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A Comparative Study on Feminism in Shashi Despande’s "That Long Silence" And Zaynab Alkali’s "The Stillborn"

This paper is set to compare feminism in India and Nigeria despite the differences in cultures and location and to find out why ubiquity exists despite the gaps aforementioned. The paper uses feminism as a theoretical framework; applying critical in-text analysis.

A Comparative Study on Feminism in Shashi Despande’s "That Long Silence" And Zaynab Alkali’s "The Stillborn"

BY

Abdullahi D Umar
Department of English and Literature
Federal University Gusau

And

Jonathan Ogbu
Department of English and Literature
Federal University Gusau 

Feminism Yancin Mata

Abstract

This paper is set to compare feminism in India and Nigeria despite the differences in cultures and location and to find out why ubiquity exists despite the gaps aforementioned. The paper uses feminism as a theoretical framework; applying critical in-text analysis. The paper finds out that Indian feminists fight against cultural issues within patriarchal society such as inheritance laws and some practices like that of widow immolation known as Sati. And their movement was first initiated by men and then joined by women. On the other hand, feminism in Africa (Nigeria in particular) is a revolt against the men by women; especially addressing the dominance of men over women in areas of economics, literature, politics, education, domestic, among others. And the women fight, struggle to regain their freedom/independence in the different sectors they feel being marginalized. Since the dominance has been in existence for the time immemorial, it will be the duty of the government(s) to create policies that would address the issues of dominance in the societies and formulate syllabi that would change the societies’ perception about the personalities of women as being inferior to men in the educational institutions.

Keywords: Feminism, Sati, Ubiquity, province, Hausa society, Hindu, Hindi

Abbreviations

SL: Stillborn

LS: That Long Silence

Introduction

There are similarities in feminism traced in Shashi Despande’s That Long Silence and Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn. Despite all the geographical and cultural differences, the two authors have portrayed similar feminist ideologies in their characters and thematic approaches. Deshpande and Alkali are feminist writers overtly or covertly, and naturally, women have uniform challenges worldwide under men. The feelings, yearnings, dreams, aspirations, and completeness of women have been limited by patriarchy or chauvinism across the cultures. Indeed, Deshpande and Alkali are the by-products of those discomforts and written the same outputs because the inputs are the same and lucid irrespective of cultural or geographical barriers.

Feminist ideologies, a set of literary principles that guide Deshpande and Alkali to vomit what is norms and values in the male world without female understanding about such an idea or notion but analyzed and interpreted by males due to orthodox traditional backing. Women have faced synonymous problems, it will not be magic if Deshpande and Alkali managed their fictional characters well as in the same cultural settings. The surprising resemblance between Deshpande’s That Long Silence and Alkali’s The Stillborn in their struggle for equal rights for women is what prompted carrying out this study; seeing that the two authors belong to entirely different cultures and geographical locations.

Feminist ideology is studied by critically reviewing the two texts; that is the in-text analysis of Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence and Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn. Moreover, “feminism and deconstruction” are used as theories to exposed the deep-seated philosophies held by men concerning their superiority over women in all spheres or aspects of life, especially as they appear in the texts in question.

Brief About the Texts

Shashi Deshpande’s novel, That Long Silence, can be read as a modern classic which provides insights into the core issues that affect human relationships, particularly in Indian society. From its opening observation, “To achieve anything, to become anything, you’ve got to be impossible, and life has always to be made possible,” (LS 1). There are nineteen years of silence between the narrator-protagonist Jaya and her hard-boiled husband Mohan, who continuously hovers on the fringes of social and personal snobbery.

Zaynab Alkali's text, The Stillborn challenges the difficulties fronting a young girl in countryside Nigeria who is torn between village life and the temptation of the city. Through a woman’s eyes, Alkali follows one girl’s path to womanhood and fight for liberation. The beautiful Li’s adolescent dreams of absconding from her village to a life of superfluity are given a sharp thunderbolt when her husband deserts her for the city. Should she follow him and menaced humiliation, or delay to be called – in which case she might wait endlessly?

The Concept of Feminism

It is difficult to apprehend feminism across boundaries, cultures, and decades or centuries. To many populace inside and outside of the academia, the word ‘Feminism’ continues to inspire controversy and give a splanchnic response. The term ‘feminism’ has its origin from the Latin word, ‘Femina’ meaning woman. It refers to the advocacy of woman’s rights seeking to remove restrictions that discriminate against women. The social and cultural texts are permeated with prejudices towards women in many instances with open misogyny. The myths about female inferiority, long hair, no brain have summarized the collective historical perception of women by men. 

Myths about female instability, unpredictability, mysterious evil nature, and mental inferiority are the basic expressions, the most familiar ‘idiom’ in the universal cultural beliefs. In all times, among all nations, in all languages, one may mistakenly find this myth tinged with fear, anxiety, and hatred of the other. The otherness of women is the most ancient human observation, as primary and external as the moon, sun, water, earth   The ‘otherwise’ of woman has not simply downgraded her but in many instances has been the cause of open misogyny.

The age-long prejudices towards women triggered off the feminist rebellion in the late 1960s and the early 1970s in the West. The critics have tried to examine the issues of sex, gender, and language in literary and cultural discourse. However, it will not be wise to consider feminist discourse as a ‘unified’ and ‘monolithic’ in nature as most feminist writings try to eschew a singular centralized vision for a more ‘plural’ and ‘decentred’  range of approaches. This is partly because of the complex nature of feminine problems that vary from region to region and partly because of the ideological specificity of the discourse which can be traceable to history, philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis, Marxist, economics, and sociology.

The issues of gender and the place of women in literature are the most important aspects of feminist discourse. The reason for this is that in any society and culture male is regarded as the norm, the center from which the female is a departure. As Simon de Beauvoir (1950s) points out  “Thus humanity is male and man defines women not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. She is the essential as opposed to the essential. He is the subject, he is absolute – she is the other”.

Women are immersed in motherhood and child-rearing. Men are portrayed as transcendent in part because they are free from the burden of motherhood. Men strive to conquer and transform their environment through an active interplay with it. This is another way of repeating the stereotypes. Women are ‘passive’ and men are ‘active’. Women submit to what is given, men strive to change it. Women can become pregnant and give birth to a child because of the unique nature of their sex only. In other words, she is the only capable person to ‘create’. Instead of recording her for this unique act, the patriarchy has punished her by restricting her role and defining her place in the domestic spares only. 

The word “feminism” seems to refer to an intense awareness of identity as a woman and interest in feminine problems. The quest for identity and freedom has become a very dominant theme in literature since the rise and development of feminism. India and Nigeria have shared a lot of values such as political, economic, and most essential cultural traditions due to pre-independence, independence, and post-independent struggles. It is common knowledge that most Indian and Nigerian cultures give more cognition for the men in the society than the women.

Deshpande a great feminist and Indian novelist presents a sensitive portrayal of Indian womanhood trading the labyrinthine paths of the human mind and sheds light on the subtleties of females. That Long Silence is in itself the school of psyche based on the lives and problems of women only. The novel is a voyage of discovery for Deshpande, a discovery of herself, of other humans, of our universe.

Zaynab Alkali, one of the renowned early female writers, has focused most of her works on the tragic issue of women denial of formal education or looking women only for marriageable journey nothing less. In her novel, The Stillborn examines the Alkali treatment of the class of westernization, tradition and city life, political maladministration, poor infrastructure as well as the challenging environment of the emerging cities.

Similarities in Feminist Ideologies in the Texts

There are a lot of similarities between fenisist thoughts in That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande and Zaynab Alkali The Stillborn. They, among others, include arguments on social phinomina involving identity, man’s irresistible temptation to dominate women, and the Liberation from the constraint of womanhood.

The Plight of Women in Their Marital Homes

Almost all of Deshpande’s and Alkali’s novels begin with discord and disappointment in marital relationships. An analysis of these marriages reveals that most of the heroines entered into matrimony to be rescued from their life of suppression because of the traditional rules and restrictions imposed on the unmarried girls by their parents or guardians.

Shashi Deshpande shows that women have been keeping silent for long despite being under the dominance of men. Jaya’s father was pragmatic, progressive, and radical. He had dreamt that his daughter would go to Oxford for higher studies, win prizes and excel all other girls, but died before dreams could be transformed into realities.

After the father’s death, the question of marriage arose and changed the course of life. The girl’s father imagined was to win laurels but became Mohan’s wife because her elder brother wanted to be free of the responsibility of a younger sister. “Dada wanted me off his hands. He had wanted to be free of his responsibility for an unmarried younger sister so that he could go ahead with his plans. After Appa’s death, the Kakas never let Dada forget his role as the man of the house. And so Dada had cleverly maneuvered me into a position from which not marrying Mohan would have been childish, irresponsible, and unfair to Dada.” (LS 93)

Jaya’s Dada was a clever arguer. When Jaya’s mother objects to this proposed marriage saying categorically, ‘Jaya cannot marry that man,’ Jaya’s brother proceeded like a man who had the clues to a woman’s mind. Mohan was fairer than Jaya knowing well women give sufficient weightage to the complexion. Mohan was a decent chap, having a good job which again was considered a key to happiness by women.

Family is orthodox and old – fashioned which was preferred to the pseudo–modern ones. These concerned his mother that Mohan was an ideal match for Jaya. Jaya was married to Mohan and her father’s dreams evaporated into thin air.

Mohan re­­-christened his wife as Suhasini to make him forget Jaya of her father’s dreams. Mohan who had lived a life of want and poverty had a desire in the subconscious to get wealthy by hook or crook. A junior engineer in a steel plant at Lohanugar quit the job because of the insufficient salary. But Mohan got another lucrative job at Bombay because of the desire to a good living, approved the substandard material which landed him in trouble. He is advised to go away for a while because governments can arrest him at any moment. Jaya has to go with Mohan like Sita and Draupadi of yore, instead of being independent women, living according to choice. The shift from Church gate to Dadar made Jaya not as busy as in Church gate home. Nothing to be cleaned, arranged, or re-arranged, not so well furnished. “The truth is that it was Mohan who had a clear idea of what he wanted, the kind of life he wanted to lead, the kind of home he would live in, and I went along with him” (LS 25)

According to Jaya, it would have been difficult to answer if Mohan has asked what she wanted. “I had queer sense of homecoming. That is why Mohan prowled about uneasy having fear, like a trapped, confined animal, I was at ease with myself and my surroundings. I felt as if I had gone back to days of early childhood and was back in my Saptagiri Aji’s room.” (LS 25-26) Jaya did not evince interest in anything that was not essential for day-to-day life

A silent accused when Mohan was in a financial scam. He had said that Agarwal was responsible. But as the days passed, he charged Jaya with negligence of duty and insincerity. Jaya was calamitously indifferent to prospects. The mess or cesspool was in at the moment was trying to earn money by hook or crook. “I have always put you and children first, I have been patient with all your whims, I have grudged you nothing. But the truth is that despise me because I have failed. As long as I had my job and position, it was all right; as long as I could give all the comforts, it was all right. But now, because I am likely to lose it all… it is not just you, it is all women” (LS 121)

The wife has to accept the charges and keep silent not arguing or disproving, after all advised, by Ajji to keep silent. “I feel sorry for your husband, Jaya, whoever he is. Look at you for everything a question, for everything a retort. What husband can be comfortable with that?’’ (LS 27)

 Ramukaka has prepared a family tree of two hundred years, but Jaya had no place. Ramukaka has explained to Jaya that she has ceased to belong to their family after marriage. Jaya noticed her mother and Kakas have not been there too. Women were deprived of their rightful place in the family by false reasoning. “Ajji should be pleased with me. I had learnt at last–no questions, no retorts. Only silence.”(LS 143) 

 Mohan’s mother was all the most pathetic. Her husband was a pauper, unable to pay his son’s school fee of six rupees, headstrong, and tortuous. One day Mohan’s mother after giving dinner to the children had decided to cook rice for her husband he would not eat children’s disgusting leavings.

When he had returned, went straight to the bathroom. Mohan’s mother made her husband’s plate ready. But he had become furious on not finding fresh chutney. So he threw away the brass plate and walked out of the house. The wife picked up the plate, cleaned the wall and the floor. Vimala, her daughter taking pity on the helpless mother, offered to help, but asked her daughter to go to get some chilies so that she could grind chutney for her husband. When Vimala returned with chilies, found her mother’s eyes had become red due to the smoke coming from the wood which was of bad quality. Mohan’s mother was making bhakries. Vimala, who was preparing for school, heard her mother’s scream. Vimala rushed to the kitchen to see her mother. She gave her water, took her to bed to pacify her. Mohan’s mother’s face was swollen, died a week later.

Vimala had told Jaya about her mother. Her mother was always pregnant. Lost four or five babies, yet pregnant. Despite having such a trial life, she had died as an un-ceremonial housewife. “The mother looks like any other woman of her time, staring black-faced at the world, the huge kumkum on her forehead, blotting out everything in that face but ‘the blessed woman died with her husband yet living’.” (LS 38) Nobody knew about the sufferings of the woman, except her daughter. Vimala told Jaya about her mother after swearing not to share the truth with anybody. “Vimala swore me to secrecy, and not that it would have mattered if she had, for Vimala is dead too.” (LS 37) Vimala further told Jaya that even Mohan did not know about his mother’s sufferings. Her mother had suffered and died unheard and unsung and similar was the case of her daughter Vimala.

Mohan and Jaya went to Saptagiri on an annual visit. Vimala’s mother–in–law received and told them that Vimala has been lying in bed for over a month, yet the mother-in-law did not know what Vimala’s ailment was. She asked Mohan and Jaya to take her away if they wish. “I never heard of women going to hospitals and doctors for such a thing. As if other women don’t have heavy periods! What a fuss! But these women who have never had children are like that.” (LS 39) Mohan and Jaya took her to the hospital. The doctor asked how Vimala didn’t tell anyone about her illness. It was too late for surgery. Mohan and Jaya rued after Vimala’s death. “It had been an ovarian tumor with metastases in the lungs. ‘Why didn’t she tell us? Why didn’t she write to me?’ Mohan had cried out; but Vimala never gave us an answer, even to that question. She sank into a coma and died a week later, her silence intact.” (LS 39)   

However, in Alkali’s The Stillborn was the clash between tradition, westernization, and city life, with city life being a hybrid of tradition and westernization that lead to so much discomfort in matrimonial affairs or treatment. Lucid examination of the key characters revealed westernization was reflected in Li, Awa, Habu, and Fiama who were also called HM. Faku had represented traditional life while Garba and the woman from the south represented city life.

This classification was substantiated using the views of these characters on the issue of marriage, Li, Awa, Fiama, and Habu, due to the exposure to western education. They conceive marriage from the westernized perspective of a happy union between one man and one woman, where both work for the success of the matrimonial home and live happily ever after in love as encapsulated in Li’s thoughts, “she was going to be a successful Grade 1 teacher and Habu  a famous medical doctor, like the white men in the village mission hospital. The image of a big European house full of houseboys and maids rose before her. Li smiled to herself. The bushy stream, the thorny hillside, and the dusty market would soon be forgotten, in the past.” (SB 55)

Garba and the woman from the south believed neither in monogamy nor love. For them, if one had a partner so the partner may be a ‘slave’ for him or her. These two characters are concerned about marriage which was just another game of survival like any other thing in the city. The woman from the south took advantage of Habu’s naivety trapping into a relation produced disastrous consequences for both.

 The same attitude towards marriage was echoed by Garba as the virtues of the city “getting marriage is not expensive in the city, brothers; he announced. A girl could live with you of her own free will. Sometimes you do not have to pay anything…. In the city, you do not have to live together in the same house. I have a friend who keeps four women in four different areas of the city. None of them knows the others exist and they all slave for him!” (SB 44-45) Moreover, based on their background and upbringing, Li, Awa, Habu, and HM see this perception as an affront on the value system and therefore condemn Garba’s idea of marriage without retinue. Condemnation of such a practice, which was an aberration both from traditional and Christian points of view, is captured in Awa’s denunciatory remark “That is not marriage! …that is prostitution! Supported Awa by saying ‘It is no way to live’ While Habu asked ‘How can he love all of them?’’ (SB 45)

Faku did not see anything wrong with what Garba had advocated. Not being as educated as her friends, believe in the traditional marriage arrangement where a man took more than one wife. “Faku, however, thought quite differently. What was this love the rest were cracking their heads about? When a man cared for his family, fed and clothed them properly, what was it if it wasn’t love?” (SB 46) But the society was too reluctant and blind to realize what Garba preached was the opposite of the traditional polygamous marriage system.

A man married many wives and provided equality in treatment. Though the traditional marriage practice appeared comfortable was a product of lack of civilization just as the idea of a monogamous marriage based on love espoused by Li, Awa, Habu, and HM was for a figment of misguided imagination.

The imagination of traditional marriage to have absolute peace and tranquility, more so the level of societal strata will increase as:

Habu…Book learning has ruined you. It is a good thing my old woman never sent me to school. What is this love you talk about, friend? Can a man possess a lot? Come brothers, listen to me. I did not live in live in the city for nothing. I know a bit about the world, more than our fathers who were born and brought up in this small village. There are a lot of things about the city I cannot talk about, simply because such things have no place in the village. But you are young and will soon go out in to the world. Only then would you learn from time and experience. Right now you do not believe me, but it does not matter. Someday will find out I was telling the truth (SB 45)

Identity

Both Desphende and Alkali compared women to bring forth the truth that traditionally, a woman has an identity only as “husband’s wife or father’s daughter or son’s mother’. The real face, the real identity of a woman never comes out. It is like trying to look at how one looks like? Ten different mirrors show ten different faces. For instance, in Deshpande’s That Long Silence the personality of Jaya is not traceable for she is defined only about others while in Alkali’s The Stillborn Hausa girls live a life that was devoid of meaning and happiness.

The Hausa girl without a husband had no social status. She will face mockery and be ridiculed by neighbors. Life had meaning only when a girl was attached to a man. Women must wait for a man to help them to make their dreams come true. If the man did not come, she had to wait and hope forever. In the end, she would have no identity. Faku was very happy to tell Li, a man from the city was interested to become her life partner.

Despite her love for the city, Faku had known only through marriage she could get there. She had to marry Garba, who was from the city though she did not love Garba. Faku wanted to live in the city so she agreed to the marriage. The Hausa or the Northern maidens were not brought up to see love as relevant to marriage. They had to marry so that people did not ridicule them and their families. Garba was older than Faku. He was in his 30s while Faku was only a teenager. This was a normal situation in the Northern society of Nigeria.

Therefore in these two texts, we have observed a woman is always defined and differentiated concerning the man and not the man about her. This is true of the Indian and Nigerian women despite all legislation and many other safeguards provided. The novelists, being aware of the constraints present in the Indian and Nigerian cultural milieu. This freedom of identity is almost non-existent.

Man’s Irresistible Temptation to Dominate Women

Simone de Beauvior wrote in the 1950s that “Marriage incites man to a capricious imperialism”. Among human beings, the temptation to dominate is universally irresistible, and traditional marriage provides this opportunity to men. In orthodox Indian and Nigerian marriages, it is not enough for the husband to be approved and admired; he wants immediate, unquestioned obedience to his commands. All the resentments accumulated during childhood, later life, and daily among men.

In Deshpende’s That Long Silence Mohan enacts violence, power, unyielding resolutions, he issues commands in tones of severity. This force is a daily reality for his wife. He is so firm in his right that he demands, that the wife silently accept the absolute authority of patriarchy. This is vividly narrated by Mohan to Jaya: “I can see a picture of extraordinary clarity and vividness- the woman (Mohan’s mother) crouching in front of the dying fire sitting blank and motionless, the huddled bundles of sleeping children (Mohan, his brothers, and sisters) on the floor, the utter silence, the loud knock at the door … They had all their food, except her. Though she always waited for him, their father, however late he was (and he never gave her any indication of when he would be back) she had asserted herself in this that she would not make the children wait for him. She gave them their dinner, even the older ones then she cooked rice for him again, for he would not have, he made it clear to her, what he called “your children’s disgusting leaving”. He wanted his rice fresh and hot, from an untouched vessel. She had just finished this second cooking and was waiting, hope, hoping, perhaps that he would not be too late. As for lighting the fire again, that was unthinkable”. (LS 78)

In Alkali’s The Stillborn Faku and Li have suffered unforgivable treatment from their husbands and patriarchal society at large for example Faku’s experience of city life was not better either. When Li went to see her, “She could not believe this was real. How could this near-stranger be her friend Faku? Famished in body and no doubt famished in soul? The house was filled with tiny feet, running in and out of the outer room, but no feet came into Faku’s room. She looked round the tiny outer room. There was not much in it, two old armchairs, a small wooden table, some tattered mats and a half-filled glass cupboard.” (SB 77)

Faku had refused to complain, neither blaming her husband who was similarly blown here and thereby the wind of city nor blaming the co-wife, who had mastered the survival techniques and was obviously faring much better. Faku had learned that life in the city solely depend on individual actions or inactions. Faku had decided to take destiny into her hands.

Li had started to dream about her life after meeting Habu Adaams. Li had begun to imagine living in a city, becoming a successful grade 1 teacher, and Habu a famous medical doctor. Li had imagined living in a big European house with so much luxury and having housemaids to attend to for her domestic needs. Soon, she realized the difficulties of her inability to bring this dream to realization because she had to be dependent on Habu to make her dream real. Habu had paid the bride price and left Li in the village.

Li had received Habu’s letter. She realized that Habu had deceived her into believing he was a medical doctor. Despite Li had waited for Habu; for weeks, weeks had turned into months and months into years. At the beginning, Li had got the sympathy of the villagers but as the years passed, they began to ridicule her. Li was waiting for a man who had lost interest in the relationship. Li had decided to go to the town to meet her husband after four years of being in the village. She has met a totally different Habu “She bent her head and hot tears trickled down her cheeks. “Where is my man? She wailed silently, ‘That boyish man with an incredible smile and a mischievous twinkle in the eye? Where is that proud, self-confident, half-naked lover that defied the laughter of the villagers and walked the length and breadth of the village just to see me?” (SB 70) Although at this time, Li did not understand the changes that had come over Habu. Later she had discovered that Habu was a victim of city life, “it destroys dreams” (SB 94) an innocent man had been trapped by a more experienced woman from the south. She took advantage of ignorance on the arrival of Habu in the city. “They worked in the same office. It was when Habu was new in the city and was a bit awkward, but she showed him round, cooked for him and was generally helpful. The friendship went too far and she found herself with child.” (SB 91)

Li had gone ahead to relate to the circumstances of Habu’s enslavement to a woman from the south. Habu had abandoned the valuable wisdom of background, he had inculcated from birth pursuant to the ephemeral affairs of the city. Alkali had captured not only women were the victims of city life but men were also prey to city life. The author had shown a deep understanding of the challenges of city life. Li did not feel bitter towards the woman from the south.

She had refused to blame her for apparently misguiding Habu saying “This is a game of life and we are all struggling to survive”. (SB 93) This realization had made Li to go back to Habu in the city. Li did not go because Habu had become not just emotionally but physically lame. She rationalized her decision as “We are all lame, daughter of my mother. But this is not time to crawl. It is time to learn to walk again.” (SB 105)

The foolishness of Hausa women was so overwhelming that it had allowed their lives’ happiness and dreams to be determined by the man who had just proposed to them. Awa, Li’s elder sister was often sullen and unfriendly after marriage. Her husband became a drunkard. She was unhappy but society expected her to remain with the drunkard and irresponsible husband.

The Stillborn had described how these young women were faced with shattered dreams of everyday life. Women had got married and soon after, live miserable in their husbands’ houses. Husbands on the other hand had no consideration for their wives' feelings. Faku, Li’s best friend became Garba’s second wife. Garba had deceived Faku. Garba had been married for close to twenty years with nine children.

Li had returned to the village, quarreled with Habu, and determined not to return to Habu until due apology. Li had learned a lesson this time, not to allow any man to toss around or determine life for her. Though there are pressures from mother and sister to return to husband, Li had refused. On the contrary, she had decided to empower and to take responsibility for life and action. Li had enrolled for an advanced teacher’s certificate. She intends to become the most educated woman in the village and miles around. Li had strong–will and determination to bring her dream to reality, unlike the other girls who had allowed life to determine dreams.

In the end, they never realized their childhood dreams. Li had returned as a different person, empowered and educated woman. Now the husband had no option but to respect and adore her.

Liberation from the Constraints of Womanhood:

Deshpande’s and Alkali’s female protagonists are engaged in search of ‘self’ or discovering their identity or regaining their status as human beings. Self-discovery is, by all means, an adult act. It means the achievement of freedom to think and decide for oneself. The only goal of Jaya and Li is liberation from the constraints of womanhood. Their womanly self is suffocating. The family becomes a cage for Jaya, where her “wild self” is trapped. Deshpande raises her strong voice of protest against the male-dominated Indian society and against man-made rules and conventions.

Jaya thought that Kusum’s craziness, madness, or insanity did not make her drown in the well. So much broken inside her psyche, Kusum could not bear the atrocities of life anymore. Jaya thought that Kusum had taken a decision boldly. “Hadn’t she taken the biggest decision of all, the only decision that mattered in life –whether to live or die? It could not possibly be ‘poor Kusum’; it was poor Jaya”. (LS 126) Kusum’s death was the death embraced not by an insane, but by a sane and brave person. She took the decision in compelling circumstances where life has become an unbearable burden.

In the early years of her marriage, Jaya was on the threshold of acquiring a name as

a creative writer of some merit. One of the threshold stories bagged her first prize and was published in a magazine. Mohan earlier had tolerated writing as something quite harmless and even taken pride in being the husband of a writer but displayed insensitivity and intolerance about a particular short story written by Jaya.

The story in question was about “a couple, a man who had could not reach out to his wife except through her body.” (LS 144) Mohan has thought that the story has portrayed their personal life. The people of acquaintance might assume the kind of person portrayed in the story. This was enough to jeopardize Jaya’s career.

Though, Jaya has known that there was no truth in what her husband thought but she did not try to reason with or challenge. “Looking at his stricken face, I had been convinced I had done him wrong. And I had stopped writing after that.” (LS 144)

Jaya’s stories were rejected by one publisher after another. Jaya tried to analyze the reason behind the series of rejections. Her neighbor Kamat, after reading the rejected stories told Jaya that the stories were devoid of any strong emotion since had been carefully censored all the anger from the story making it impersonal and shorn of a personal vision. Jaya argued with Kamat that it was not a womanly trait to show anger. Merely repeating the words used by her husband on the occasion of their first quarrel after marriage. “A woman can never be angry; she can only be neurotic, hysterical, frustrated.” (LS 147) Kamat has refused to pamper mood of self-pity and admonished “beware of this ‘women are the victims’ theory of yours. It will drag you down into a soft, squishy bog of self-pity. Take yourself seriously, women. Don’t skull behind a false name.” (LS 148) The statement effectively conveyed the fact that women writers have all along abstained from telling the truth, giving greater credence to their role as wives than to themselves as individuals.

Kamat, as a hard critic was contemptuous of such writing, knowing full well Jaya was capable of writing better stuff, frankly told “you know something-I never can imagine you writing this. This you, I mean, I can see the woman who writes this…’, he had narrowed his eyes as if focusing on some vision, ‘She’s plump, good humoured, pea brained but shrewd, devious, skimming over life…” (LS 149)

Deshpande had depicted two different pictures of Indian women at two parallel levels in the novel, the lower class women engaged in menial domestic chores to earn living and middle-class women of some financial independence. Further divided middle-class women into two categories: never question marriage and submit to insults, injuries, and humiliation without any complaint, and those refusing to become the victim of trends, raise voice against oppression. Jaya was the protagonist who belongs to the second category of middle-class women. In the beginning, Jaya was not different from women of her class, but toward the end, a great change was in her personality. Deshpande brought out the similarities and differences among Jaya and other female characters in the novel, among women of different generations (Jaya, her mother, and her grandmother), among women of different classes (Jaya, Nayana, and Jeeja), among women of the same class generation (Jaya, her cousin, Kusum and her neighbor, Mukta).

The condition of women from a lower class, presented by Deshpande, was pitiable. Difficulties started much before marriage. They began adding to the family income at a tender age, the way Jeeja’s granddaughter, Manda, did. They continued their work and earn all life. Married off at the age considered suitable by parents, to any boy who has one head, two eyes, two ears, two hands and two legs like any man.

The lives of Jeeja and Nayana, housemaids of Jaya, are like a hell. Life was continuous drudgery. Both received very bad treatment at the hands of husbands. Nayana has an apathetic attitude toward life. She wanted a son, not because of any help in old age but did not want the daughter to suffer at some drunkard’s hands as she immensely suffered. Nayana said to Jaya, “Why give birth to a girl, behnji, who will only suffer because of men all her life? Look at me! My mother loved me very much, she wanted so much for me… a house with electricity and water, shining brass vessels, a silver waist chain, silver anklets… and what I have got? No, no, behnji, better to have a son.” (LS 28)

The condition of women belonging to the middle class was different. Work outside the house was not a compulsion but a matter of choice. They receive much better treatment compared to lower-class women. But the idea of marriage was the only career and husband the only destiny for women did not lose ground. They become victims of trends, but their suffering was more mental than physical.

 In childhood, Jaya used to be of witty and inquisitive nature which made her grandmother say “Look at you-for everything a question, for everything a retort. What husband can be comfortable with that?” (LS 27) At the time of Jaya’s marriage, Ramu kaka gave a word of advice that the happiness of husband and home depended on wife. Dada advised being good to Mohan. Vanitamami told her about the importance of being with a husband: “Remember, Jaya,” she has said, “a husband is like a sheltering tree.” Without the tree, you’re dangerously unprotected and vulnerable” (LS 32) These words keep on echoing in the ears of Jaya and realized a husband was like ‘a sheltering tree,’ must be nourished and nurtured adequately even if the wife has to suffer to give its nourishment.

Mohan was a traditionalist, wanted Jaya to conform to expectations. He wished Jaya to be modern and educated but also expect to have traditional qualities like submissiveness and flexibility. As a husband, Mohan never tried to understand Jaya’s emotions and psychological needs. On the other hand, Jaya annihilated the creative aspect of personality to keep Mohan happy.

 Jaya has devoted to the care and fulfillment of her husband’s and children’s needs. Obedience and loyalty, which are considered to be the virtues of Hindu womanhood, degenerates into the silent bearing of oppression. Marriage not only hindered Jaya’s intellectual or academic growth but also undermined her sense of self. Jaya’s status, as a mother, housewife owed itself to Mohan. Mohan has become Jaya’s profession, career, and meant for livelihood. But as an individual “I will be expecting your call. And drop in some time - with your husband, of course’ what did he mean by that? Was it impossible for me to relate to the world without Mohan? A husband is like

a sheltering tree… Vanitamami, did you, without knowing it, speak the most profound truth I’m destined to hear in my life” (LS 167)

A woman was subordinated in several ways and this results in disharmony between the two sexes. Shashi Deshpande was deeply shocked by women’s tendency to suffer silently and die silently. Silent sacrifice remains unnoticed. With great anger and pain, women have become unconscious, unmeaning heroism, born out of the myth of self-sacrificing martyred women, did not arouse either pity or admiration. The novelist wanted the women to break That Long Silence to get a place in the man-oriented world. At the end of the novel, Jaya very honestly questions herself, “but why am I making myself the heroine of this story? Why do I presume that the understanding is mined alone?” (LS 193)

Alkali’s perspective about women's liberation was in the characterization of Li, she had incredibly changed through the process of social transformation. Become mature in the process of maturity, “had become a better person with a finer soul” (SB 94) Li had become the ‘man of the house.’ She looked more beautiful and younger than her age. The tireless struggle by Li through the years of life had made her socially, economically, psychologically satisfied, and accomplished. But the certainty of acclaimed freedom or liberation was questioned. “Li ought to have felt fulfilled, but instead she felt empty. It was not just the emptiness of bereavement, but an emptiness that went beyond that. For ten years she had struggled towards certain goals. Now, having accomplished these goals, she wished there was something else to struggle for that was the only long life could be meaningful.” (SB 102) Li’s psychological state had revealed no woman wanted to die a spinster; every woman would want to marry. The issue of self-fulfillment, material possession, and education cannot provide the required happiness.

Discussion of the Major Findings and Suggestions:

Deshpande and Alkali have portrayed women in the light of immense plight towards the conservative concept of marriage to both presumed protagonists in the texts. Jaya and Li have nothing to celebrate or appreciate about marriage rather than subjecting them to torture, ridiculous, family, and societal total rejection without empathy or sympathy. That the Government(s) concerned and other agencies should make and implement laws that would give equal rights to women in all endeavors.

Deshpande and Alkali intelligibly depicted their characters especially females with no identity or cultural value unless attached to the males' world or domain. Jaya became a domestic slave when she lost her father at the teenage age; Faku frustration because of identity conflict and traumatic frustration led her to marry someone that was old enough to be her grandfather. The educational planners and curricula developers should formulate syllabi that would give equal educational rights to women as their male counterparts.

As both That Long Silence and The Stillborn moved to the resolution stage, Jaya has raised against any chauvinism odds to rescue herself by becoming a writer, similarly Li initial dreamt of only being successful with the help of her husband faded away and she became so strong in which she faced her destiny with complete vigor and accomplished by becoming medical personnel. Early compulsory marriage should be discouraged by the lawmakers and rulers: political, traditional, and spiritual.

Knowledge is required for the pursuit of individualism, the pursuit of individualism has a pre-requisite here-knowledge. The difference in philosophical stance between the two novels may be attributable to the very different initiatives required by the woman as test and the woman as a writer.

Although in socio-cultural terms, the right to speak may be a privilege awarded by marriage to women, the existential vision of Deshpande and Alkali seems to suggest that a wife’s free speech is mandatory. Without the free discourse of the wife, the husband could be by the white ants hiding in manure.

Men have considered women from time immemorial as blank pages on which men may write indiscriminately.

As Alkali emphasizes the right for equal education for women and discourages the early compulsory marriage, Shashi, on a similar note, however, discusses the dominance of men over women through their laws denying women inheritance, discouraging them from expressing their love, among others.

Conclusion

The interface between Nigerian and Indian Feminism is that, even though Nigeria and India are very far from each other geographically and culturally, their advocates for women’s rights share some common goals which all together revolve around the struggles for the same rights for women.

In Stillborn, Alkali emphasizes the right to equal education for women and discourages the early compulsory marriage; Shashi on the other hand discusses the dominance of men over women through their laws denying women inheritance, discouraging them from expressing their love, among others.

Indeed, what Deshpande and Alkali have portrayed in their respective texts are genuine feministic works base on respective context challenges and agendas. In India, women are allowed for certain rights without hindrance, like access to formal education since time immemorial while in Nigeria, women are still struggling. Indian women have no say in whom to marry while women in Nigeria have absolute say about it. Women in India are not aware of or experienced the concept of polygamy while for women in Nigeria, this can be part of their primordial experience.

 To sum up, women cannot achieve the equality they yearn for until they technically teach men to treat them with respect even before they get married. That is a way to get men to respect women’s feelings and emotions and not to treat them as objects for satisfying selfish desires.

Reference

Alkali, Z. (1984). The Stillborn. Lagos: Nigeria Long Man.

Anand, T.S. and Sidhu, H. (1996). Images of Woman in Fiction. New Delhi: Creative Books Maraina  – 110028, CB-2, 1996. Print.

Behtash, E., Z. and Sajjadi, F. (2012). Literary Feminism in India. Journal of Sub Continent Researches. University of Sistan Baluchestan

Deshpande, S. (2014). That Long Silence. Mumbai: India Repro Ltd.

Dhawan, R.K. (2001). Indian Women Writers. New Delhi: Prestige Books 3/28, East Patel Nagar, –110008.

Frank, Natherine. (1984). Feminist Criticism and African Novel. London: African Literature Today, Virago Press.

Hans, A (2013) Feminism as a Literary Movement in India.” International Research Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences. Mumbai, India.Alkali, Zaynab (1984), The Stillborn. Lagos: Nigeria Long Man.

Ifunanya, E. A. (2011). Feminist Aesthetic in Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn and the Virtuous Woman. Ilorin, Nigeria: University of Ilorin.

Jagadeesan, P.(1999). Marriage and Social Legislations in Tamil Nadu. Madras: Elatchiappenn 33, Clemens Road, Purasawalkkam, – 600 007.

Jorache, A. (2013). “The Relevance of Women’s Rights for Contemporary Feminism”. Journal of Under and Feminist Studies. Analize

Joseph, A. A. (2001). Gender Theory and Ideology A Study of Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn. Ilorin, Nigeria: Haytee Press.

Links

http://www.escholarship.org/help- copyright.html

www.isiswomen.org

http://www.un.org./overview/rights.html

www.irjabs.com

http://nigeriabulletin.com/2011/10/27/nigeria

http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2010/chapters/

http://www.jstor.org

www.afrrevjo.net

www.ajol.info

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