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Relationship venture and Self Discovery in Anita Desai’s Novel Cry the Peacock


Relationship venture and Self Discovery in Anita Desai’s Novel Cry the Peacock

Dr. G. Aruna

Assistant Professor

Department of English

Dr. N.G.P. Arts and Science College,

Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India


Anita Desai has carved out a niche for herself among Indian writers such as Kamala Markandaya, Ruth Prawar Jhabvala, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Shobhaa De, and Kamala Das. Markandaya places a greater emphasis on the rural setting. In Jhabvala's fiction, the characters that play the various roles are less essential than their social backgrounds. Kamala Das moves between man-woman relationships while Sahgal focuses on social and political consciousness. Shobhaa De seems to be more concerned with physical necessities and social structure, whereas Shashi Deshpande simply follows Desai to a point. However, in Desai's works, the study of perception, the inner workings of the mind, takes precedence and is unrivalled. She deftly unravels the secrets of her characters' inner lives.

Keywords: Marriage; Male-Female Conflict; Reality; Tradition


Literature is a great medium for representing the oppressed voice. Fiction, as a powerful genre, expresses social concern and situation, and thus serves as a useful weapon for social criticism. Seema Suneel remarks that: The novel is considered the most socially-oriented because it depicts human relationships in its varied aspects. In other words, the novel may be considered a document of social criticism. It tends to reflect the contingent reality in an artistic fashion (Seema 198).

The post-war period in Indian English literature is notable for the emergence of a prominent group of female novelists whose impact on contemporary Indian society is amazing in its uniqueness. The expanding presence of female novelists in the fictional setting is significant, especially in light of increased awareness of shifting patterns of household relationships in women, particularly with males. The literary works of postmodern writers try to project the essence of women in the context of developing social circumstances, as this expedites the transition from marginalised to central position.

Anita Desai's works are about family in a post-colonial transitional culture, with female characters as the key focus. Desai's main focus is on researching the marriage dilemma, with all of its dangers and complications. Desai's humanistic interest is evident in her attempt to project communication issues, such as male-female conflict deriving primarily from temperamental differences and emotional deprivation. The unsuitable marriages serve as a projection of her characters' existential predicaments.

Man-Woman Relationship

In Desai's works, the protagonist's conflict with illusion and reality, tradition and modernization, is brilliantly portrayed through the institution of marriage. The concept of marriage is extremely important in Indian culture. Since the dawn of time, marriage has been considered auspicious institution requiring a certain level of piety. Marriage binds equal cooperation and union between one male and a female in human interactions. However, in the great fictional writings of postcolonial women writers, this bond has been portrayed as a significant contemporary concern, and the human situation takes universal significance. The post-war era is marked by the emergence of new patterns in married relationships.

A crisis in relationships and the concept of marriage is predicted by those entrapped in the combination of tradition and modernity. Desai investigates a shattered married relationship. In Desai's home novels, human connections, particularly husband-wife interactions, are not close, and turmoil in familial ties is natural. Anita Desai's women-oriented novels depict a widening chasm between couples that leads to marriage's demise. All of the relationships are physically sound, but the couples face different inconsistencies on the inside that undermine their efforts to actualize the concept of a peaceful married existence.

The link between Gautama and Maya in Cry, the Peacock depicts the discordant portrayal of a broken marriage. Maya, the heroine, is unquestionably a victim of a bad marriage and patriarchal domination. The relationship between Maya and Gautama in Cry, the Peacock dramatizes a careful examination of man-woman relationships. Marriage, as the ultimate form of human relationship, is expected to be founded on husband and wife's mutual collaboration and mental adjustment.

Desai has attempted to emphasise the issue of women's unhappiness in marital relationships, which are intended to be built on trust and reciprocal commitment, through the connections in her novels. Despite the fact that arranged marriage is still regarded as a blessing, Desai's novels show that it does not always result in a happy marriage. In the majority of cases, there is no adjustment. Maya and Gautama’s wedding as married couple is much more of an enforced and economic transaction, than basis of mutual commitment. Maya fantasises with the dreams and goals of a good marriage existence in the familial connection, as do all women. When she learns that her marriage is in trouble, however, reality shows her a different picture.

Traditional role of a woman

The majority of Indian society is phallocentric. The patriarchal seed is so deeply embedded in males that they appear to be not only the controllers of their lives, but also the deciders of women's fate. The women in Desai's works are put in such a bad situation because they're not members of society, but they are mostly female. Women's conditions, as portrayed by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own, remain unchanged:

She pervades poetry from cover to cover: she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction, in fact she was the slave of anybody whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fail from her lips. In real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband (Woolf 41).

Maya is unable to find a way out of her predicament. Marriage appears to offer women with satisfaction and a sense of security. Maya, on the other hand, sees marriage as a confining situation in which she must play the traditional role of a woman, putting aside all of her hopes and aspirations while having no opportunity to ask her place in the family. Marriage necessitates a certain level of maturity on both parties' parts. It is built on a firm basis of equal participation and mutual understanding. Maya's development was hampered by Raisahib's blind affection for his child and his incapacity to offer a natural environment, forcing her to take the role of a respectable wife. Maya looks for a father surrogate because she seems unable to control her life.

Maya's demand for her father's participation disrupts the family's connection, limiting the couple's seclusion. Her wedding to Gautama serves as a loving father for her, enabling her to subconsciously interact with her father. In regarding physical, emotional, and psychological traits, a woman differs from a male. In marital partnerships, self-fulfillment is measured by the real relationship, which strengthens the tie between the spouses. Maya's romantic ambitions were too great for Gautama, who was realistic and rational, to react to and fulfill. “Sex is not only a deeply and intrinsically delightful sensation, but it may also operate as a rejuvenating factor in the otherwise sterile life," says Sigmund Freud (Waheed 101). Maya, a sensitive person, goes nuts when her sexual urges aren't met. Defeat on this front simply fuels her desire for a neurotic fix. Freud observes that:

Experience shows…. that women, who, as being the actual vehicle of the sexual interests of mankind, are only endowed in a small measure, with the gift of sublimating their instincts, and who … when they are subjected to the disillusionments of marriage, fall ill of severe neuroses which permanently darken their lives (Freud 47).

Maya may have had a good relationship if she had been given a degree of emotional security, warmth, and emotional love. This would have stopped her mentality from deteriorating further. Gautama's intransigence, on the other hand, widens the chasm between them. The procreation process, which is carried out through the sexual relationship, provides a woman with fulfillment in marriage. Childlessness, on the other hand, aggravates Maya's troubled psyche. Maya's inability to have children is due to Gautama's refusal to meet Maya's desire for physical lust. Gautama overlooks the concept of Kama, which is anchored in Dharma and the cornerstone of a successful marital life, when he negates it. Maya is frequently disillusioned, even on a physical level.

The novel's different parts emphasise her unsatisfied life and her intense in need of Gautama, which she ignores in their physical love union. Maya's unmet sexual desire drives her to say something: It was not only for his presence, his love that I longed, but mainly for the life that would permit me to hold and tighten my hold on him. (CTP 88)

Quest for Identity

As a result, it's important to plot Maya's tragedy because the character is chased away not just from parental affection, and even from her own flesh. Maya emerges as a fighting spirit as a result of her traumatic life experiences, rebelling against cultural obstacles but ultimately losing her identity. A meaningful existence can be achieved with a basic understanding and earnest effort on behalf of both parties. In the voyage of a conjugal partnership, a husband and wife link is enhanced by appreciating each other's perspectives, interests, and opinions. However, Gautama's apathy to Maya's agonising albino prophecy predicament, as well as her childlessness sorrow, heightens the sensation of marital dissonance.

Maya's most basic desires and interests are overlooked by Gautama, who is too preoccupied with his professional affairs to give more attention toward what she expects. Maya and Gautama's relationship is clearly tainted by temperamental incompatibility, as well as their unwillingness to adjust to each other's fiercely conflicting egos and unyielding views. Maya's emotional and passionate needs clash with Gautama's pragmatic and rationalistic worldview. Maya becomes a misfit and drifts into estrangement as a result of his practical struggle. Though Maya bemoans Gautama's nonconformist temperament, she is to some extent responsible for her own tragedy.

Maya's oversensitive and possessive disposition obstructs household life, preventing her from having a meaningful relationship with her spouse. Maya's extreme sensual involvement has turned her previous amorous life into an obsession. Her quest for greatness is inextricably linked to her feeling of triumph and self-identity. This compulsive urge stems from the realisation that, while she appears to be in a relationship with her family, friends, and society, she is actually alone. Maya reverts backwards in such a predicament, seeking comfort and pride in her young age. D. H. Lawrence describes the situation as follows: When the encloser of such ego is final and when men live a hermetically sealed life, insulated from all experience, they lose the sense of harmony within and without (Bande 48).

Maya's logical self-hate is an explosion of the tension between her pride and her true self. Maya's self-hatred causes a battle between her delicate intellect and her neurotic powers. Maya's character is ultimately defined by her ability to comprehend her torn and divided personality. Her inability to find more life leads to her obsessive desire to kill Gautama, causing the boundary between the two worlds to be broken. Maya appears to be more affected by marital discord than Gautama. Maya pulls herself into total darkness of the world, bringing a logical conclusion to her life, burdened by shame, self-hate, and tortured by self-contempt.

Marriage Expectations

Marriage brings with it expectations, and expectations bring with it challenges. Women are more likely than men to face dangers and disputes. The authoritarian behaviour of spouses and the resulting marital inconsistencies not only bring psychological agony to the women, but they also build a hatred for their husbands, leading to protests against the situation. The patriarchal authority's minority status has instilled in women a sense of self-hatred and ego of life. Maya's anger shows in her neurotic wish to kill Gautama and put a rational end to her life by attempting suicide as a result of life's negativity and passivity.

Women's plight and suffering throughout Indian society have been a driving force for socially conscious Indian novelists. The dangers and conflicts that exist in the life of married women become critical in assessing their situation. As a result, the writings of contemporary women writers are indeed a reflection of the writers' awareness of the phenomena that surround them. The goal of feminist writers is to pinpoint women's true situation in a hetero normative society. Feminism is thus primarily concerned with two characteristics of women in society: individualism and self-fulfillment. Paulina Palmer makes the following observation in this regard:

In treating in fictional form themes related to the topic of femininity and its construction, writers draw on two main strands of theoretical research. The first investigates, generally in sociological terms, the topic of gender role stereotyping… They drew attention to the oppressive effects of stereotypical representation of women as sex object, wife and mother…The second strand of research which has influenced women’s fiction in philosophical and psychoanalytical (Palmer 14).

Maya and Monisha, Desai's heroines, lack the ability to compromise, and are unable to save their interests or negotiate with problems. Desai's heroines become aware of reality as a result of their sufferings. It would be accurate to say that Desai's heroes aren't bogged down by everyday problems. They were caught in their own self-doubt, frustration, and depression, non-conformists embarking on a soul-searching odyssey. Desai's heroines are more mature and experienced than her previous sensitive and emotional heroines, such as Sita in Where Shall We Go This Summer? and Nanda Kaul in Fire on the Mountain. However, when this comes to marital issues, their issues are not dissimilar. They, like Maya, have experienced the same pain and anguish in their marriages.

The dangers in relationships can sometimes be ascribed to the husbands' excessive consumerism rather than the establishment of a conjugal bond based on trust and psychological rapport. Gautama Desai tackles a topic that is extremely relevant in today's materialistic culture. Down - to - earth, Gautama is so preoccupied with his work that he has little time to satisfy Maya's desires. Both Gautama and Maya are unconcerned about the sensitive and delicate world of Maya, preferring the practicalities of existence. Marriage expands a man's scope of growth at every level, whereas it is utter servitude to her husband and obedience to his master for a woman.

Desai's fictional writings provide a specific voice to the oppression and misery of women of all ages. The basic essentials of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, are unimportant to them. What they really want is to be accepted as a respected family member who is treated equally. In women's writing, the situation of women in a fetishist society is a hot topic. According to Kate Millet,

Even in patriarchal societies where they are granted legal citizenship, women tend to be ruled through the family alone and have little or no formal relation to the state (Millet 33).

Women appear to have a large role in literature, but in actuality, the picture is rather dissatisfying. In both economic and social sectors, patriarchal domination has driven women to be completely obedient to the male dominant culture. In the genuine sense, freedom for Indian women meant freedom from male dominance and patriarchy's restraints. However, in Desai's works, the question of how far women are liberated from male dominance and patriarchal influence inside the marriage connection arises.



Works Cited

Bande, Usha. The Novels of Anita Desai. New Delhi: Prestige, 2000. Print.

Desai, Anita. Cry, the Peacock. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1980. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness. Trans. JamesStrachey, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Millet, Kate. Sexual Politics. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.Print.

Palmer, Paulina. Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Narrative Practice and Feminist Theory. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989. Print.

Suneel, Seema. Man-Woman Relationship in Indian Fiction. New Delhi: PrestigePublishers, 1995. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1972. Print.