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
Anu is the name of one of the children. It can be either a male or female name, and this child is not individualized in the story.
Chauffeur or Driver
The hairy-chested driver is a servant in the family and is in charge of the car and the garage. He lets the children help him wash the car.
The father is in the background since he is at work all day. When he comes home, the family has an evening ritual of being together in the yard.
The gardener gets angry when the children supposedly help him water the garden. He threatens to tell the parents of their bad behavior.
Manu seems to be the youngest child and is hardly aware of how to play hide-and-seek, because he doesn’t run and hide as quickly as the other children do. When he does try to hide, he trips, and Raghu . . . Read More
It is afternoon on a summer day in a Bombay suburb. It is too hot for the children to play outdoors, but they have been cooped up all day in the house and beg their mother to let them out. She has already bathed them and given them their tea. They promise to stay on the porch, but she knows they won’t. Finally, she opens the door and they run out, yelling with joy. The mother goes to have her own bath and put on a clean sari for the evening.
The afternoon is so hot that even animals are not stirring. Parrots, however, are aroused by the children’s cries and fly out of the eucalyptus tree. The children begin to push and shove and argue, and a sleeve gets torn. The older daughter, Mira, separates the fighting boys and organizes games for them. They begin a counting-out game to find out who should be ‘‘It’’ for hide-and-seek. Raghu is It. He objects and cries out to the others that they are supposed to stay on the porch, but they have already scattered. The . . . Read More
The first sentence of Muriel Spark’s ‘‘The First Year of My Life’’ (‘‘I was born on the first day of the second month of the last year of the First World War, a Friday’’) is arresting. It causes the reader to pause and calculate the actual date being referred to. It is also notable that this very date, February 1, 1918, is the actual date of the author’s birth. This knowledge lends the speaker a certain veracity, and it leads one to accept more easily the narrator’s later, and somewhat exaggerated, statement that it is ‘‘the very worst year that the world had ever seen so far.’’ This established veracity lends a sense of verisimilitude (the appearance of being truthful or real) to the narrator’s claim that all human babies are omniscient in their first year of life. Still, the narrator does appear to sense that this outlandish claim requires further explanation. She goes on to state that artists have always known this fact, and that scientists are . . . Read More
World War I
World War I began in 1914 and ended in 1918. It was the first mechanized war, the first to rely on advances in technology (such as airplanes and poison gas), and it was also the first worldwide conflict of the modern age. Accordingly, it had a lasting impact on the twentieth century, both politically and culturally. An estimated ten million soldiers were killed, and civilian casualties came to almost seven million. As Spark notes in her story, over eight million soldiers were killed and over twenty million were wounded, and these numbers are based in fact. Such massive numbers of deaths in war had not taken place before in recorded history.
Spark’s story reflects on the last year of the war. She constantly refers to the Western Front, where most of the slaughter was taking place. The Western Front began in Belgium, which German forces invaded in 1914, through France to the Vosges Mountains. Yet, from 1915 to 1917, despite . . . Read More