Darkness and Light
Manto uses images of darkness and light to demonstrate the difference between the men and the natural world around them. Darkness represents the men, blindness, and what is negative, and light represents nature, sight, and what is positive. During the night, the soldiers light huge fires in an attempt to ward off darkness. Yet they are able to overcome neither the darkness of night nor their own blindness. The biggest fires they can build can only illuminate a small patch of ground and do not enable them to see their enemies or to see within themselves. By contrast, Manto writes,’ The morning broke … as if someone had switched on a light in a dark room. It spread across the hills and valleys.” Nature is capable of producing an all illuminating brightness that the men do not have.
Unity and Disunity
The Pakistanis and the Indians see themselves as separate from each other. There is no common human feeling between them, even though they both sing songs of romance and long for better days. The stream zigzagging down in the valley is like a literal line in the sand that emphasizes the division that the men are maintaining. Unlike the other elements of nature in the mountains, which move lazily, the stream moves furiously, like a snake. This seems to represent the energy the soldiers dedicate to lashing out at each other. They prefer disunity to unity. Other landmarks in nature also seem to draw attention to this disunity, such as the valley that separates the two hills behind which the opposing forces sit.
While the soldiers exhibit signs of common humanity, such as singing and cooking breakfast at the same time, they do not see or acknowledge these signs of underlying unity. Jhun Jhun, the one creature that ignores the fact that they are adversarial groups and points out their sameness, is put to death.
Warlike Humans versus Peaceful Nature
The mountains of Tithwal are calm and cheerful, but the soldiers are determined to kill. While it would be natural for them to adapt to their peaceful surroundings, the soldiers remain combative. At the time that Jhun Jhun enters the story, the soldiers have been inactive for some weeks, with no progress having been made on either side. The mood is one of dangerous idleness, a harbinger of the death to come. Though there is nothing to gain from exchanging fire, the opposing sides let off ritual shots daily. Unable to destroy each other, the soldiers destroy a harmless dog that is an element of nature. Because he is the only victim available, Jhun Jhun becomes a casualty of the soldiers’ need to satisfy their bloodlust. Humankind’s brutality is visited upon nature. It is not enough merely to scare the dog and make him run in terror; they need to destroy him. Though Subedar Himmat Khan first wounds Jhun Jhun, to him the dog’s death proves that the Indian forces are killers. Jamadar Harnam Singh, whose shot kills the dog, seems, even so, to blame the Pakistani forces. The two sides do not recognize that both have acted cruelly and absurdly. There is no regret for the killing, as there might be in peacetime, because it is seen as an act of war.
The difference between nature and humankind is underscored by the fact that the seasons are changing as the story takes place. The change is occurring gently; the days and nights are mild. While some literature depicts the seasons in conflict, Manto’s story shows that in nature even opposites such as summer and winter flow peacefully into each other. “It seemed as if summer and winter had made their peace,” Manto writes. The men, on the other hand, although they are very much alike, cannot accept each other.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Saadat Hasan Manto, Published by Gale, 2002.