Isolation and Loneliness in Anita Desai’s Cry the Peacock

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Anita Desai’s cry the Peacock is a powerful novel representing the estranged relationship of a Husband and his wife. The dreams of a simple, loving and admiring girl come to tatters after her marriage to Gautam, a practical minded and romantically dull husband. Maya, a sweet girl respecting each member of her family structures her mind according to her pre set notions of being loved and cared at each moment. Since very beginning Anita Nair makes her protagonist, Maya feel lonely when her husband remains calm on the death of her pet and beloved dog, Toto. The prophesy made by an astrologer and peacock’s cry give the novel a different dimension representing the plight of various women in the sub-continental world. The artistic quality of Anita Nair’s caliber to make the reader engrossed and feel the misery suffered by the main character can be judged by the use of metaphors and powerful symbols. This study is a little attempt to analyse the isolation and loneliness suffered by Maya leading her to the aggravation, causing tragedy not only to herself but to everyone connected to her.

Anita Desai, the Indo-Anglian novelist poses a very rare and unique ideological structure in the minds of the readers relying on her imagery and dexterous style with embellished language and sensuous elemental incorporated imagery displaying sensitivity. In her novels both social realities and outer world are made to project a certain conflict with the inner psychic commotions. Anita Desai shunning the traditional and conventional style of writing novels has experimented her peep-deep and psychic focus to make the Indian women writers tred on new achievement of greater significance through her novels, especially Cry, the Peacock. In her novel Cry, the Peacock, the protagonist is a young woman caught up in psychic tensions. Maya, a romantically imaginative and sensitive girl is married to a practical minded or in a sense a utilitarian, Gautam. Gautam, even if possesses a tendency towards Urdu poetry, but happens to be miles away from the emotional and romantic realm his wife possesses.

Both wife and husband are quite opposite of each other, the one worldly wise and sharp to accommodate himself to the situations and the other very intolerant of even the slightest pricks to her emotions. Maya is quite ardent and passionate lover longing for the true love according her own romantic longings. She has the mindset of a possessive being. The life of Maya before marriage and after marriage gets in conflict. In her own home she respected her family above all and in turn was showered love the same way. In her in-laws she longs for the same as she respects and cares them equally, but fails to reconcile that the places are different and the set up too. The romantic longings are never reciprocated by Gautam as she wants. The calm attitude of her husband on the death of her pet dog Toto makes her start to tred on the path of feeling that her feelings are ignored. She thinks that she is ignored and shorn of to express the grief of the death of Toto. She reprimands her husband severely for his coarseness, his pragmatism and his concerns for the basic requirements only. “It’s always money, or property – never a case of passion and revenge, murder, and exciting things like that … not for love or life of basic things – Toto dying” (Cry, The Peacock, 20). The incident of the death of her pet dog makes her sense it very early that her husband is unable to perceive her. He never likes any useless thing, the romantic sensations or any bogus ceremonies as is written in the novel, “it has always seemed the ultimate absurdity appropriate only in that it brings a meaningless life to a similarly meaningless end” (14). The world which Maya thought before her marriage as a very rare and romantically pious, starts to shatter before her, after her marriage to the temperamentally dull and remonatically devoid, Gautam. The two partners fail to accommodate the feelings of each other, or from the author’s point of view with a clear focus on Maya, she is ignored of her dreams to even think off. The death of her dog makes her sense very early that it is not only the death of pet but the death of her dreams and her married life as well. The death of Toto makes the first sign towards the alienation of Maya. R.S.Sharma in his Anita Desai: A Study says that, “her neurosis originates in the very idea of marriage which she has come to associate with death” (26). Maya’s loneliness, her feelings of seclusion are apparent from her words in the novel that, “his coldness, and incessant talks of cups of tea and philosophy in order not to hear me talk and talking reveal myself. It is that my loneliness in the house” (9). Maya thinks initially that Gautam will console her whenever she feels low but her expectations are shattered when she observers his lack of that passion towards his wife. His sense of making his life guided by logics and reasons makes her sink even more in her loneliness. She says “he is fit to attain immortality who is serene and not affected by these sensations but is the same in pleasure and pain” (108).

The response towards each other between Maya and Gautam happens to be inadequate which eventually proves disastrous along the course of novel. He remains in his own world enjoying the Urdu poetry and she longs for his love. His interest in the poetry and his not responding to the romantic longings and even general feelings of his wife puzzles even the reader’s psyche. When Maya becomes much depressed with her life once, she listens to a musician’s voice singing in her lawn and tries to correspond her state with the song’s connotation. The musician sings, “Lord, thou hast dealt me so many sorrows to bear them, couldst thou not also have lent me another heart” (103). One night Maya feels quite impressed by the look of stars in and sky and says, “they are so bright to night” (14). But to even this, her husband fails to reciprocate and behaves in his own dull and nonchalant manner. What she likes is the only company of her husband both physically and emotionally but the void between them on every point goes on widening. Her romantic longings of being in a relationship like Antony and Cleopatra who spent their time in mirth and revelry remains only her dream without the part of her better half. Everywhere in the novel Maya is projected as if no where belonging to her husband he once pushes her far more towards her alienation when he arranges a party for his friends without even telling her. She expresses her distorted inner self when she enters the party as, “All I Wanted was to be outside with you….near you…but you made me go away… He signed fumbles lit himself a cigarette” (111). The only thing she wants of her husband is his being with her, his caressing and pampering her broken feelings, she wishes him to quench her love thirst. But the chidings and outsider treatment given by him make her respond like, “hoe it suits you to quote those lines of drastic… you know nothing of me… and of how I can love. You‘ve never loved and you don’t love me…” (112). It seems as if Gautam reduces the feelings for his wife to only an attachment and formal duty. Comparing Gautama to Gautama Budha, she frustratingly provides an outlet to her feelings as, “he looked very much, the mediator beneath the “bo’ tree… too fastidious to admit such matters as love with its accompanying horror of copulation… spiritual demands of possession and rights won and established” (113). The promises of love, care, support, and company turn out to be unfulfilled appetites and lead her to antagonism and enmity.

Gautam’s attitude is indeed fundamental and quite arbitrary based on truth and balance whereas Maya is romantic, egoistical, fanciful and longing dream-world which ultimately pushes their beings to tragedy. She lives as a ‘toy-princes’ in an imaginary world. Whenever she gets out of a problem, another problem stands waiting for her, thus making a series of problems to be confronted by her. The estrangement in their relationship is made to develop quite artistically. The final disaster happens to be according to the prophecy made by an astrologer many years ago. The astrologer prophesied that either of Maya or Gautam is going to die after four years of their marriage, to which she says, “and four years, it was now, has been married four years… I know the time has come. It was now be either Gautama or I” (65). There are two factors surrounding her distorted feelings along with the estranged relation to be the cause of her alienation, one is prophesy of an astrologer and other the peacock’s cry luring her more towards the tragedy. The image of the peacock reveals the mystery of life and death and knows them to be one. It is said in the novel that, “peacock are wise. The eyes upon their tails have seen the truth of life and death and know them to be one. Living, they are aware of death. Dying, they are in love with life” (95-96). K.R.Srinivasa Iyengar says in “The Banasthali Patrika” that, “the peacock are said to fight before they mate; living they are aware of death, dying they are in love with life” (67). The title of the novel Cry, The Peacock is highly symbolic. The repeated use of the word ‘peacock’ becomes a symbol of the neurotic protagonist Maya herself. When the peacock cries, “Lover, lover. Mio, Mio-I die, I die, I Die” (95), it is Maya’s own inner self projected in the voice of peacock and her nearing death. Maya’s self is very well manifested in her powerful mourning as: God now I was caught in the net of the inescapable, and where lay possibility of mercy of release? This net was no hallucination, no ….. am I gone insane? Father! Brother! Husband! who is my saviour? I am in need of one. I am dying and I am in love with living. I am in love, and I am dying. God, let me sleep, again. Any more-only death and waiting. (97-98).

Finally, there comes the storm of dust followed by a few drops of rain and Gautama happens to be quite oblivious to everything. Gautam and Maya have never been so apart from each other as that evening, they go up to the roof having in them their own worlds and the plane moon captivates Maya so much that the moment Gautam comes into the frame in between Maya and the moon, she in a moment of frenzy pushes him through the air to the bottom. Maya is taken to her parent’s home in Lucknow, where during a night, a horror cry from the upstairs is heard and Maya’s world ends.

Cry, The Peacock is typically a feminine novel, a novel of sensibility rather than action. The novel wholly concerns the terror of existence through its artistic blend of a series of metaphors and symbols. The projection power and the grip on reader of this novel prove Anita Desai as an existential humanist who is interested in searching for the individualistic and authentic man. Cry, the Peacock is typically an Indian novel possessing mysteries of death and life, and the basic mysteries of love connected with the symbol of the peacock’s Cry – ‘life in-death and death-in-life.’ The novel justifies eventually the romantic yearnings of an Indian woman making a strong claim for the life partners to preoccupy their stances and positions.


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