The Margins : A
Study of Shashi Despande's "The Dark Holds No Terrors"
In the way the bulk of
post-colonial New English Literature has been generally preoccupied for
the last few decades with the marginalised and the under dog. In India the
focus naturally falls on women and backward classes. Edward Said
suggests that the canons of the center should be read contrapuntally with
the work coming from the margin.
Despande's novels reveal the inability of the women to speak and
the positive movement is always the movement towards speech.
'The Dark Holds No Terror' is a very powerful
novel written by Shashi Deshpande that depicts the life of
Sarita, a lady doctor who happens to escape to herfather's house in the
begining being tortured by the sexual extremes of her husband Manohar but
this parental home equally brings back for her the horrible memories of
the cruel attitude of her mother who is no more now. Despande
explores the myth of man's unquestionable superiority. Despande focuses on
the world of Indian women in the context of modern Indian society.
The father is indifferent
and not supportive enough 'like an unwilling host entertaining an
unwelcome guest.' The Dark Holds No Terrors reacts against the traditional
concept that everything in girl's life' is shaped to that single purpose
of pleasing male'
The novel focuses on
woman's awareness of her predicament, her wanting to be recognised as
a person than as a woman and her wanting to have an independent social
image. Saru's feminist reactions date back to her childhood, when
she had to contend with sexist discrimination at home. As Simone de
Beauvoir observes "One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. It is
civilization as a whole that produces this creature which is described as
P. Ramamoorthi writes
"women, in order to achieve her freedom, seeks marriage as an
alternative to the bondage created by the bondage created by the parental
family. Saru resents the role of a daughter and looks forward to the role
of a daughter and looks forward to the role of wife, the hope that her new
role will help in winning their freedom".
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writes in her article "can, the
subaltern speak?" "Between partiarchy and imperealism subject constitution
and object formation the figure of woman disappears, not into a pristive
nothingness, but into a violent shuttling which is the displaced
figuration of the 'Third-World Woman' caught between tradition and
Moreover, his subconscious
self also names it treachery to the dead in case he dares welcome his
daughter warmly. Also like a traditional Indian father he is not concerned
with the troubles of family-members, enjoying the privilege of being the
master and head of the family as we know from Sarita.
"He had always been so
much a man, the master of the house, not to be bothered by any of the
trivals of daily routine." (p. 20)
Of course, the Indian woman has also been used to this kind of behaviour.
The father frowns and knits his brows in case the married daughter dares
return to her parental house having quarreled or divorced her husband. A
married woman is thus supposed to stay in the house of her husband till
Simons de Beauvour expresses his own views on man-woman nexus in
his famous book 'The Second Sex'.
"Man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the
common use of man to designate human beings in general, where as woman
represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria without
reciprocity.----------- Man can think of himself without woman. She can
not think of herself without man. And she is simply what man
decrees................. She appears essectially to the male as a sexual
being. For him she is sex............... absolute sex, no less. She is
defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference
to man and he with reference to her, she is the incidental, the
inessential as opposed to the essential. (The Second Sex p. 534)
The novel focuses on woman's awareness of her predicament, her wanting to
be recognised as a person than as a woman and her wanting to have an
independent social image.
The first half of the Dark Holds No Terror deals with the vicious,
prejudiced and cruel attitude of a mother, a strong product of patriarchal
society who considers her daughter responsible for the her son's death.Why
didn't you die? Why are you alive and he dead. (p. 14)
When Saru expresses her wish to stay with her mother all her life, her
mother says "You can't "But your brother Dhruva can stay" He is different.
He is a boy" This gender difference of her mother's treatment of her
son and daughter enrages Saru. She rebels against her "If you're a woman,
I don't want to be one" She looks forward
to the role of a wife with the hope that it will give her relief from
oppression of the mother , and will give her freedom.
Saru breaks the umbilical chord and leaves home. This is her first public
defiance of the patrical power system. Saru`s defiance is further
expressed, when she becomes economically independent and marries of her
own choice. Saru is disappointed with her married life. The institution of
home, which is supposed to foster the growth of a child, robs the women of
her right and respectability She always kept two different measuring
yards, one for the son and other for the daughter. Here is one example to
lay emphasis on the
Don't go out in the sum. You'll get even darker.
We have to care if you don't. We have to get you married.
I don't want to get married.
Will you live with us all your life? Why not?
He's different. He's a boy. (The Dark hold no Terrors p.45)
In this way a traditional Hindu woman she considers it her duty to remind
her daughter that she is grown up and she should behave accordingly. The
first experience of menstruation is horrible for Sarita and the mother is
there to frighten her with the fact that she would bleed for years and
years. The mother does not let her enter the kitchen and Puja-room. She is
forced to sleep on Strawmat. A separate plate is provided to her to make
her exclusion complete. Still in remote villages and even among educated
people a woman is considered unholy during the menstruation period. Sarita
thinks about it.
"Things fell, with a miraculours exact exactness, into place. I was a
female. I was born that way, that was the way my body had to be, those
were the things that had to happen to me. And that was that." (p. 63)
The fact is that the poor daughter Sarita always bared the opposition of
her mother, be it the question of choosing a husband or a profession.
Sarita's married life with Manu does not run smoothly for a long time and
it makes her think that even pleasure is unreal and like an illusion
wheras grief seems more real having weight and substance. The fact is that
there is difference of status. Saru being a lady doctor is always given
more importance. People come to her, surround her, ask for her and respect
her and it is something which her husband can not digest. And this is what
changes the attitude of a loving husband into a sadist. Chapter VIII of
the novel informs us about Saru's sexual tortures by Manu. She can not
free herself from him and when the fit is over, he is the same smiling
Manu again. This confounds her bitterly.
"The hurting hands, the savage teeth, the monstrous assault of a horrible
familiar body. And above me a face I could not recognise." (p. 112)
Saru tells her father about her husband who loves cruelty in sex but it is
something beyond the understanding of poor. Father who always maintained
distance and reserve with his wife. The root of this problem also seems to
lie in the social attitude. The problem is psychological as well as the
does is not aware of the dead.
"God, Saru! Have you hurt yourself. Look at that". (p. 203)
In this way whole novel is full of incidents showing disparity towards a
woman. Sarita's mother shows inveterate harted and enmity towards her
daughter after the death of her son when she remarks.
"------- Daughter? I don't have any daughter. I had a son and he died. Now
I am childless." (p. 196)
The disappearance of Madhav;s brother and his father's punishing the
mother by not eating food cooked by her reminds Sarita a Sanskrit story
from her school-text where a woman did not disturb her husband's sleep
even to save her child from fire. Then Agni had to come to save the child.
It makes Sarita extremely angry and she thinks.
"Who wrote that story? A man, of course. Telling all women for all time
your duty to me comes first. And women poor fools, believed him. So that
even today Madhav's mother considers at a punishment to be deprived of a
chance to serve her husbands." (p. 207)
Towards the end of the novel we see that Abhi's letter informing Saru
about Manu's arrival first of all disturbs her as she is totally upset
about her relationship and does not want to face him but after a bit of
pondering over the issue she is able to find out her way. The moment she
realizes the importance of life, she determines to live with full gusto.
She has also been aware of the fact that her coming to parental house was
an exercise in futility.
She feels "----------- because there's no one else, we have to go on
trying. If we can't believe in ourselves, we're sunk." (p. 220)
Now Saru feels it strongly that she is responsible for her own miserable,
puppet like existence. Too much dependence on institutions like marriage
is also sheer foolishness. Rather one should be ready to face all the
challenges and troubles of life. Saru's decision to go with Manu shows her
confidence and courage in this direction. Obviously, the problem faced by
Saru is the problem of hundreds of such learned and professional women who
become the victim of the double stand of society. if the husband is
superior to her position wise, she has to serve him that way but
unfortunately if the husband is inferior to her, she is bound to face the
sadism and ego of her husband like Saru. Indian society is still
tradition-bound superstitious.. No one dares challenge the existing
patriarchal order. Let people boast theoretically that husband and wife
are two wheels of a van, two aspects of the same coin but the practical
truth is that man is always considered superior to a woman. He has first
right on meal, fasts are kept for his welfare and domestic walls never
limit his scope. Shashi Despande`s novel explore the problems of women in
terms of illiteracy, ideological brainwashing in patriarchal societal
structures, the problem of dowry, the complexity of the issue of caste and
economic status. Saru is a `New Woman`, who is educated intelligent and
economically independent, she could not accept her destiny as fate written
on her forehead.
1. Simone De beauvour, The Second Sex translated and edited by
H.M.Parshily, Placadon classics edition published 1988 by Pan Books Ltd.
Cavage place London.
2. Shashi Despande, The Dark Holds No Terrors, Vikas Publishing House Pvt.
3. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: "Can the subattern speak" from 'Colonial
Discourse and Post Colonial Theory" (Harvest wheats heaf, 1994).
4 P. Ramamoorthy,`` My life is my own: A Study Of Shashi Despande`s
Women`` Indian Women Novelists, ed. R.K.Dhawan [New Delhi, Prestige, 1991]
Set1, vol 5, p41
Contributing Writer: Dr. Ram Sharma, Lecturer
Janta Vedic College MEERUT, U.P.