The climax is the point in the action of a story when the conflict reaches its peak. In ‘‘A Devoted Son,’’ the conflict between Varma and Rakesh builds through Varma’s illness as he desires to eat what he wants and to be allowed to die but is kept alive by his son and his son’s medicine. When Varma and his bed are put outside on the veranda by his sons’ servants, and Veena makes him sit up straight by placing pillows behind him, the climax nears as Varma is increasingly unhappy and fearful. The climax of ‘‘A Devoted Son’’ can be found in the final exchange between Varma and Rakesh as the son again dismisses his father’s desire to be allowed to die. When Varma tells his son that he wants no tonic and ‘‘swept the bottle out of his son’s hand with a wave of his own,’’ Varma has communicated his feelings to his son. As the household gets turned upside down, the falling action of the story and conclusion consist of Varma relaxing flat on his bed and again asking for death.
In fiction, the antagonist is the character who works against the protagonist (also known as the hero). Rakesh can be seen as the antagonist of ‘‘A Devoted Son.’’ While he is the devoted son referred to in the title, he does not listen to his father’s needs or desires, but merely acts the way he believes a respectful son should. Such behaviors include succeeding at school, marrying the wife selected by his mother, and caring for his father through his old age. However, Rakesh will not allow his father to eat what he wants, setting off a conflict between them. Rakesh takes it one step further and dismisses his ill father’s desire to die. Instead, he gives him more and more medicines that Varma does not want and prolongs his life.
The protagonist is the central character in a work of fiction, the one who provides the central action for the development of the story. Varma is the protagonist in ‘‘A Devoted Son’’ because the story revolves around him, his life, and his relationship with his family, especially Rakesh. His son proves to be Varma’s antagonist. While Varma sacrifices much so that Rakesh can be educated, Varma is not happy when he becomes a widower and retires from work. Illness leads to more conflict with Rakesh and Veena, and dietary restrictions imposed on Varma by Rakesh only inflame the relationship. In the end Varma, as the protagonist, extracts some measure of revenge on Rakesh by breaking the bottle of tonic that his son holds in his hand.
Point of View
The point of view is the narrative perspective from which a work of fiction is written. ‘‘A Devoted Son’’ is written in third-person omniscient point of view. That is, the reader has a perspective on the narrative that is unrestricted by time or place. Desai gives some insight into the actions and minds of characters, primarily Varma. The story does not reveal the whole of his thought processes nor those of any character, but poetically explains the course of Rakesh and Varma’s complex relationship with insight and internal details.
The setting is the time, place, and culture in which the action of a narrative takes place. While Desai is not specific about the setting of ‘‘A Devoted Son,’’ it becomes clear over the course of the narrative that it takes place in India over several decades up to the late 1970s in a ‘‘shabby little colony at the edge of the city.’’ Much of the action occurs in the little yellow house at the end of a road, where Varma raises his family and which Rakesh takes over to raise his own family as well as care for his father. The cultural norms of Indian culture are represented in the narrative, including, for example, the emphasis on parental respect and Rakesh’s arranged marriage.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Anita Desai, Published by Gale Group, 2010