After India was granted its independence from Great Britain in 1947, the country became a republic in 1948. While India became a democracy at that time, certain aspects of society remained relatively unchanged underwent limited changes by the late 1970s. For example, a majority of the population lived in rural communities. Most rural dwellers worked as farmers and lived in small villages. Many people, both urban and rural, lived below the poverty line. However, in crowded Indian cities, there was a much larger middle class, and millions of Indians left rural villages to look for employment. Because of the housing demands that were created, housing could be in short supply in urban areas. Colonies like the one where Varma has his home were founded to meet such housing needs in and around cities.
Family relationships remained important in India in the late 1970s. During much of the twentieth century, arranged marriages were common, though some young adults chose their own spouses. The higher the social class one came from, the greater the chance that one chose his or her own spouse. After marriage, the wife traditionally moved into the family home of her husband. Extended families of multiple generations often lived together, though there were differences between northern and southern India. In the north, households often included several generations of men, their wives, and their children. In the south, households were often organized around a matriarch. For example, southern households could include the families of a grandmother and her siblings, families of a mother and her siblings, and one’s own siblings. The description of Varma’s family situation in ‘‘A Devoted Son,’’ is reflective of the family values in this time period.
Education and Literacy
India’s education system was greatly influenced by its experience as a British colony. Under law after independence from Great Britain, children were to be given a free education between the ages of six and fourteen. Most children attended primary school for at least a few years—even in rural areas—but state-run primary schools were often underfunded and not of great quality. By the time children reached the age of ten, however, parents in some parts of India took their children out of school so they could labor on the family farm or take care of their young siblings. Thus, far fewer continued their education in secondary school. Even fewer Indian students went on to attend college, and the vast majority who did so were male. (The British established a number of colleges and universities in India beginning in the late nineteenth century to educate the upper-middle class in India and prepare a class of bureaucrats and officials to help govern the country.) Most university students studied science, which was considered more respectable, if not practical, than other subjects.
Literacy was an issue in India for much of the twentieth century and continued to be one into the twenty-first. Soon after gaining independence, India worked to increase its literacy rate by building more schools, training more teachers, and publishing relevant textbooks for students. By the end of the twentieth century, more than half the population of India had become literate because of these efforts. Indian women, however, generally became literate at a much lower rate than men. Thus, the depiction of education in ‘‘A Devoted Son’’ is representative of these trends, especially in the emphasis on an education in science for Rakesh.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Anita Desai, Published by Gale Group, 2010