Monday, December 9, 2013

An Analysis of the Character of Sita in Anita Desai’s 'Where shall We Go This Summer?'

Sita is the female protagonist of Desai’s Where shall We Go This Summer? The story is essentially a study of the marital discord resulting from the conflict between two irreconcilable temperaments and two diametrically different view points represented by Sita and her husband Raman. Sita is a sensitive, emotional middle aged woman saddled with four children. She feels alienated from her husband and children and undergoes acute mental agonies silently in isolation solely because of her sharp existentialist sensibility and explosive emotionality. Though she is placed in comfortable circumstances. She feels utterly lonely at heart where ever she was, with her husband and his family or away from him. The very interrogative title of this novel Where shall We Co This Summer? is a pointer to the very angst and ennui of her anguished soul. Sita, is a highly introverted character and the very appeal of her character consists in her inwardness, introversion and the resultant psychic odyssey.

Disgusted with the sweaty hustle and bustle of humdrum life and tortured by the 'Paranoic' fear of her fifth undesired pregnancy and imminent parturition, Sita along with her tw children Menaka and Karan, leaves behind her husband in despair, runs away from Bombay and comes to Manori to achieve the miracle of not giving birth to her child. This is actually ascribable to her deep seated reverence for libe, and to her unwillingness to accept violence. Moses the caretaker of the house takes them across the sea to the island house built by Sita's father. She discovers the house deserted for over twenty years. She feels highly disappointed to find her father's house in a sorry state.

Sita's alienation from her husband is inherent in her relationship with her mysterious father. Temperamentally they are poles apart. This temperamental schism between them is in fact nowhere more effectively communicated han in the little scene where they talk about the stranger they encountered on their way back from Ajanta and Ellora. "He seemed so brave", she blurted when Raman asked her why she had once more brought up the subject of the high-hiking foreigner, months later. "Brave? Him?, Raman was honest amused. He was a fool - he didn't even know which side of the road to wait on. "Perhaps that was only innocence". Sita faltered, "and it made him seem more brave not knowing anything but going on nevertheless".

Sita's unconscious recognition of the irrationality of the stranger is illustrative of her own longing for a life of primitive reality as well as her alienation from her husband. After her marriage, Sita begins to live in the house of her husband's parents, she feels like a square peg in a round hole. She finds everyone disgusting and family life insufferable. They are incapable of introspection and have no inwardness and capacity for self examination which are the signs of an authentic existence. To challenge them, to shatter their complacency, and to shock them into a recognition of the reality, Sita behaves provocatively -she starts smoking and begins "to speak in sudden rushes of emotion, as though flinging darts at their smooth, unscarred faces". Sita also alienates herself from society. The ayahs, cooks the nameless and forceless multitudes appear to her to be animals. She finds the majority of people living like animals. She says “They are nothing - nothing but appetitite and sex. Only food, sex and money matter, Animals. My pet animals - or wild animals in the forest, yes. But these are neither - they are like pariahs you see in the streets, hanging about drains and dustbins, waiting to pounce and kill and eat”.

Later on, Sita moves to a small flat where she lives alone with her husband and children. But even then she thinks the same way for the practical and matter-of-fact, people continue to intrude upon her privacy. She finds them absolutely unacceptable, and 'their vegetarian complacency and 'stolidity 'not only infuriate but also humiliate her'. "She took their insularity and complacence as well as the aggression and violence of others as affronts upon her own living nerves". The greatest threat to Sita's existence is boredom. Her husband engrossed in his business and the children were growing independent, she finds herself struggling in the grip of the monstor boredom. But tragically enough, her husband fails to comprehend how or why or with what she gets bored. Desai beautifully brings out Sita's boredom, "She herself looking on it saw it stretched out so vast, so flat, so deep, that in fright she scrambled about it, searching for a few of these moments that proclaimed" her still alive, not quite drowned and dead.

Sita's life tormented by loneliness and boredom represents modern married woman's existentialist predicament to which others offer no solutions but Anita Desai offers a positive one in this novel. The agony and unhappiness in sita's soul spring from her inability to flow with the general current of society. She uncompromisingly makes a strong stand and refuses to accept the cruel dictates of society to which the average people submit so uncomplainingly. Her anguished soul cries out. "He who refuses does not repeat should he be asked again. He would say No a gain .and yet that NO - the right No. crushes him for the rest of his life".

The conflict between Sita and her uninvolved children is brought to focus in the concluding part of the novel. Menaka and Karan both fail to adjust to the primitive life on Manori. They long to return to the highly sophisticated urban life in Bombay to which they are used. The sharp conflict between Sita and Menaka is depicted in the scene in which the former discusses with the latter about the poverty of science and opulence of art. Sita says, "Science can't be as satisfactory. It is all - all figures statistics, logic. Science is beliving that two and two make four-pooh" And a little later continuing her argument, she says, "It leads you to a dead one. There are no dead ends, now in Art. That is something spontaneous, Menaka, and alive and creative..." But Menaka dismisses the argument saying, that is all nonsense" This temperamental conflict between mother and daughter also remains unresolved in the novel.

On Menaka's invitation, Raman comes to Manor! to take Menaka and Karan back to Bombay. Menaka wants to apply for admission to the medical college. The children are excited to see their father. So Sita feels 'That they were being disloyal to her, disloyal to the island and its wild nature". After his arrival and through her reluctant conversation with him she cannot escape from the cold actualities of life. She feels she was a coward, an escapist. She had escaped from duties and responsibilities from order and routine, from life and the city to as unlivable island. She has refused to give birth to a child in a world not fit to receive the child. She had the imagination to offer it an alternative - a life unlived, a life bewitched, She had cried out her great "No, But now the time had come from her epitaph to be written". Sita intensely realizes that life must flow on, and she must have courage as Raman has, to flow on with life. She admits to herself what Raman has felt:

“Life must be continued, and all its business - Menaka's admission to medical college gained, wife led to hospital, new child safely brought forth, the children reared, the factory seen to, a salary earned, a salary spent... alienation is due to the humedrum life. She is forced to live with Sita’s husband and children in the busy city like Bombay. The ending of the novel is positive. It is highly encouraging and life enchancing. Sita neither kills anyone nor commits suicide nor dies nor goes mad. She compromises with sita and becomes courageous enough to face life boldly with its ups and downs to take the rough with the smooth by connecting the inward with the outward, the prose with the passion, the individual with society.

Thus we see how the stress and strains of a family life affects Desai's protagonist sita who initially feels a sense of alienation, but finally resigns herself to accepting reality.