Feminine Sensibility Of An Immigrant Woman English Literature Essay
Sensibility reflects the sense of ability to feel or perceive. It also depicts the refined awareness and appreciation in matters of feeling. The sensibility or sensitiveness illustrates the quality or condition of being emotionally and intuitively sensitive. Females are well known for their sentiments, sensations, emotions, sensitiveness or sensitivity. Sensibility, an important 18th century term assigning a kind of emotional response or receptiveness, is both aesthetic and moral, viewing a capability to feel both for others’ sorrows and beauty. In literature, the feature of sensibility was discovered and exhibited in the sentimental novel, sentimental comedy, graveyard poetry, and in the poems of William Cowper. The term is also used in a different sense in modern criticism, being a characteristic method of a given writers depiction of deep feelings while responding mentally and sensitively to experience.
Sensibility refers to a sensitive consciousness or attentiveness towards something, such as, the emotions of another. It is closely connected with studies of sense perception as the means through which knowledge or information is gathered. It is also related with sentimental moral philosophy.
Therefore, sensibility is all about the method of feeling. The word ‘sensibility’ points out the receptiveness of the senses and refers to the psycho-perceptual system. It indicates the function of the nervous system and the material basis for consciousness. Women and their male friends elevated sensibility as a standard, demanding that insensitive men of old or new, challenging cultures, reform themselves and their dealing with women. Feminine sensibility means the sentiments of a woman, as it is concerned with a woman’s feeling and emotions to her own miseries and circumstances. Through her sensibility we can recognize her psychology or longing. On the whole it is a kind of reaction towards action. Thus, feminine sensibility is the matter of soft and pure emotions of a woman’s heart. The feelings which she stores in her heart and had capacity to overwhelm her surroundings. The sensibility has the depths of sea and heights of sky.
In early 18th century no one bothered about the sentiments of women. Even in our traditional society nobody tried to observe a woman’s deep feeling or emotional response. She did not have any human rights to talk about her feelings and her dissatisfaction about destiny is of no account; she had been treated as a lower-caste. In late 18th and 19th century women began to show their interest towards writing because it was a reliable source to express their sensibility. But the rigid traditional society was reluctant to accept woman as a writer; e.g. Harriet Taylor was the actual author of The Subjection of Women published under the name of her husband John Stuart Mill. Similarly, Mary Ann Evans was the real name of writer George Eliot; she used her pen-name because nobody accepted her as a female writer. Feminism and Women’s Liberation Movement greatly supported the reformation of women. The Women’s Liberation Movement is the social fight which aims at eliminating forms of tyranny based on gender and as well gaining for women equal economic and social status and rights to settle in their own lives as are enjoyed by men.
While attempting towards gaining liberty both physical and mental, women were not limited by class; in daily working affairs with employers, and in their exposure to sensibility's religious passages. They were motivated by their own interests at home; mainly in the challenge of bringing men out of their stereotypical nuances they detained new opportunities. Increasingly women became educated, writing in a wide range of forms, from private letters to published poetry and novels. Mary Wollstonecraft’s (1759-1797), Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) developed the arguments which aimed at reforming women’s manners which, she said, were completely sensitized to pleasing men. She was the first one, who observed that, “Women are, therefore, to be considered either as moral beings, or so weak that they must be entirely subjected to the superior faculties of men” 1.
Wollstonecraft further mentioned about a woman’s feature that,
the woman who strengthens her body and her friend, and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practising various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband, and if she deserves his regard by possessing such substantial qualities, she will not find it necessary to conceal her affection, not to pretend to an unnatural coldness of constitution to excite her husband’s passions. In fact, if we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the gentlest of their sex. 2
The progress for the woman’s position in Western society began in Britain in the Victorian era and since the mid-nineteenth century woman’s growth towards equal opportunity has been more or less constant, a triumph that must be attributed to the suffragettes as the ancestors of today’s feminism. In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s when woman’s right regarding administration started forming in Europe, it gave them a sense of their position in the society. Many important writers were prejudiced by feminist notes. Poets and novelist shaped remarkable female characters such as George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Aurora Leigh. In these works woman was in a centre position and their sensibility was described. Thus, it was an initiative towards the untouched topic of feminism.
Women writers could have formed superior works but they were obviously at a drawback in contrast to their male contemporaries. Male authors went to schools and universities; they had lots of opportunity of higher education. On the other hand women authors had just formal school education and no other chance to go to the university because of their gender. It was only after 1900, university educated group of women entered the profession of writing.
Many women writers were prejudiced by these activities of feminism, even many Victorian dramas and novels were written about the complaints and agonies of women. In all probability the effective literary formation of feminine dilemma was A Doll’s House (1879), which was first performed in London. The example of Ibsen’s Nora could not be simply ignored and maybe that’s why A Doll’s House stimulates so much righteous anger amongst the conservations. Jotting down some remarks for the tragedy before start writing this book Ibsen experienced that there are two types of scruples, one in man and another different is in woman. May be they do not understand each other, but in realistic life a woman is judged by a man’s law as though she was not a woman but a man.
Ibsen’s conclusions were similar to those which Virginia Woolf settled fifty year later in her well known book A Room of One’s Own (1929). Virginia Woolf studied Well’s books and agreed with the high-minded and liberal sentiments which they expressed. Her outlook towards the query of woman’s right was never simple and straight forward. Her thought was less practical than theirs but her idea was more complete which can be seen in her long essay A Room of One’s Own. Thus Virginia Woolf’s main argument in this essay is that, “A woman must have money and room of one’s own if she is to write fiction” 3, i.e. she must have the same chances as men to follow her interest. She further stated,
Life for both sexes—and I look at them, shouldering their way along the pavement—is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion that we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. 4
Therefore, the explanation of the woman’s movements and woman’s history discloses that its impact is the same as that of any other social movement. The society in which we live today had made convinced rules which are different for men and women. Woman has to execute the biological function of reproduction and, therefore, her opportunities are limited. Moreover, it becomes exclusively her responsibility to take care of the children thus putting an end to all her opportunities. But, the feminists powerfully opposed to this practice. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) encouraged women to work outside the house. She has also emphasised the harmful effect of the mother’s steady presence with the child. The feminist demonstrated that it was important to have child-care centres so that woman could defend their job and go to work. Hence, in the 20th feminist protest became a major social anxiety.
Sensibility became an English-language literary movement, chiefly in the new type of the novel writing. Such works named sentimental novels featured those who were horizontal to sensibility, often fainting, feeling weak, weeping or having fits in feedback to an emotionally moving experience. Samuel Johnson, in his portrait of Miss Gentle, articulated this criticism:
She daily exercises her benevolence by pitying every misfortune that happens to every family within her circle of notice; she is in hourly terrors least one should catch cold in the rain, and another be frighten by the high wind. Her charity she shews by lamenting that so many poor wretches should languish in the streets, and by wondering what the great can think on that they do so little good with such large estates.5
Women write in a different way from men; while men write about issues of war, spying, state, business, and sexual encounters, though women write about themselves. The chief argument is that there is such a thing as a characteristic woman’s sensibility, and that it imitates itself in the literature of our times. Women in most of the early novels are basically Indian by their nature, gifted with the traditional feminine merits of genuineness, love and acceptance. The autobiographical aspect in the novels is shift from an anxiety with objective social reality to an exploration of the feminine sensibility. The figure of women in fiction has undergone a transform after all through the last four decades. Women writers have shifted away from customary portrayals of lasting, self-sacrificing women to divergent female characters searching for their identity, no longer characterized and defined in terms of their victim position. They are trying to expose the condition of the women in society. Through their characters they picture the real emotions and sensibility of a woman.
Women who comprise half of the world’s population are ironically not treated on same level with men in all spheres of human activity. They are exploited, restrained, and marginalised in the aspect of various opportunity of life. Nobody cares about the devotional and emotional nature of woman. She is determined for the growth of her family, her children, and her husband. This thinkable picture of woman is not somewhat new or unique only to India, even this is the dilemma of women in all over the world.
In a male dominated society, woman is supposed to be ideal wife only. She must be a mother and an admirable home maker with different roles in the family. Thus, as a wife and mother - sacrifice, service, tolerance, and submissiveness are her necessary features. A series of adjustment which she makes in her life with loyally and obediently, are her well-liked qualities. When a woman becomes mature, she is inspired with the facts of pride in tolerance, of self-abnegation, of need to accept a lower status in compare to man. She is taught to be gentle, shy and distinguished as a person, pure and loyal as a wife and loving, caring or kind as a mother.
For centuries, the Hindu woman put on a pedestal the mythic of models from the ancient epics like the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Purans and other epics. Indian women were asked to get encouraged by the prototype women like Sita, Kunti, Gandhari, Panchaali and so on. Often the Indian woman is inactive and agrees to the role given to her in determining her destiny. At every phase of her life, she is dependent on different relations for the status and continued existence upon man i.e. her father, her husband, and her son. The task of a woman has been full of challenges so far as Indian customs and traditions are anxious by nature. Though this dark picture was not in the scene, there was no gender-bias and women were not even measured as separate units. Women had a pride of place in the Vedic time also, when they were sacred and glorified.
A motivating features of the modern India unlighted the ingenious release of the feminine sensibility. Women in contemporary India have not only shared the exhilarating and hazardous burdens of the effort for independence but also expressed the national desire and the awareness of cultural transformation in the realm of letters. By looking at the ideal figures like Sarojini Naidu, the attitude of Indian womanhood achieved its complete synthesis; she was not only known for the Indian politician but also as the nightingale of the Indian mind's eye. A power of the Indian womanhood into politics had been almost an ordinary episode in the days of the freedom struggle, the literary endeavour too, held out its captivating image. In the expansion of the Indo-Anglian novel, the feminine responsiveness has achieved a creative independence which merits acknowledgment in the ill feeling of its relatively later expression.
The works of Indian women writers has been rated too law due to the patriarchal suppositions about the superior value of male skill. One factor casual to this narrow-mindedness is the fact that most of these women are made to live in covered domestic space. Women’s perception of their experience with it is suffocating and hardly acceptable. Some of the women writers do really belong to the ‘Westernized upper-class’, which as expected limits their social practice to a single stratum. Nayantara Sehgal is an envoy of this kind of writers. Mrs. F. Das, Venu Chitale, Iqbalunnisa Hussain, Santha Rama Rau, and Padmini Sengupta are some prominent women writers whose novels are as brightly envoy as they are multi-coloured.
In this context, however, Kamala Markandaya’s novels, in contrast with those of her contemporaries among women, seems to be more fully meditative of the awakened feminine sensibility in modern India, as she tried to project the picture of the altering traditional society. As such, Markandaya virtues a special observe both by virtue of the variety and complexity of her achievements, and as representative of an honoured position in the history of the Indo-Anglian novels. In her novels, she shows a style or technique for genius that orders and patterns her feelings and ideas, resulting in the creation of a truly enjoyable work of art. But more important is that she develops the national image on many levels of aesthetic awareness. Indeed, her novels give the impression to be exclusively reflective of the national awareness in its various forms with the feature sensibility of the modern educated and sophisticated Indian woman.
Markandaya’s five novels Some Inner Fury, Nectar in a Sieve, A Silence of Desire, Possession and A Handful of Rice represent a very fine example of feminine sensibility. The purposive way of her creative sensibility awards her novels with a genuine representative quality that grades them out as a significant entity. The reality that none of the protagonists in her novels runs away from the harsh realities of life, by choosing death as the ultimate resolution. It is a justification of the traditional values of Indian culture, acceptance, namely, tolerance, and patience.
Thus, not even Markandaya but few other woman writers are also there who deals with the concept of feminine sensibility; like Arundhati Roy, Anita Nair, Kamla Das, Rama Mehta, and Anita Desai. Anita Desai is one of those few Indian writers in English who have warmly strived to understand the quandary of their female characters. Desai represents the greeting “creative release of the feminine sensibility”, which began to come out after the World War II 6. She is an author of significant virtues and has enriched the Indian novels in English. The author shows her low esteem for the novelists who obtain attention in the external rather than the internal world. She herself has written brilliant psychological novels, in which she explains ‘purely subjective’ concepts. She writes,
It has been my personal luck that my temperament and circumstances have combined to give me the shelter, privacy and solitude required for the writing of such novels, thereby avoiding problems a more objective writer has to deal with since he depends upon observation rather than a private vision. 7
Desai does extremely well in defining human relations. In an interview, she denied to have intentionally struggled to ‘incorporate’ any aspect of ‘modern sensibility’ in her works. “Of course I do write of contemporary science”, she affirmed, “and therefore the characters must contain the modern sensibility” 8. The quandary of modern man can evidence Desai’s predominant interest. It would be worthwhile to judge her novels from bright angles. She explains the strong feelings of her characters and portrays their internal psyche with the use of imagery, which plays a vital role in her novels.
As a result, in all her key novels the author has dealt with the feminine sensibility more forcefully than the explanation of a man. Thus, Desai’s Voice in the city, Cry the Peacock, Fire on the Mountain, Where Shall We Go This Summer?, Custody, and Clear Light of Day; they all are stuffed with an influential picture of feminine sensibility. Even in her short-stories, the feminine sensibility is certainly the central theme.
For instance, Cry, the Peacock is a story of Maya’s love for her husband Gautam. In excess of mental sensitive, extremely loyal and loving in nature; Maya has need of a love partner, who can empathize with her feelings. But the main calamity of her life is that her husband does not have widespread compassion. The author expresses the passionate feelings of her protagonist and reveals their inner psyche with the use of allegory which comes out to play an essential part in her novels. In her another novel Voice in the City, Desai portraits her character Monisha with her higher sensibility. It discovers in a credible way the inner ambience of youthful desolation. The novel is an exemplification of what Anita Desai called in an interview with Yashodhara Dalmia, “the terror of facing single-handed the ferocious assault of existence” 9.
In Bye-Bye, Blackbird, there is an influential meet of the East and West, whereas attraction for England has been presented all the way through Aditi and Dev. Disappointment with England is mainly characterized through both of them. However, throughout the novel, it is feminine sensibility that governs more than the other thematic damages. Further her one more novel Where Shall We Go This Summer? is again a very great novel defining feminine sensibility. In spite of the fact that this description is mainly spoken through the outcrop of one single theme, i.e. the disaster of ethics and values, Sita the female character in the novel, rules the entire theme of the novel. Anita’s Fire on the Mountain also represents feminine sensibility in a sharp way through her protagonist of the novel Nanda Kaul.
Author’s collection of short story - Games at Twilight, is also an accomplished nature in making great demands on one’s endurance or skill. It is certainly energizing and enlightening to have a glance into the thematic formation of such short stories as ‘Studies in the Park’, ‘Sale’, ‘Private Tuition’, ‘Surface Texture’, ‘A Devoted Son’, ‘Pineapple’, and ‘The Accompanist’; in order to understand Desai’s feminine sensibility in relation to her fiction accomplishment. So, Mrs. Desai gives the impression to detain the real strength of the characters. She projects a tragic image in her novels by insertion of her female protagonists in hostile circumstances. She further observes her women characters as individuals who find themselves forced into disagreeable environments, fighting against the odds.
On in whole, these women writers wrote mainly to voice their anxiety for and sympathize with the suffering of the women. Being a woman themselves they better understand the inner voice of a female rather than a male writer. That is the reason that their female characters are more popular and their deep feeling or responsiveness come at front of the society very sharply. These sensibilities are the same, whether someone is living in India or any other foreign country. Hence, immigration doesn’t change it much; a woman who spent a long part in her homeland (Indian) and then migrates to somewhere else can feel the same experiences.
There are many other Indian women writers based in Canada, USA, Britain, and other parts of the world have also tried to figure out the sentiments of an immigrant woman. These authors write about their situation in cross-cultural, dislocation, background, and homelessness. Expatriate representation has been questioned on several calculates. Thus, migration is the shifting from region, country, or place of residence to settle in another. Most immigrant writers have a frail clutch of actual circumstances in contemporary India, and tend to rebuild it through the lens of homesickness, writing about ‘imaginary homelands’. Rogler (1994) said that,
The psychological study of migrations......is first and foremost the study of how social networks are dissembled and reassembled during the cross-cultural movement toward incorporation in the host society. 10
Millions of women left their homes in Europe, Latin America, and Asia to migrate to the States in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Many hoped that life in America would be better, not only for their families but also for themselves as a woman. Often their expectations were nourished by their initial encounter with America. “Not all immigrant women were so fortunate. For many, life in the United States was bitter and the slogan, ‘ladies first’ cruelly ironic. ‘Ladies’ were first to be underpaid, unemployed, and abused” 11.
Unfriendliness lends impartiality, but it can also lead to the solidification of cultural builds, and even if memory is clear and sharp, the migrant is not directly in touch with the reality of India. This is usually not a downy course, even for those women who seem to have acculturated easily to a new society. Each human being’s life exclusively reveals the subjects that emerge as shaped experience. Ultimately, the fact that women from different countries or ages, origins, and social classes; the life experienced by immigrant women somehow cherish the same sensibility which finds reflection in their writings. There are so many immigrant woman writers who deal with the theme of East/West disagreement, or the clash between tradition and modernity, such as Meera Syal, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Anita Rau Badami, Uma Parameswaran, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Anjana Appachana, Bharati Mukerjee, Jumpha Lahari, and Kiran Desai.
The immigrant woman’s meeting with America, for better or for worse, was not as similar as the immigrant man’s. Like the men, the women faced poverty, physical danger, discrimination, and loneliness as they effort to establish new lives in a new land. Their characteristics as women shaped the roles, experiences, and opportunities available to them in the family, nation, community, and workshop. Much of voluminous literature on migration has been male-centred, taking men’s experience as the model and assuming that women’s experience was either identical to men’s or not important enough to permit separate and serious attention. Using documents written by immigrant women themselves, or by others who knew them intimately, Immigrant women offers a different standpoint, a woman-centred perspective on American immigration history.
Thus, many expatriate writers, both men and women have efficiently and aesthetically talked about the topic of their migration experience in their literary works. The immigrant women writers have portrayed their familiarity and the feminine sensibility in their fictions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of them. Therefore, the main purpose of this chapter is to present the feminine sensibility of an immigrant woman with the special reference of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s works.
To recognize the progress of immigration women’s and girl’s lives, we investigate their experiences of migration and the formation of their individual identities in the course of her fiction. Divakaruni presents the welcome imaginative picture of the feminine sensibility which began to emerge after the World War II. In most of her writings including short-stories and novels, she has given the picture of feminine sensibility. This chapter describes and analyses women’s experiences of migration. It hypothesizes that, domestic and individual conflicts in immigrant communities often involves struggles over women’s sensibility.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an Indian-American immigrant writer, releases her women protagonists for a ‘New World Order’. Her portrayal of women is motivated by her practices in India as well as abroad. Her protagonists are sensitive and they do not have a stable sense of personal and cultural identity. They are mistreated by sexism, racism, and other form of social domination. Divakaruni said that,
I have a variety of readers from the diasporic community; not just from South Asia. I like to write large stories that include all of us – about common and cohesive experiences which bring together many immigrants, their culture shocks, and transformations, concepts of home and self in a new land. My experiences too are reflected in my work. 12
Chitra Banerjee is concerned with characters that demand and struggle for the articulation of their reserved and stunned voice. As a writer, she likes to put much stress on the fact that her characters, whether they are exclusively Indian or superficially Western, are on the whole human being. Her women protagonists give expression for their feminine sensibility in their anxious desire for a genuine communication with their own selves in addition to their society. She articulates, “As a woman and an immigrant myself, I have obviously experienced or at least observed many of the challenges, problems and the gains of immigration that I write about”. Divakaruni further says that, “Writing is an important way for me to try and understand the world around me. It has given me an insight into American and into India that I would not have had otherwise”13.
Thus, author’s focal point is on the lives of Indian women who are struggling with cultural fetters. While seeing the everyday beauty of their lives, has made Divakaruni popular among women worldwide, in addition to a critical achievement. She said that there are both plus and minus belonging to the enormous advent of Asian American writers. This interest of her which was 10 or 15 years old made it easier to get her work published. Having come from Kolkata, to pursue her Master’s in English from Wright State University in Dayton and Ph. D. from the University of California, Berkeley; she also did many odd jobs to keep finances flowing for her education. Today, she has written over 15 fictional books, won and judged many awards. Her work has been included in over 50 anthologies e.g. Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The O’Henry Prize for Stories, and The Mistress of Spices was on a number of Best Book lists , including the San Francisco Chronicle’s 100 Best Book of the 20th century. Her well known short-story collection Arranged Marriage was the precursor of many novels together with Sister of my Heart, The Mistress of Spices, Vine of Desire, The Unknown Error of Our Lives, and Queen of Dreams. A strand running in the course of all these stories is the options made by immigrant women especially their sensibility, their relationships, and their worries. Her works revolve around the feminine sensibility of an immigrant woman, an important theme among the Indian immigrant women writers. Divakaruni declares that,
I would like to say that I have always been interested in women’s issues and conditions and desirous of making changes – but that isn’t true. When I lived in India, I was totally immersed in the culture, and thus totally accepting of it. I never thought of women’s rights, or their problems. If things were hard for us, I reasoned that was just the way of the world. Wasn’t it the same everywhere? 14
Immigrant women are the sense for her work, she writes about their feelings and pain. She shows the experience of women, their sensibility and efforts to find personal identity. Immigrant women’s sensibilities have been her point of attention since she left India. Having come to US, she was capable to revaluate the behaviour of women here. She names it a complex and difficult problem and tries to show her indifference through her works. She further pointed out that,
Coming to the US gave me the distance I needed to look back on my culture with objectivity, to pick out what I valued and realize what I didn’t agree with. One of the latter was the double standards in effect in many areas for women, and I strove to remove these from my life. 15
During her college time in US, she volunteered at the women’s heart to help battered women. Thus, she started a helpline Maitri with some of her friends in San Francisco Bay Area. This directed her to put pen to paper for her collection of short stories in Arranged Marriage, all of them deal with mistreatment and courage of immigrant women. She founded this South Asian women’s service organization called Maitri in 1991, which has now grown-up into one of the most recognized helpline for Asian American women in the country. “I saw that a lot of problems stemmed from issues of domestic violence”, said Divakaruni.
The proponents of such homes assume that many South Asian women are uncomfortably breathing with other battered women from other cultures, thus, this kind of adjustment is not a simple thing. Woman has to transplant and migrate herself from one place to another in her life; in the childhood at her parents place and after marriage at her husband’s place wherever he will live. In this journey of transplantation and migration, sometime a woman has to surrender herself above the situations. If this journey is within the homeland, she might overcome from the problems but if it is in the alien soil then she has to surrender herself in front of the situations. Divakaruni strived to understand the feminine sensibility of immigrant women and tried to help them by solving their problems through her organization. Divakaruni believes that, “The work I did definitely influenced my writing”. The author further gives details in one of her article ‘My Work with Maitri’ that,
My work with Maitri has been at once valuable and harrowing. I have seen things I would never have believed could happen. I have heard of acts of cruelty beyond imagining. The lives of many of the women I have met through this organization have touched me deeply. It is their hidden story that I try to tell in many of the tales in my short story collection, Arranged Marriage. It is their courage and humanity that I celebrate and honour. 16
Thus, noted author and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, herself is an immigrant, has turned out to be the balladeer of the Indian Diaspora, accounting the struggles, the fatalities and the tales of reinvention and redemption. She has put into the words what millions of immigrants would find hard to articulate, especially the dilemmas faced by women who shift from the boundaries and traditions of home into the brave novel universe outside. She makes it clear that, “It made me think a lot more about the issues I was seeing and how it related to the lives of immigrants, and I wanted to write about it”17.
Many of her works are to some extent autobiographical. Not only most of her stories are set in the Bay Area of California, but Divakaruni also deals with the immigrant experiences, which is a vital theme in today’s world, where immigrant’s voice is rarely heard. She writes to bring people together, and she does this by destroying false tradition and stereotypes. Much of Divakaruni’s writing centres around the lives of settler women. She says,
Women in particular respond to my work because I am writing about them, women in love, in difficulties, women in relationship. I want people to relate to my characters, to feel their joy and pain, because it will be harder to [be] prejudiced when they meet them in real life. 18
Chitra Banerjee is one of the famous contemporary Indian novelists in English, who deals with the inner world of the Indian women as well as the immigrant women in her novels. She portrays her heroines in a realistic style which often gives the picture of the society. Basically she writes about the circumstances of women and their failures in the fast changing socio-economic setting of India. She marks about the conflict between tradition and modernity in relation to East and West. Woman is the centre of her fictional world; her efforts, desires, and failures in the traditional Indian society plus western society are the main points in her novels. She makes it clear that hers is not the strident and revolutionary kind of a feminism which sees man as the cause of all troubles. Her illustration of women’s world is realistic, credible, and authentic.
In The Mistress of Spices, the character Tilo offers spices, not only for the cooking, but also for the homesickness and disaffection which is experienced by the Indian immigrants in her shop “Spice Bazar”. Divakaruni says that the novel which has a magical quality is about a woman who possesses an Indian grocery store and makes use of these spices to resolve the problems of her customers. As in many cases in arrange marriage, love generates conflict. “[The woman] fall in love with a non-Indian and must make some difficult choices – she must decide if she should continue to serve her people or look for her own happiness”, Divakaruni says for her protagonist 19.
In the course, Tilo develops quandaries of her own when she falls in love with a non-Indian. In this story the author shows her sensibility and conflicts, as she has to decide whether to hand round her people or to follow the lane leading to her own happiness. The protagonist has to decide which elements of her inheritance she will keep and which elements she will choose to abandon. Thus, Divakaruni expressed Tilo’s sensibility or dilemma through her novel which was somehow same for the other immigrant women also. Tilo voiced,
It seems right that I should have been here always, that I should understand without words their longing for the ways they chose to leave behind when they chose America. Their shame for that longing, like the better-slight after taste in the mouth when one has chewed amlaki to freshen the breath [....] I Tilo architect of the immigrant dream. 20
Immigrant journey starts with a single, radical step – the act of leaving home and one’s set place is like leaving the secure confines of magical circle; the crossing ‘lakshman-rekha’ for the unknown lands. In this new world, immigrants readjust and reinvent themselves. Therefore, they struggle to find out their position in an alien landscape, mesh some gains but also acquiring deep emotional losses. Shashi Tharoor conveyed her opinion in the Los Angeles Times Book review that,
Divakaruni has written an unusual, clever and often exquisite first novel that stirs magical realism into the new conventions of culinary fiction and the still-simmering caldron of Indian immigrant life in America. 21
As a result, women who travel from ‘traditional’ societies to find out new alternatives open to them in the new country, they are offered with opportunities given to women in the modern world. But the new potentials that relocation opens up are not limited to women who emigrate from traditional societies. Woman who migrates from ‘modern’ culture may also find positive atmosphere for them in the new country because of the familiar environment and as in like their families. But it is also very much true that,
Life for women in diasporic situations can be doubly painful-struggling with the metrical and spiritual insecurities of exile, with the demands of family and work, and with the claims of old and new patriarchies. 22
In her further novel Queen of Dreams, the author presented the feeling of ‘homelessness’ and the search for our own ‘roots’ through her protagonist Rakhi. She is a young artist and divorced mother living in Berkeley, California. She is an Indian by her name only; but, “most of her paintings had been about India – an imagined India, an India researched from photographs, because she’d never travelled there. She’d painted temples and cityscape and women in marketplace bus drivers at lunch” 23. Rakhi is thrashing about to keep her footing with her family and with a world in frightening changes. There is a lot of struggle in her life and she has both sweet and sour kind of experiences in her life.
Rakhi likes the comfortable clutter of her life, the things she loves gathered around her like a shawl against the winteriness of the world. It surprises her that she used to be such an anxious housekeeper when she was married to Sonny, arguing with bitter fervour about picking up wet towels from the bathroom floors and replacing caps on toothpaste tubes. She feels a certain pity when she thinks of that time, that self. 24
Rakhi wants to become an independent woman that’s why, whatever the situation is, she never asked for any help from her Ex-husband and not even her own mother. But, being alone it was very tough to survive in her life and give a better life to her little daughter. Only painting is not enough to earn money, thus, she established a Chai-House (cafe) with the help of her close friend Belle. Nevertheless, to run a cafe is not that much easy for these two women. They had to face a number of problems one by one; still, “Things are getting worse at the Chai House” 25.
She made efforts to save her professional life as well as personal. It shows strength of a woman that in each and every circumstance, she tries to face the situations and fight with her own destiny. Rakhi expressed her sentiments that, “Belle and I had put everything we had into the Chai House – all our creativity as well as whatever little money we possessed – and converted a run-down establishment into some-thing special” 26.
When she got separate from her husband Sonny, her life was totally disturbed but she tried to keep her footing. She knows that it is important to hold on the cafe for the bright future of her daughter and herself. Rakhi further expresses that,
Through those restless midnights of doubt, the Chai House gave me some-thing tangible to hold on to, something that was exactly what it appeared to be, nothing more and nothing less. Taking care of it was a way to make at least one part of my life turn out right. 27
Through her protagonist Divakaruni endeavoured to show that how a single woman cop-up with the problems which accrue in the relationship and how she re-collects all her strength to start a new life. Whether it is East or West civilization, problems are similar; may be the situation and environment is different but the sensibility of a woman is same behind this. She knows the vary format of society, for that she converts her weaknesses as her strength. Mentally she builds her life in her own way and makes a picture of her future framing it by different or true colours of life. The author expressed the deep feeling of Rakhi that she had to face terrible situation but, it also shows her capability that she is not a dependent one for own problems. Hence, Rakhi pulled herself out from all absurd conditions.
It is obvious that only a lady can understand the feelings and problems of another lady. For Rakhi her mother was the only one to whom she can share the things. Her mother is a dream teller, born with the talent to interpret the dreams of others, to forecast and guide them through their fates. This reward of vision charms her mother but also cuts off Rakhi from her mother’s past in India the dream world she lives in. Rakhi longs for something to bring them closer, but the problem is that she was totally unaware with her mother’s past. She never been to India but still she has got curiosity to know about it. She expresses her desire that, “I hungered for all things Indian because my mother never spoke of the country she’d grown up in – just as she never spoke of her past” 28.
Wedged under the load of her own painful secret, Rakhi’s comfort comes in when she discovered her own roots through her mother’s dream journal after her death, which begins to unlock the long-closed door to her past. In the course of these journals, we get the picture of an Indian immigrant woman. It gives us the sense of her mother’s sensibility when she came to a totally new place leaving her whole life and experiences behind. It was little bit tough for her to get adjust in the new surroundings and situations. Even she couldn’t discuss to anyone about her past life and her secret work. Her daughter Rakhi has a keen interest to know about her mother’s identity and roots. She says, “They were both of Indian origin, though he never spoke of his past – parents, hometown, high school, and habits” 29.
Thus, the whole story centres on a woman, who is caught between the real world that is crumbling around her and her mother’s infectious or mysterious dream world. It also expresses the sensibility of and immigrant woman that, after migration she must alter herself according to the foreign land. She has to countenance the feeling of homelessness and dislocation, but very soon the new atmosphere changes their mentality. From inside they know all the customs and traditions of India, which are related to a married woman, but basically they would not able to apply it in the new world. They feel that these customs are boundaries for them, thus, very soon they adapt the new or free customs of foreign land. After living in such kind of environment, they do not want to come back to any orthodox ritual. Even they feel uncomfortable in the custody of their in-laws. In this novel Queen of Dreams, Rakhi’s friend Belle expressed her fear on the duties of a married woman, “I can just see myself ten years from now, shrouded in fat and a polyester salwaar kameez, a passel of snot-nosed brats hanging onto my dupatta, rolling out makkhi ki rotis for all my in-laws” 30.
Rakhi efforts to discover her identity, knowing little about India but strained unavoidably into a sometimes painful history she is only just discovering, her life is upset by new horrors. On September 11, she and her friends must deal with shady new complexities about their acculturation. Distressed by nightmares beyond her imagination, she yet finds unexpected blessings with the possibility of new love and understanding of her family.
Hence, Divakaruni’s protagonists pass through a slashing process of identity catastrophe. There is an effectual communication between the characters that keep her works graceful. Her women heroines are the representative of present-day intellectual women and she does not console them with struggles like loneliness and alienation. She presents their sensibilities very well through her writing. Her characters are not only interesting to read, but they are thought provoking also. The author explains in her own words, “Youth South Asians have come to me and said, ‘I really relate to this story. This story has helped me understand my mother, helped me understand my culture’. That’s a really a good feeling” 31.
Her renowned book Arranged Marriage is a collection of short-stories, all about women from India wedged between two worlds. At Berkeley, Divakaruni volunteered at a women’s center and served battered women. She then started Maitri with a group of friends, which sooner or later directed her to write Arranged Marriage, a work that contains stories about the abuse, courage, and sensibility of immigrant women. In a number of stories like “Clothes”, “Meeting Mrinal”, “Affair”, and “Disappearance” – we see a conflict and resolution of bicultural pulls as well as the feminine sensibility. The female protagonists are shown with a leg on each side of two diverse cultures – one is an inborn collectivist Indian society with its importance on close family ties with its attendant household tasks or obligations, and the other is adopted, unusual American society driven by liberty, self-reliance and running after goals and personal desires. One common line that runs through these stories is the discord that the female protagonists face about their sensibilities – the clash between the cultural ethics they are conditioned in and the one they come across in the leading culture. The cultural deflation of women as inferior is reflected in the psychology of these women characters. They decide to discuss the conflict in their abusive marriages by setting boundaries for themselves and taking a compromised stand up.
In “Clothes” Mita’s fruition from an immature, star-struck bride to a self-determine, strong-minded widow is traced using the allegory of clothes – her bride viewing sari, her travel saris, her hidden American clothes and the widow’s white saris. As she planks the plane to join her new husband in US, she realises the store that her husband owns in US seems more genuine to her than her husband; she believes, “Perhaps I know more about it” 32. But in spite of her anxieties, she looks forward to a complete addition and absorption in the American life. She dreams for helping her husband at the store. But before long, it dawns on her that despite being in US, her life is “no different from Deepali’s and Radha’s” 33. She is required to play the role of obedient daughter-in-laws, a nurturer and a supplier. Her personal ambitions and dreams are edged in the patriarchal creases of the family. Mita expressed, “I stand inside this glass world, watching helplessly as America rushes by, wanting to scream” 34. After her husband was shot died, she decided not to go back to India with her-in-laws. She chose to step out of her role of a widow and step into the role of a teacher in America that her husband had dreamt for her. Divakaruni shows a woman’s strong will power and strength that how to make herself stand in various disastrous situations. Thus, the protagonist makes a choice to build an identity that appropriates the western tradition of self-sufficiency and independence but at the same time stays loyal to her husband’s dream for her.
Divakaruni’s another story “Meeting Marinal” starts in the circumstances where the story “Clothes” ends. It is a story of a married woman conferring the role of a single woman imposed upon her by conditions. But unlike Mita who forcefully steps out of her customary role after being widowed in “Clothes”. Asha goes through lots of psychological miseries when she is stripped off her role of a wife. Her self-image, which has always been edged in the situation of her role as a wife and mother, is devastated when her husband goes away for a red-haired American. She struggles to find a justification in her own behaviour or deeds and does everything to save her own staggering marriage.
Thus, brought up in a country where the thought of ‘Pativrata’ is internalized by every girl through legend, folklores, and epics; she has always tried to be like this and figure out herself as, “the perfect wife and mother, like the heroines I grow upon on – patient, faithful Sita, selfless Kunti” 35. But the unforeseen challenges that she is faced which provides her with a coping device, she never knew existed before and gives her a new outlook to her position. She finally acknowledges the fact “that the perfect life is an illusion” 36.
The story “Affair” introduces an entirely ill-matched couple who have been paradoxically brought as one in an arranged marriage by an absolutely matched horoscope. This story starts with the news of Asha’s best friend Meena, when her husband informs her about Meena’s extra-marital affair. Feeling betrayed that her best friend chose to go halves the news with him and not her; she falls into great depths of self-doubt and anxieties. “Affair” reflects the emotional growth in Asha as she shifts from ethnocentric thoughts and behaviour to that of a bicultural one. The protagonist expresses, “It astonished me how little I’d known then, how shackled my thinking had been” 37. She contrasts herself adversely with her friend and doubts whether it is her husband (Ashok) Meena is having an affair with. Thus, the author presents the sensibility of the protagonist, “I felt like perhaps I was about to start a revolution – and perhaps I was” 38.
In the above mentioned stories, the characters are shown challenging the customary thoughts of women and womanhood. Indian customs have extensively praised the values of sacrifice, service, self-effacement, self-denial, and suppression among women. These women characters question the values they were brought up in, compare them with those of the society they live in and accordingly, make choices for themselves and reform or accordingly adjust their ways of living. But this not an easy task, it demands time, space and patience. The anxiety triggered by defiance of behavioural code advocated by the mother culture is vividly delineated by Divakaruni. She says, “My beliefs about women’s roles are very simple: that women should be respected, that they should be respected, that they should be given choices, and allowed the means so that they can follow their choices and dreams”. She further explains about her aim, “Writing is an important way for me to share these beliefs with people, and I certainly hope that men and women reading my books will at least consider the importance of these things” 39.
She also recognizes the value of her own family, community, and the positive aspects of traditional culture. Her life, like her fiction, walks through a careful line between the two worlds. Thus, experiences of her immigrant life get reflected a lot in her work. She also finds herself struggling to balance the demands of family and career, tradition, and modernity. She always loved reading or listening to stories throughout her life, but immigration is really what made her into a writer. When Chitra was only 19 year old, she left her home in India and came to U.S. for her further studies. Here, she felt the feeling of “other” and more than this feeling of dislocation, homelessness, nostalgia, fight of density, and a break with the old identity. It was a profound experience for her, brought up in a strict, traditional Bengali household in Kolkata. She says looking back,
It (immigration) made me rethink my place in society. Speaking to other south Asian women, I got the sense that I was not alone. Immigration was changing us in ways we had not imagined when we left our motherland. 40
In conclusion, her works revolve around the immigrant experiences, an important theme in the combination of American society. Immigrant women, sense for the work, for she writes about their pain and their feelings, most of which are autobiographical. She shows the experience of women their struggles in trying to find personal identities.
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