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Patriarchy in Bond: A Feminist Analysis of Selected Short Stories by Ruskin Bond


Patriarchy in Bond: A Feminist Analysis of Selected Short Stories by Ruskin Bond

Mousrisha Roy,

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Department of English

University of Kalyani

Kalyani, Nadia, West Bengal, India



In the context of a third-world country like India, the deep-rooted sexist social prejudices engender many crimes, ranging from domestic violence to brutal rapes. It is therefore necessary to examine in a feminist light the popular stories written by Ruskin Bond, which exert influence on a large number of people. Bond’s stories often strengthen patriarchy by projecting the patriarchal beliefs as the “normal” codes of society. Not only he completely invisibilizes the presence of non-binary people, but also most of Bond’s women are happily confined in their socially subjugated positions. Most characters are presented in strict conformity to the socially prescribed gender roles, and sometimes objectifications of women take place explicitly. While some stories deal with women empowerment, detailed study of these stories in their relation to the other stories underlines their complex relation with patriarchy.

Keywords: Gender; Patriarchy; Ruskin Bond; Sexism

Introduction: Sexism, or patriarchy, is one of the strongest evil forces of the contemporary world. Particularly in the context of a third-world country like India, the deep-rooted sexist social prejudices engender many crimes, ranging from domestic violence to brutal rapes. It is therefore necessary to examine popular literature – texts which, because of their popularity, exert influence on a large number of people – in a feminist light, analyzing how both hostile and benevolent sexism, as discussed by Susan T. Fiske and Peter Glick, are consolidated in them through the functioning of the patriarchal forces like gender discrimination, gender binary, gender-roles, objectification of women and so on. With this view this paper attempts to analyze selected short stories of one of the most popular Indian authors - Ruskin Bond.

Objective: As Louis Althusser mentions, “every social formation must reproduce the conditions of its production at the same time as it produces, and in order to be able to produce.” (86) Like all social constructs sexism also, in order to function as a dominant force of society, needs to fabricate the social structure in such a way that this structure will in turn nourish sexism. Just as the apparatuses mentioned by Althusser like school, church and family, literature also functions to inject into people the "'rules' of good behaviour", including the sexist codes (89). Children grow up reading and unconsciously learning sexism, and when they become adults they become trained enough to strengthen the sexist society, which by that time becomes normalized to them. Thus, literature often plays a crucial role in further constructing and consolidating the dominance of patriarchy. Ruskin Bond being one of the most widely-read writers of India, it is important to examine where his works can be situated in terms of their handling of gender issues.

Discussion: Ruskin Bond is neither overtly patriarchal nor particularly feminist in his portrayal of life, the locus of Bond’s interest consisting chiefly of the relationship between Nature and human, of human emotions, and of human relationships. Yet, gender functions as an important factor in his works. Sometimes he consciously stands against the oppression of women. In “A Case for Inspector Lal”, for instance, he depicts a police inspector sacrificing his own promotion in order to protect from legal punishments the girl who, in her attempt to escape from sexual assaults, committed a murder. Nevertheless, patriarchy functions very subtly in many of Bond’s stories, having no less impact on the reader for its being clandestine.

Instead of explicitly glorifying patriarchy, Bond’s stories often strengthen it by projecting the patriarchal beliefs as the “normal” codes of society. All his human characters are either men or women, either boys or girls – there is no other gender, implying that gender is a binary and not a spectrum. Denying representation to all those people who do not conform to the binary of gender, Bond’s stories convey the message that no such people belong to the mainstream society. Thus the invisibilization of the non-binary people results in their marginalization and othering.

Most of Bond’s women are happily confined in their domestic, socially subjugated positions. Leela, in “His Neighbour's Wife”, is content with her motherhood and her own loyalty to her husband, and has no objection to her husband's extra-marital affairs. In “The Photograph”, the carefree, adventurous girl who loved riding buffaloes and swimming in muddy pool with ruffianly boys, grows into an elderly woman the only adventures of whose life are knitting and relishing childhood memories. Thus these stories teach the young readers that women should be tolerant and uncomplaining even when they are wronged, and should sacrifice their personal inclinations to adapt the socially prescribed role of a quiet, homely woman. Therefore the image of a caring, tolerant and self-neglecting woman gets projected as the ideal Indian woman figure. It is this ideal figure which the male readers learn to expect in the women around them, and to which the female readers aspire to. Indeed, this aspiration is a significant step in the process of what Simone de Beauvoir would call their becoming women.

The ideal female figure must be adept in silently performing all the duties traditionally assigned on women, and should be always be subservient to men. The boy’s comment in “The Photograph” that for a boy it is an act of disgrace to learn knitting, suggests how particular works are thought proper only for a particular gender in our society, even when there is no rationality behind it. Conformity to the socially ascribed gender roles dominates the universe created by Bond. In “Sita and the River” Sita, the ten-year-old girl who without any help from anyone manages to save herself from the severe flood for a long time, is no less courageous then Vijay, who later takes her into his boat. Indeed, before the flood comes, Sita’s acts were not determined by her gender; “she could do all the things a boy could do, and sometimes she could do them better.” (178) She is therefore equally adept in the “feminine” tasks like cooking, sewing, cleaning the house or grinding spices, and in the “masculine” tasks like taking a boat across the river, mending a net, or even catching a snake. Yet when she is with Vijay, Sita’s character is portrayed in a much more “girly” manner, highlighting the difference between them because of their genders. Although she can row a boat, she only once mildly offers to help him in rowing, and he also dismisses this suggestion at once. He provides her with not only food but also knowledge; she unquestioningly depends on his opinions just as is expected in a patriarchal structure - be it about their safety from wild animals like python, or about the existence of her island after the flood. In her dream she even romanticizes the situation by imagining him to be lord Krishna who has come to rescue her. He guides her to Shahganj to search for her grandparents, implying that she could not have done this alone, her act of resting her head on his shoulder further reinforcing the patriarchal conception of the strong male providing shelter to the weaker female. Vijay and Sita’s conformity to their gender roles reaches the zenith when she, who has climbed trees innumerable times since childhood and has even saved her life by taking shelter on a tree waits under a tree for Vijay to climb the tree and pluck fruits for both of them.

Leela's second husband Arun's description of Leela's physical appearance, in “His Neighbour’s Wife”, with the mention of her “handsome” body free of “surplus flesh”, her oiled skin and red, juicy lips borders on objectification, questioning whether the reason behind Arun’s desire to marry Leela was sheer lust, more so because he claims that he “did not fall in love” with her (48). Leela argues men should marry because wives can reduce expenditure for food by cooking herself. Later Arun also says that as his wife he would prefer a simple girl rather than someone with good academic records. Thus the story not only suggests that cooking and other houseworks are to be done only by women and not by men, but  also convey the message that instead of having higher education, women need to be “handsome” and adept in household works in order to get married, marriage being young women’s ultimate goal in the patriarchal consciousness/imagination. As instead of achieving this patriarchal goal Aunt Mariam of “A Guardian Angel” employs her sexuality to earn a living, she is denied the narrator’s legal custody, although she was the only one to take care of the orphan child until the “financial issues became clearer” (84). Being a woman in charge of her own sexuality, she is considered “not a fit person to be a child’s guardian.” (87) Though later the grown-up narrator calls her his guardian angel because of the love she had for him, the story makes no comment about the social injustice towards her.

In “Death of a Familiar” the narrative itself sides with the male point of view. Sunil’s objectification of women, his voyeuristic interest in watching female bodies in magazines as well as in roads, the sexual undertone of his having “fun” with girls (91), his habit of insulting and even molesting women and later his being pursued and beaten by husbands and brothers of those girls, his being expelled from school for sexual offences – everything are portrayed in a casual, playful manner, implying that these offences are not bad or serious enough. Even though other characters like the narrator’s landlady point out Sunil’s improper acts, the narrator defends them, suggesting that these are small mistakes which Sunil commits because of his lack of maturity. Towards the end of the story when Maureen, the much older school teacher with whom Sunil falls in love, leaves him to marry someone else, the narrative completely blames her, projecting Sunil as a victim. The narrative claims that Sunil’s pure love for Maureen “moved him inexorably towards manhood”, replacing his shallowness with “unsuspected depths of feeling and passion” (96, 100). However, there are no evidences in Sunil’s acts which can validate this claim. Even though he knows that he needs to earn a living in order to marry Maureen and therefore decides to work in his uncle’s paper factory, for a long time he does not actually take any action, believing that as she really loves him she will wait for him forever. Moreover, he becomes a regular drunkard. Seen from Maureen’s perspective, it is quite obvious to believe that he is not serious enough about the relationship. Yet her perspective is never explored in the male narrative, instead projecting her as a villain who never really loved Sunil and for whom Sunil’s life became devastated.

Conclusion: Ruskin Bond’s main purpose in his writing is not to critically deal with any social issues, but to focus on the experiences of the individuals. Usually these experiences do not have any wider significance, and the only power these might exert is on the individual’s life and consciousness – sometimes even completely changing him inwardly. These individuals are common men and women of India, mostly presented through first person narrative. While painting their lives Bond also has to paint as the backdrop their society, i.e., the Indian society, which is essentially filled with patriarchal notions. Therefore, in making his stories proper mirrors of the society, Bond has to highlight the patriarchy and its normative structure in a society where these experiences are daily patterns of life. Through these short stories Bond actually portrays the function of patriarchal society and the nature of the subjects deeply dependent on its various pattern, but at the same time Bond also subtly projects the equality of the female characters and thereby instills an alternative thought in the mind of the readers. So, even though Bond’s stories often portray sexism, it is not Bond but the already existing sexist society which is to blame for it.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” “Lenin and Philosophy” and Other Essays, translated by B. Brewster, Monthly Review Press, 2001, pp. 85-126.

Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, Vintage Books, 2011.

Bond, Ruskin. "A Case for Inspector Lal." "The Night Train at Deoli" and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 116-121.

---. "A Guardian Angel." "The Night Train at Deoli" and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 83-87.

---. “Death of a Familiar.” "The Night Train at Deoli" and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 88-100.

---. “His Neighbour’s Wife.” "The Night Train at Deoli" and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 48-51.

---. “Sita and the River.” "The Night Train at Deoli" and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 177-209.

---. “The Photograph.” "The Night Train at Deoli" and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 21-23.

Glick, Peter and Susan T. Fiske. “The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 491-512.