There can be few readers of ‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind,’’ especially those who note the date of the story’s first publication, who have not viewed it an allegory of the cold war, with the deadly rivalry between the cities regarding the shape of their walls being a metaphorical presentation of the nuclear arms race. However, in an interview with Steven L. Aggelis in 2002, in which Aggelis asked whether ‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind’’ and ‘‘The Meadow,’’ another story that appears in the same short-story collection, were intended as ‘‘pro United Nations pieces,’’ Bradbury denied that he had any political theme in mind.
Be that as it may, ‘‘The Meadow,’’ first published just two years after the end of World War II, the founding of the United Nations, and the birth of the atomic age, undoubtedly has some thematic links to ‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind.’’‘‘The Meadow’’ opens with a description of . . . Read More
The Cold War
Even before World War II ended in 1945, the world divided into two power blocs, East and West. The United States and its Western European allies believed that the communist Soviet Union was an aggressive power that would seek to expand its influence throughout the globe. In 1946, George Kennan, who was then the American charge´ d’affaires in Moscow, wrote a dispatch about the intentions of the Soviet Union that was to have a profound influence on President Harry Truman and other U.S. policy makers. Kennan wrote that the Soviet Union was a serious threat to the United States (quoted in Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945–1948, by Robert J. Donovan):
“[The Soviet Union is] committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our . . . Read More
The story may be interpreted as a political allegory. An allegory is a narrative in which characters, objects, or events represent something independent of the actual story told. As William Flint Thrall and Addison Hibbard state in A Handbook to Literature, ‘‘Allegory attempts to evoke a dual interest, one in the events, characters, and setting presented, and the other in the ideas they are intended to convey or the significance they bear.’’ This story may be read as an allegory of the cold war that dominated global politics from the late 1940s to the end of the 1980s. The cold war pitted the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, against each other. The Soviet Union had been a U.S. ally during World War II, but its communist ideology, its postwar control over most of Eastern Europe, and its desire to further spread its influence beyond its borders brought it into conflict with the democratic, capitalistic West. The . . . Read More
The story presents two different models for relationships between human communities. They can choose conflict or cooperation. At first the unnamed city of the Mandarin and the growing city of Kwan-Si choose the conflict model. Each city feels threatened by the other. For example, the people in the first city think that the wall shaped like a pig will allow Kwan-Si to devour their city, which has walls shaped like an orange. Therefore, the first city elects to counter the pig by building a wall shaped like a big stick. Kwan-Si soon develops a strategy to counter this, which in turn is countered by the first city, and so the conflict goes on and on, escalating all the time. The conflict model—the idea that these two cities must necessarily have opposing interests—proves to be disastrous. The cities keep trying to outwit each other, but their triumphs are always short-lived. The other side always has an answer and a fresh challenge. The . . . Read More
The Mandarin’s daughter is the person who eventually comes up with the correct solution to the problem that is devastating the two cities. She appears to be very close to her father, and he relies on her absolutely for her advice. Unlike the Mandarin, she does not passively resign herself to defeat but seeks an active strategy for success. She shows great creativity and ingenuity in devising a plan, although at first the town of Kwan-Si has an answer to everything she and the Mandarin devise. Eventually, though, she transcends her own limited perspective and proposes a genuinely wise solution that will keep both towns happy. She thus becomes the voice of wisdom and saves the towns from themselves. Her wisdom is acknowledged by both mandarins, who sing her praises.
The Mandarin is an old man who is in charge of an unnamed city two miles away from Kwan-Si. It appears that the Mandarin . . . Read More
‘‘The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind’’ has no specific setting in time and place, but it is suggestive of ancient or medieval China. The story begins with the Mandarin questioning a messenger. In ancient China a mandarin was a bureaucrat. In this case, the Mandarin appears to be the man in charge of a city. He is distressed at the news brought by the messenger. The town of KwanSi, two miles away, is building a wall around their city, shaped like a pig. After the messenger leaves, the Mandarin talks about this news with his daughter, who at first does not understand why her father is upset. He explains that their own city is surrounded by a wall shaped like an orange, which means that the Kwan-Si pig will eat them.
The Mandarin fears that their city is in for hard times. People will think that the city surrounded by the wall shaped like a pig is prosperous and lucky, and will go there instead. The daughter suggests that the Mandarin consult with his stonemasons and . . . Read More
Most criticism of Anita Desai stresses the influence of Western writers such as Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, or D. H. Lawrence on her work. Desai makes use of her rich Indian tradition in her stories, however, not only as locale or social background, but in terms of ideas from Indian philosophical classics such as the Bhagavad Gita. Desai’s characters often quote the Bhagavad Gita in times of crisis. The theme of that book is liberation or self-realization through surrender of the self to God. In ‘‘Games at Twilight,’’ as in much of her work, East meets West in the theme of self-realization, as Desai changes the meaning of that term to reflect the Western quest for authentic individuality.
With the colonial disruption of India’s quieter civilization, the tradition of contemplative withdrawal to find self-realization was replaced by bustling mega-cities and commerce, and Indians found themselves living in the same fragmented universe described by Albert . . . Read More
The British East India Company was given permission by a Mughal emperor (Islamic Persian ruler) in 1617 to trade in India. In protecting its trading interests, Britain used more and more military force until it took over large areas of India and its administration, with the cooperation of local rulers. In 1857, after the Indian Rebellion (also called the Sepoy Mutiny or the Revolt of 1857), the British government took over control of the country from the British East India Company, adding India to its empire. The British ruled in India with many trained Indians as part of their administrative staff. The upper classes of India lost their traditional power, and in order to gain advancement in the new system, Indians had to have an English education and training to get positions in the British Raj. Even today, the privileged classes of India are those with an English education.
The modern short story gained popularity in the nineteenth century with the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikolai Gogol, and Guy de Maupassant. They gave the short narrative its modern form as a compressed story with a unified plot striving for a single effect. Though the modern short story generally concerns the everyday world of realistic events and settings, it can also use complex symbols to suggest deeper meanings. James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, and Joseph Conrad helped to make the twentieth-century short story a highly polished form, with surprise turns and philosophical depth, in which the character has a revelation.
Anita Desai wrote short fiction in English before she began writing novels. She published several short stories in the 1940s and 1950s before her first story collection in 1978, Games at Twilight. The classic short story of O. Henry or Maupassant, dependent on a tight plot structure, . . . Read More
Anita Desai’s fiction deals with individuals searching for their identity. This theme has been popular in Western fiction for at least two centuries, but it is a new theme in Indian literature since India was until recently a closed society. Traditionally, the family and social caste system dictated individual choices in everything from education to marriage partners. Desai’s fiction covers new territory. With a global culture and modern cities, with Western education and English as an officially recognized language, with women in the workplace, individual choice has become important, though it means erosion of the old ways. The conflict between the individual’s inner life and the outer social expectations is the subject of Desai’s fiction, particularly in terms of women and children, who had little say in the old society.
Like all of Desai’s protagonists, Ravi is much more sensitive than the others. He registers things . . . Read More