
Frozen. Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, Walt Disney, 2014.
Cahill, Susan. ‘Through the Looking Glass: Fairy-Tale Cinema and the
Spectacle of Femininity in “Stardust” and “The Brothers Grimm”’. Marvels and Tales, Vol. 24, No.1, The Wayne State University Press, 2010, pp. 57-67. www.jstor.org. 10 February 2018.
Tartar, Maria. “Why Fairy Tales Matter: The Performative and the
Transformative”. Western Folklore. Vol.69, No.1, Western States
Folklore Society, 2010, pp. 55-64. www.jstor.org. 10 February 2018.
The Thousand Faces of Night: A Reading of the Relationship Between Indian Myths and Gender Stereotypes.
Gita Hariharan’s debut novel The Thousand Faces of Night, first published in 1992, articulates the problems of women with the help of Indian Mythology. This novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1993. In this novel, she links the plight of her women characters with the Indian myths such as Ramayana, Mahabharata etc.. Indian mythology is connected with the stories about gods, goddesses and even the legendary heroes mentioned in the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. The myth collections are called Puranas. The term ‘Myth’, used in English is derived from the greek word ‘Mythos’ meaning ‘Word’ or ‘Speech’. It is a system of “Hereditary stories which were once believed to be true by a particular cultural group and which served to explain why the world is as it is and things happen as they do to provide a rationale for social customs and observations.”(Abrams)
Gita Hariharan, being born and brought up in a traditional Hindu family might have been acquainted with all these myths and she perfectly blended the myth and reality in The Thousand Faces of Night. These stories were instrumental in supporting the insidious patriarchal concept.
The story of The Thousand Faces of Night revolves around three women characters— Devi, the central character; Sita, her mother and Mayamma, the caretaker cum cook. The story of these women tells us about the society’s patriarchal pattern. The society’s expectations and the taboos laid by men of the world are vividly portrayed. ‘Story within a story’ is the narrative technique which Hariharan employs within the novel. To substantiate her stories, she uses mythological allusions from the great epics of India, and to symbolise the endless struggle of womanhood.
Devi, the central character of the novel, is born in a traditional Brahmin family. Devi went to the US on a scholarship to do her Master’s. She is portrayed as a young, educated girl with her “american experience.” She grew up among the stories and myths narrated to her by her grandmother. Both psyche and politics play an important role during her development. As a curios child, Devi queries about the conditions of women around her. Grandmother always makes her understand her inquiries through storytelling. These stories are decoded and a moral was always drawn out:
“My grandmother’s stories were no ordinary bedtime stories. She chose each for a particular occasion a story in reply to each of my childish questions. She had an answer for every question. But her answers were not simple: they had to be decoded. A comparison had to be made, an illustration discovered, and a moral drawn out”(27).
So, in her early childhood, Devi is socially conditioned to achieve the idea of ideal womanhood. These myths constitute the fabric of the novel The Thousand Faces of Night, and through these stories, Devi retrieves the marginal figures of Gandhari, Amba and Ganga— which relate to their minority status, almost forgotten and often rendered silent and invisible in patriarchal version of myths. As Devi grows older, she begins to draw a link between the stories of her grandmother and the real life stories around her. Devi’s curious mind reveals indirectly that the myths and epics need to be reviewed and reinterpreted from the humanist point of view. Instead of being completely conditioned by the cultural influence, she tries to find a way out. As she grew older, she begins to see that the problem lies in finding the suitability of ideal mythical characters in contemporary society. While commenting on such situations, Devi once speaks thus:
“I must have, as I grew older, began to seethe fine cracks in the bridge my grandmother built between the stories I loved, and the less self-contained, more sordid stories I saw unfolding around me. The cracks I now see are no longer fine, they gape as if the glue that held them together was counterfeit in the first place. But the gap I now see is also a debt: I have to repair it to vindicate my beloved storyteller” (30-31).
Later, when she came of age, Devi’s mother decided to marry her off to Mahesh, a regional manager of a multinational firm at Bangalore, whose job demands long tours. Nurtured with the mythological stories of her grandmother, Devi dreams of a “Swayamvara” for herself. Devi recollects her grandmother’s story of Damayanti that was taken from Mahabharata. Nala, the king of Nishad was handsome brave and virtuous. Damayanthy’s father decided to hold her Swayamvara . She was brave and determined to espouse Nala. So she threw the garland around his neck and espoused him amidst all the intrigues made even by the Gods. Her grandmother concludes the story with a moral: “ A woman gets her heart’s desire by great cunning”(20). The story of Nala- Damayanti fascinated her. From this story, Devi understood the concept of Swayamvara.
However the marriage proves wrong later on. Neither Devi nor Mahesh has any interest in making the marriage work. Her relationship with her husband is marked by loneliness, silence and discontent. Mahesh is more of a businessman than an ideal husband. Lack of communication stifles and chokes her voice and disintegrates her sensibility. Later in the novel, Devi is fascinated by an Indian singer Gopal for his sincerity and devotion to work. She elopes with Gopal in order to take revenge of Mahesh and that decision was taken less for love than to show her rage of rejection of a demeaning marriage that had crushed dignity, individual aspiration and mocked her emotional imaginative refinement. With Gopal, she again gradually develops the same sense of void as he does not recognize her individuality. Devi is yet to reach her destination and carve out a niche for herself. Once again she protests and craves for survival on her own. Therefore, in the end she realizes that she is tired of drifting between the worlds like a floating island searching for props. She seeks to find her own authentic ‘self’ and secure some firm holding of the mainland. She goes back to her mother in search of her roots. She passes through variegated relations till she establishes a contact with her real self and takes a step to attain equipoise. Thus The Thousand Faces of Night is the story of Devi‘s quest for a self-image. Having failed to define her identity as a wife or even as a rebellious lover, Devi finally returns to her mother, ― to stay and fight, to make sense of it all …(139) and to start from the very beginning. It is in her relationship to her mother that Devi hopes to find an identity for herself.
The next story narrated by her grandma is about Gandhari who plays a significant part in the Mahabharata. Gandhari was married to a very rich prince, whose Palace was “twice as big, twice as magnificent as her parents palace” (28). On all the ways he is very rich and “the marble pillars shone like mirrors” (28), whereas on meeting her husband for the first time in such a rich palace, she was taken aback for “the white eyes, the pupils glazed and useless” (29). Gandhari in anger vowed never to see again the world; so she bound her eyes with the help of a veil. Summing up the story Devi’s grandmother says: “she embraced her destiny— a blind husband— with a self sacrifice worthy of her royal blood” (29). Through this story Devi learnt life through her grandmother’s choice of Gandhari and acclaims:
“The lesson brought me five steps closer to adulthood. I saw, for the first time, that my parents too were afflicted by a kind of blindness. In their blinkered world they would always be one, one leading the other, one hand always in the grasp of another”. (29)
Gandhari’s story once again reflected the life of Sita, Devi’s mother . Before Marriage her parents taught her to play veena. She entered her husband’s house with a veena as part of her dowry. After completing the household affairs, which was considered as the foremost duty of the housewives, she used to play veena. One day her father-in-law called her for performing some works before puja in the morning. She did not hear, as she was playing veena. The father-in-law scolded Sita. “Put the veena away. Are you a wife, a daughter-in-law” (30). In an anger and frustration, she pulled out the strings of veena and vowed not to play the veena again and replied in a whisper: “yes, I am a wife and a daughter-in-law” (30).
The role played by society imposing the virtues epitomizing the ideal womanhood can clearly be seen in the character of Sita. Society allows enough freedom to men to develop their self whereas women have to struggle at different stages while also bearing the responsibilities. They face difficulties at different emotional and physical levels. This social conditioning creates hurdles in self-development. Her life is controlled by some other entity, the social system. In her childhood, Sita, the mother of Devi, has the ambition to become a veena player. With efforts she achieves her aim. Though she is not beautiful, yet she makes up by excelling in music and other domestic chores. After marriage she finds herself in a different world where different duties are expected from her as a daughter-in-law. Once when she gets rebuked from her father-in-law that she is not an ideal daughter-in-law, she pulls out the strings of veena in order to achieve that so- called ideal womanhood. She suppresses her desire and devotes all her time and energy to save the family’s prestige and honour with order, reason and progress.
Another significant story told her by her grandmother deals with a beautiful girl who married a snake. Although Devi’s immature mind cannot decode the real purpose underlying the story, it etched in her memory as a story throughout her life. A childless couple prays to God for a child and in return a snake is born to them .When the snake grew up, the parents planned a marriage. The father walked to the distant lands in search of a bride. When the host learns that he is in search of a girl for his venom tongued son who is in the shape of a snake, he readily offered his gorgeous daughter. The girl on seeing the snake as her husband, wholeheartedly accepted her lot, saying “A girl is given only once in Marriage” (33). One night the serpent came into her room and spent a night with her. Next morning when she woke up, surprisingly she found a handsome young man on her bed. The story delineates the Hindu concept of rebirth. Devi co-relates the story with the lot of the servant maid, Gauri.
As the grandmother grew older, stories also took a new shape. “The grandmother’s stories became sharper, more precarious tone of dangerous possibilities” (35). This time grandmother dwells upon Mahabharata for a story and she talks about Amba. Prince Bheesma goes to a swayamvara of three beautiful princesses— Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. Amba the eldest chose King Salwa and garlanded him. But suddenly Bheeshma kidnapped all the three princesses and took them to his step-mother. When they came to know that Amba was already married, they let her go to King Salwa. Unfortunately Salwa refused to accept her and insulted her:
“Do you think I feast on Left overs? I am a king. I do not touch what another man won in battle. Go to Bheeshma. He won you when his arrow struck my eager hands on your luckless garland. He is your husband. What have you to do with me?” (37)
Insulted Amba goes back to Bheeshma, who also refused to accept her thereby she changed her attitude towards life and vowed to avenge Bheeshma. She went to the forest and did penance towards Lord Shiva. Having been pleased with her penance,Lord Shiva gave her a garland and promised her: “Whoever wears this garland will surely kill Bheeshma” (39). This story reared a brave attitude in Devi. “ She day-dreamed more and more about female avengers” (40). These lessons indelibly imprint themselves in her mind. She confesses: “I lived a secret life of my own: I became a woman warrior, a heroine, I was Devi. I rode a tiger, and cut off evil, magical demons’ heads.” (41).
The most interesting story which has a message of motherhood is about Ganga and Shantanu. She says “Motherhood is more than the pretty picture you see of a tender woman bent over the baby she is feeding at her breast” (88). On walking along the bank of Ganges, King Shantanu happened to meet a beautiful damsel. He fell in love with her and in turn she had promised to marry him, provided he did not intercept her in her actions. However difficult, he accepted it . No sooner did she give birth to a child than she killed it drowning in river Ganges. She killed seven children. Shantanu could not approve of such conduct, but he remained silent for holding up the vow. Upon the birth of the eighth child, he could not refrain protesting her from drowning the child. The lady goes back to her normal form—river Ganges, saying: “Then take him, be the father and mother to him” (88). She plunged into the river. There is a belief in the Hindu mythology that the water of Ganges purifies us of our sins for it flows from heaven. The lady plunged into the river to wash away her sins. After many years Devi could interpret the story and concludes: “To be a good mother, to be a mother at all, you have to renew your wifely vows everyday” (88).
After marrying Mahesh, Devi meets her father-in-law, Baba and the caretaker-cum-cook in that home, Mayamma. The emotional and mental incompatibility with Mahesh brings her close to Baba. Her relationship with Baba becomes stronger. He was a Sanskrit professor, an intellectual man. He narrates some stories about womanhood, and the wifely vows and duties in the household. Devi compares his stories with that of her grandmother. She avers: “her stories are a prelude to my womanhood, an initiation into it subterranean possibilities” (51). While analysing Baba’s stories Devi says: “They always have for their centre-point an exacting touchstone for a woman, a wife”. (51). Baba talks about Manu, who is the creator of Hindu code of conduct. He teaches Devi what Brahminhood is. He tells Devi quoting from Manu, “A Brahmin shrinks from honors as from poison; humility he covets as if it is nectar” (52). Baba dwells deep on the Vedas and Sanskrit hymns. Devi feels glad to be a disciple of such an intellectual man.
Mayamma, one of the main characters of the novel, provides another version of a women’s existence. The novelist uses the technique of juxtaposing the past with the present when the life of the lonely Mayamma, after Devi had left her husband and Mahesh was on tour, is interspersed with her recollections of her past to provide us with an insight into her battered, violence- filled existence. Mayamma’s painful story of her survival is told repeatedly. Mayamma’s memory goes back to her own marriage. Mayamma was an old caretaker cum cook of Devi’s in-law’s house. She gets married at an early age of twelve and that too, with a useless drunkard and gambler who came to her every night, for physical pleasure alone. She knew no happiness in marriage. Mayamma survived her long suffering life as a wife, daughter-in-law and mother. Her mother-in-law, unable to check Mayamma’s insides, had to content herself with the astrologer’s promise that Mayamma would bear her many strong grandsons. And, “She watches Mayamma’s slim waist intently for the first year and second year, she breaks into complaints” (80). Her mother-in-law’s abuse is habitual throughout Mayamma’s married life. When Devi asks Mayamma “Why she had put up with her life;? she laughs till tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks and tells her story teasing Devi’s childishness:
“I can see that you are still a child, she said. When I lost my first baby, conceived after ten years of longing and fear, I screamed, for the only time in my life, Why? The oily, pockmarked village doctor, his hand still dripping with my blood, looked shifty. A women must learn to bear pain, he mumbled. What can I do about the sins of your previous birth? But my mother-in-law was far more sure of herself. She slapped my cheeks hard, first this then the other. Her fists pummelled my breasts and my still swollen stomach till they had to pull her off my cowering, bleeding body. she shouted, in a rage mixed with fear, Do you need any more proof that this is not a woman? The barren witch has killed my grandson, and she lies there asking us why!. Mayamma smiled toothless at me, as if the memory had lost some of its bite;” (prelude).
One day, when Mayamma is hanging her new sari to dry, her mother-in-law mocks:
“What has your beauty done for you, you barren witch? And she pulled up my (Mayamma’s) sari roughly, just as her son did every night, and smeared the burning red, freshly ground spices in my barrenness. My burned thighs my clamped together as I felt the devouring fire cling to my entrails.”(113)
Her Mother-in-law abuses her every day. She forces Mayamma to fast every other day and to do penance to change the evil course of her horoscope. Mayamma welcomed her penance like an old friend and did everything she could do. She woke up at four in the morning, walked to the pond, prayed, dipped herself again and again in the pure coldness. One day, the goddess she had prayed blessed her womb and joy rushes through her blood. After long prayers she is blessed with a son:
Then the blood came soon and soon. No expense was spared, my husband wanted the new village doctor, not the midwife. He shoved his greasy hand into my swelling, palpitating womb. I could feel the pull, the excruciating pain of the thrust, his hand, my blood, my dying son. She is strong, she will bear more children, he said. But after Raja was born two years later, I still groaned with pain(122)
This scene, beginning with joy in the blood and ending with tragic bleeding, in inscribed in Hariharan’s style, combining strangely jaunty rhythms and concise diction. Mayamma’s husband left the house taking away all the money and soon her mother-in-law also passes away cursing her. Though Mayamma never saw her husband again, she found his replica in their son. A wastrel from birth, he threatened and cursed and even beat his mother till he finally caught a fever and died. Inspite of his cruel behaviour, Mayamma serves her son on the death bed. “The day he died, Mayamma wept as she had not done for years. She wept for her youth, her husband, the culmination of a life’s handiwork: now all these had been snatched from her”
Through Mayamma, the old family retainer of Devi’s in-laws, Hariharan exposes the helplessness of traditionally suppressed rather illiterate woman. She becomes the target of social norms. Her disarming passivity makes her suffer patiently for quite a long period. After bearing the cruelty of her husband and mother-in-law, she tries to infuse meaning into the life of her son only to acknowledge the fact that her son is the xerox copy of her husband. The suppressed anger and sufferings of her heart comes in the form of tears on the day her son died. She wept from the core of her heart remembering her youth and her past.
Gita Hariharan in The Thousand Faces of Night has created characters of everyday life and with their meager problems touches upon the larger issues of gender exploitation embedded in pedagogic discourses. Devi is the central character and other equally strong women characters are explored in relation to her. These characters may appear abnormal in their behaviour in some cases but welcome life on their own terms. With the eyes of Devi and her emotions, one comes to realize the condition of women in changing scenario. Hariharan presents a picture of real society where such characters do occur. She selected the less prominent figures from the Indian epics and Puranas. She talks about Gandhari, Amba who are less known to the contemporary learners instead of talking about Sita and Savithri. She talks about Indian myths which are forgotten by many of us in the era of globalization and liberalization. Our sophisticated lives made us renounce our heritage. On the whole, this novel is the retelling of the past. Thus she turns into the act of restoration—restoration of lost Indian tradition. Gita Hariharan not only indianized the incidents but also the use of language. She abundantly used the Indian words like agraharam, ashtapdi, nadaswaram, nagaligapushpa and so on. She takes the Indian culture to the English speaking countries through the chosen Indian vocabulary .She has indianized a genre— English fiction. Several Indian women writers have attempted to transform a woman‘s status from victimization to empowerment and project a new sense of woman’s identity. Githa Hariharan too deals with the question of woman’s identity and her innate strength, lies in her struggle for survival. Dissatisfied with age old norms that emphasize woman’s passive role as a wife, Githa Hariharan attempts to establish a new order. Her vision encompasses the whole history of woman‘s role and edifies the emergence of a new woman who is true to her own self.
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Unearthing the Green Elements in The Hungry Tide:
An Ecocritical Reading.
If we for a little while disentangle ourselves from the intricacies of the conflict between nature and society, then we would become aware of the fact that not only nature and society are interdependent but also are they part and parcel of each other’s existence. According to Lawrence Buell, “ecocritics explore literary texts as refractions of physical environments, notwithstanding the artifactual properties of textual representation and their mediation by ideological and other socio-historical factors”. That is, ecocritics consider works of literature rather as a reflection of our physical environment and our attitudes towards that environment than as an artefact with certain ideology and other socio-historical facts. Evidently, Ghosh’s novel, The Hungry Tides reveals such a kind of interaction between society and nature, or more explicitly between the government, the people, the flora and fauna and the physical environment. Here in this study I propose to analyse and demystify the unfathomable depths of the relationship between nature and society in the works of Amitav Ghosh with special focus on his work The Hungry Tides.
Amitav Ghosh is famously noted for the simplicity of his plot and the lucidity of his expression as well as his brilliant portrayal of the intricacies and the interrelationships between Man and Nature. Ghosh has always been fascinated by the ever-existing bond between human beings and the ecosystem. Perhaps Amitav Ghosh is the first Indian writer in English to have deeply been involved in ecological issues in Indian English Fiction and as a proof of this fact, Ghosh published his sixth novel The Hungry Tides in 2004. The relationship between man and nature is being explored throughout the novel. This novel has taken him to the heights of critical acclaims and has won him the Hutch Crossword Book award for fiction.
The Sunderbans, known for its exotic mangroves, a geographical area of thousands of islands, an ever shifting region of strong but fickle tides with dangerous aquatic tigers and crocodiles, serve as the setting for The Hungry Tides. Nature is depicted as hostile and antagonistic to the human beings right from the beginning of the novel when Ghosh familiarize us with the world of mangroves:
“A mangrove forest is a universe unto itself, utterly unlike other woodlands or jungles. There are no towering, vine- looped trees, no ferns, no wildflowers, no chattering monkeys or cockatoos. Mangrove leaves are tough and leathery, the branches gnarled and the foliage often impassably dense. Visibility is short and the air still and fetid. At no moment can human beings have any doubt of the terrain’s hostility to their presence, of its cunning and resourcefulness, of its determination to destroy or expel them. Every year, dozens of people perish in the embrace of that dense foliage, killed by tigers, snakes and crocodiles .” (THT, 7).
In The Hungry Tides, Ghosh not only unveils the beauty of this exotic land but also presents us with a whole human civilization growing amidst these ever-changing, ever-drowning islands, a group of people battling for life, who are surrounded by wild animals everywhere. These were a group of people who got dislocated when the nation of India was partitioned in 1947 and in 1971. After the partition, they chose to remain close to nature ignoring all man-made institutions including government and religion. Thus they come to Sunderbans to settle and begin their saga of survival. At times, they fought against nature, at times they cope with it and continued their lives.
Kanai Dutt, a Delhi-based businessman and translator, and Piyali Roy, a young Indian American woman from Seattle who is undertaking a study on freshwater mammals are the main characters of this novel. The story of The Hungry Tide revolves around the tide country and its inhabitants. It's a long saga of survival amidst poverty, man-eating animals and furious torrents. The extreme rancor of that territory is visible in most of the details of its physical aspects. For instance, in the section titled ‘Canning’, Kanai describes the plight of the passengers in the boat due to the vast expanse of the billowing mud as:
“...on stepping off the plank, there was a long drawn out moment when each passenger sank slowly into the mud, like a spoon disappearing into a very thick daal. Only when they were in up to their hips did their descent begins. With their legs hidden from sight all that was visible of their struggles was the twisting of their upper bodies” (THT, 24).
But, for the inhabitants of the islands, nature is a generous mother as well as an aggressive force. The tigers and the storms are the forms through which nature expresses its hostility. Piyali, the cetologist from America is against the inhabitants of the island who is killing the tigers and crocodiles for their safety. She reacted strongly when she witnessed a trapped tiger being tortured by the residents of the island who had lost many men and livestock to that beast earlier. This incident portrays Piya, the environmentalist at her best. But the inhabitants succeeded and even the author seems to sympathize with them. Amitav Ghosh has always been an ardent inquisitor of nature and history. This inquisitiveness is adequately reflected in all his novels and particularly in The Hungry Tides. In a deeper analysis, it is even possible to assume that the female protagonist of the novel, Piyali, is a counterpart of Ghosh’s own inquisitive nature. Here Piya is being contrasted with the anthropocentric masses of which Kanai and Fokir are the representatives.
The tender features of nature are represented by the river dolphins which have been called as “God’s Messengers” by Kusum. The people of the tide country are living in close proximity with nature that they can even predict the slightest change in the river waters or big threats like torrents and cyclones by an observation of the dolphin’s behavior and appearance in and out of water. Even the mythology of the land is beautifully linked with science and nature:
“Hindu myth has it that the mighty Ganges frees herself from the taming dreadlocks of Shiva - the god of creation and destruction - near the Bay of Bengal in meandering strands, to create the Sundarbans. It is an immense stretch of mangrove forest where thousands of hectares become immersed and re-emerge with the tide. Ghosh skillfully depicts this truly vengeful place, where fantasy and reality constantly overlap”.
In this novel, nature also plays an important role in the elimination of all divisions on the ground of class, caste, gender, race etc.… take for instance the words told by Nirmal to Kanai: “The speciality of mangroves is that they do not merely recolonize land; they erase time” (THT, 50).
It is already stated that Piyali Roy is a fictional counterpart of the author. A serious concern for the environment and humanity is evidently reflected in her voice when she speaks in sheer despair about another tiger-kill for the safety of human beings. It is not that she is not worried about the plight of human beings fighting there, but she believes in the natural cycle of life and the peculiar status and position of every species on earth. She was of the view that to keep the world alive and everlasting, you have to maintain a balance between man-animal relationships. Piyali said, “just suppose we crossed that imaginary line that prevents us from deciding that no other species matters, except ourselves. What will be left then? Aren’t we alone enough… once we decide we can kill off other species, it will be people next- who are poor and unnoticed” (THT, 301).
Thus, Ghosh makes his stand clear. He tries to create a fresh insight into our life pattern. He makes us aware that we are not the only one with the right to live and enjoy the gift of life. Every living being has a right to live and they all have a place under the sun. we have to be careful in not intruding their
place. Ghosh advocates for a harmonized ecosystem with adequate and proper technological assistance. We must not use our scientific achievements for the destruction of the environment. Rather, we should use it in a constructive way out.
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