Book Reviews, India

About contentwriter | Contact Us

More Articles

Submit an Article/Poem


Content Services


Additional Web Services


Articles Center


Jobs Bank



Writings From 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 feminine".

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 modernization."

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 death.

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" [40]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" [55]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.
Who cares?
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?
You can't
And Dhruva?
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. Ltd. 1980.

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 in English, Janta Vedic College MEERUT, U.P. [email protected]





Online Writing Job Profiles | Content Writer Blog |  Online Press Release | Post Part Time/Freelance Jobs | Writing Courses - Affordable Website Content Writing, Article Submission Services

Copyright 2005 - 2011,, [email protected]