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Scarred Identities in Taslima Nasrin’s French Lover

Anila Chandran
                                                                                                                 Assistant Professor
                                                                                                           Department of English
                                                                                                         HHMSPB NSS College
                         Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala


Feminist writings have played a significant role in exposing and resisting female subordination. In a male centered society women are segregated on the basis of gender. A black woman is subjected to double discrimination on the basis of her color and sexuality. Novels written by female authors reveal the different facets of female oppression and retorts by collective female resistance. Taslima Nasrin’s French Lover tries to share her views on the patriarchal standards of life and resistance to female oppression through her characters. The paper evaluates the work in the context of the interlocking system of racism and sexism. Emphasis is given to the economic independence of a woman to overcome the constrains of the patriarchal society. The economic freedom that the protagonist has attained empowers her to break the male ego who dominates her life. One who reads the novel from a cultural perspective finds most of the characteristics of racism and sexism in the novel. The feminist attempt for liberation from patriarchy and realization of a genuine female identity finds a central place in the novel.

Keywords: Racism, patriarchy, identity, gender, ideology, power.

The idea that race, class and gender are interrelated dynamics of power and oppression has gained theoretical acceptance. Insights of black feminist theory have contributed profoundly to the psycho-dynamics of power. Black feminist theories explore how race, class and gender intersect to produce multiple oppression in society. Each of the cultural construct has its unique social logic; each polarizes different social forces and generates distinct characteristics of institutional and cultural modalities. Each of them serves as an essential formative factor in the development of the Other.

            Nasrin’s French Lover is about an Indian girl who challenged patriarchy and freed herself from the bondages imposed on her by the male dominated society. Her journey led her from ignorance to knowledge, from silence to speech, from racial and gender oppression to liberated life. The work records the transformation of a submissive Indian bride to an independent woman who boldly raised her voice against the institutions like heterosexuality, marriage and child-bearing. Racism is also a kind of discrimination towards someone on the basis of ethinic group or skin color. The power is centered on racial hatred or xenophobia thereby subordinating and mistreating specific racial groups. French Lover reveals a number of shocking racist events that Nilanjana, an Indian bride had to experience in a foreign land. At the airport, Nilanjana was ill treated by the authorities and was contempt when she gave an amount of money considering it as worthless piece of paper. Her passport was scanned under the machine only because she was dark colored while the white’s passport was not scanned as they were considered to be true. This shows how negatively the whites treat the blacks or the Hispanics. She and another Sengali was sent to the corner without any reason. They yelled at her, “you red sari, shut up, go and stand athe the corner” (2). She questioned the officials on their decision to send her back home to which there came no answer as the whites felt no need to answer a black. Though she had a legitimate passport, visa and currency, she had to wait for the mercy of Monsignor Bess to stay in the country.

Nila assumed that all the troubles that she went through was due to the change in her name. Instead of her husband’s name she used her father’s name as her surname. But to her surprise Sunil reveals, “even if you had the same names, everything would have been the same” for “the color of your skin is not white enough and your passport is not of a rich country” (10). This draws the bare picture of racial discrimination practiced in France. On the way to Kishan’s house Sunil and Chaitali expressed their hatred towards the blacks who were considered the reason for all the miseries and sufferings they had to undergo. Sunil tells, “those blacks have made our lives hell” (19) are clear indicators of stereotyping. Identity is considered to be a term given to define only the rich, powerful whites. The racial discrimination that Nila experienced is a microscopic representation through which Nazrin experiences terrible gender discrimination.

Nazrin understands society to be a framework of rules and regulations for women. Society has assigned a three part role for woman: being a woman, wife and mother. A woman has no right to live for her own self; she has to live a selfless life for her family. Considered as a subservient, independent, domestic creature she has no dreams and ambitions of her own. In order to liberate women from such chains she should be freed from the mystique created by patriarchy on woman. Nasrin led Nila through a road that enabled her to find a free self for her. Nasrin draws a clear picture of woman subordinated at household administration. Kishanlal is pictured as the master who assigned the household works to Nila: “You have to keep the house. I an not good not at all this…you do. You are a woman” (18).

Apart from prohibiting her from wearing the dress of her choice her literary skills are devalued. Her knowledge, education and capacities are treated worthless compared to that of a man. The assumption of intellectual inferiority of woman proves helpful for man to ignore the suggestions of women from the mainstream. Kishan demotivates her by telling her the unimportance of the education she had.  Kishan asked Nila,

Why are you so proud of your education? It is not as if you are a doctor or an engineer. What can you do with your degree in Bengali literature? You cant earn a single franc. You will have to depend on me all your life. You have no other choice. So quit that ego. (56)

 Only if, as Virginia Woolf remarks, she has economic independence a woman can find her free self. Until then she will be a caged bird who is obliged to depend on the income of her husband.

            According to Foucauldian theory sexuality is a means of self expression. A woman can represent herself through her sexuality. Nasrin points how man subverts the sexuality to oppress woman for his enjoyment. Nila could not find pleasure in her sexual relation with Kishan. Kishan never considers her likes or desires. She even feels that there is not much difference between a wife and a prostitute. The only difference was that “client has to pay off the prostitute while husband can get off without ever paying his wife’s dues”(28). Society believes that woman has to no control over body and sexuality and even in the act of reproduction she becomes a passive agent.

            Resistance is the natural outcome of oppression. Oppression on the basis of gender tries to present woman as a subhuman creature who is underestimated and tormented. In order to resist gender discrimination woman has to find her uniqueness against male supremacy. Nasrin prepares Nila to find her identity and to react against all forms of bonds that society has imposed on her. Nasrin develops Nila as a character, who amidst her independence on Kishan, tries to find her own identity and freedom through her words, thoughts and actions. Nila’s attempts for identity are revealed for the first time when she says, “I have deliberately not taken this name”(7). As a woman, after marriage, she is supposed to take her husband’s name, Mrs. ___. But Nila asserts her identity by continuing as Nilanjana Mandal rather than Nilanjana Kishanlal or Mrs. Kishanlal. Virginia Woolf in her essay A Room for One’s Own emphasizes on the economic independence as a tool of resistance. The problem that Nila encounters before leaving home was to find a residence. It is solves when Danielle offered to share her residence with Nila. Danielle and Catherine take her to the world of freedom. Woman becomes powerful and ambitious when inspired by another woman. Nila finds it unjust to see white woman raising voice for their equality but discriminating woman with dark skin.

            Lesbian and gay sexuality are forms of resistance against heterosexuality. As heterosexuality is the norm love and marriage are the oppressive ideology by which male controls and subordinates female. Lesbian feminists resist this conceptualization and propose lesbian and gay sexuality as an alternative for the existing norm. Nasrin introduces homosexual relations through Danielle, a lesbian. She leads Nila to lesbian sexual relations.  This can be seen as an attempt to free woman from being an object of sexual pleasure if man. She also tries to affirm the fact that woman is capable of living and enjoying life without man. In Danielle’s opinion woman is capable of living alone, without man. “Woman thinks they can’t live without men. This is not true. Look at me, I don’t need a man” (118). Danielle is presented as an icon of feminine identity who has the courage to deny male supremacy on her thereby enjoying abundant freedom.

            Nasrin attempts to arouse a sense of self recognition or self-respect in black woman. Black and brown women are discriminated on the basis of their color. Their black color was equated with ugliness. But through the words of Benoir, the French lover of Nila, Nasrin tells that black is beautiful. Nila’s inferiority complex of being a black skinned was challenged by the bold response of Benoir, “Are white woman beautiful? They are anemic, see how uncouthly they walk , how harshly they speak” (166). The decolonization of mind on the standards of beauty are well executed by the character of Benoir. Colonialism has created a subservient mindset in the colonized. In order to get liberated, the colonized have to decolonize their minds to resist racial and gender discriminations. Later when Nila finds that Benoir is a man who had physical relation with her just out of lust she uphold her esteem by leaving him. Nila remarks,

I had no self esteem or self confidence and that’s why I came this far for your love. Now you must let me go. I cannot spend the rest of my life in tears. I wont let you have that pleasure at least!you would love to watch the fun, the love and tragic grief of a stupid, silly eastern woman. Finally suicide! No I am not ready for that. (286)

French Lover analyses the paradigms of racism and sexism. It demonstrates the power of imaginative work of art to change individual thought and to make readers to rethink on male attitudes and prejudices towards women. It examines the identity of woman in a society which perceives boundaries and assigns stereotypical roles to a gender.

Work Cited

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Moi, Toril. Sex, Gender and Body: The Student Edition of What is a Woman?. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Nasrin, Taslima. French Lover. Tr. Sreejata Guha. Penguine Books, 2002.
Osborne, Stella Sandford. Ed. Philosophies of Race and Ethnicity. Continuam, 2002.
Ruth, Sheila. Issues in Feminism. Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995.