Reason Versus Emotion In Cry, The Peacock By Anita Desai

June 7, 2021 by Essay Writer


Anita Desai’s Cry, the Peacock portrays the trauma of a married woman inflicted by a male dominated society. She gets enslaved by the belief that her family male members are her protectors. Once she realizes that they cut her off from their family domain, she turns irrational and murders her husband. The murderous instinct grows out of her isolated life and the sense of her insecurity resulted from an astrologer’s prediction of her or her husband’s death four years after their marriage. Anita Desai’s Cry, the Peacock focuses the female protagonist, Maya, born in an orthodox family and brought up by her protective father. She suffers from male chauvinism. Her husband, Gautam, is the representative character of the same. She, a sensitive, develops an affinity with poetry and Kathakali Dance. She minutely observes natural beauty: The blossom of the lemon tree was different, quite different of much stronger, crisper character, they seemed cut out of hard moon shells, by a sharp knife of mother of pearl, into curving, scimitar petals that guarded the heart of fragrance. Their scent, too, was more vivid – a sour, astringent scent, refreshing as the ground of lemon peel, a crushed lemon leaf.

Maya views the world emotionally. She believes that love is a driving force to achieve the ultimate goal of life. She loves her husband passionately. It is her love that permits her to “touch him feel his flesh and hair”. Maya’s love for life also allows her to “hold and tighten her hold on him”. The life not only allows her to feel Gautama but also “all the pulsating world around him from the frieze of stars silently exploding in the summer sky to the faintly fluttering owls making convert, hidden love in the crotch of the fig tree”. However, her husband, Gautama, looks at everything rationally, focusing logic and mathematics. He does not respect human emotion, rather he advocates for materialistic gains. For him, “the realities of common human existence, not love and romance but living and dying and working, all constitutes life for the ordinary man”. Gautam believes that the world “dies for what is known to us as reality not for ideals”. Life is not a matter of “distinguishing between the two, but of reconciling them”. He views that the ideals like love and kindness ultimately resolve into reality for the man, “a matter of dealing with the bills that come in” and for the woman, “of worrying about them- or of rearing children and paying for rearing”.

Unlike Maya, Gautama, an objectivist, remains against sentimentalism and gets preoccupied with his official works. He ignores natural beauty such as flowers, butterflies and moon. Maya and Gautama have quite distinct perspectives on life. Maya, being romantic, defines love as a reality whereas Gautam, as a rationalist, interprets it as an illusion. He, being influenced by the Bhagvad Gita, is an advocator of detachment theory and accepts it as a guideline for a better life. Maya is fond of physical love but he fears both the physical and spiritual contact with her. He gets furious as she touches him: “he tolerated my hold for a moment, I consideration of bereavement, I expect, then moved away, pretending to gesture to gardener who was sprinkling the lawn so as to lay the dust before beds were brought out”. Whereas Maya wants Gautama to know, to enjoy and to participate her world in which scents and colors of varying degree exist: “the blossoms of the lemon tree were different, quite different: much stranger, crisper character, they seemed cut of hard moon shell lemon leaf; I tried to explain this to Gautama, stammering with anxieties, for now, when his companionship was a necessity”. Gautam fails to understand Maya‘s psyche and biological needs. Despite her effort to transform him, he remains adamant: “there was no way I could make believe that this, the night filled with several scents, their varying essences, and associations, their effects on me, us, were as important, the very core night of our mood tonight”. Maya wants to indulge in physical love, but Gautam bars her: “in his world there were vast areas in which he would never permit me and he could not understand that I could even wish to enter them, foreign as they were to me. On his part, understanding was scant, love was meager. Not to be loved as one does love”. Both Maya and Gautama have different world views.

Maya suffers from loneliness and negligence because of Gautam’s philosophical outlook. She always desires for both physical and spiritual relation. But he always neglects. He always gets busy with his papers until late night: “Telling me to go to sleep he worked at his papers, he didn’t give another thought to me, to either the soft willing body or the lonely, wanting mind that waited near his bed”. Gautam quotes many lines from the Gita in order to release Maya from emotional world. He, accusing her of being involved, tries to convince that involvement is attachment, leading one ultimately to death: Thinking of sense objects man becomes attached thereto. From attachment arises longing, and from longing anger is born. From anger arises delusion, from delusion, loss of memory is caused. From loss of memory the discriminative faculty is ruined and from the ruin of discrimination, he perishes. Maya gets frustrated once she realizes that she does not get love from Gautam. For her, love is life and vice versa. She feels humiliated being rejected by Gautam: “He thought it pain, there were countless nights when I had been tortured by a humiliating sense of negligence, of loneliness, of desertion”. Maya tries to cling to him for love and affection but he withdraws from her. She admits that their marriage is not the union of two souls, rather it is forced upon them from outside. Traditional society stands as an obstacle to get them separated:

It was discouraging to reflect on how much in our marriage based upon nobility forced upon us from outside, and therefore neither true nor lasting. It was broken repeatedly and repeatedly the pieces were picked up and put together again, as of a sacred icon with which, out of the pettiest superstition, we could not bear to part. Maya is forced to continue her fragmented conjugal life. Despite living together as wife and husband, they never share their personal matters with each other. The episodes of Arjun’s letter and the party with Sikh couple substantiate how they distance from each other. Both cases prove that they know each other’s personal matters for the first time four years after their marriage. From the former episode, Gautam knows that she has a brother named Arjun. “Who? Gautama asked, turning over, puzzled. ‘Arjun’ he frowned. And you never heard from him in all these years? Or spoke of him to others? Why not me at least”?. Gautama also understands that Arjuna had rebelled against his father. Similarly, from the latter episode, Maya comes to know that Gautama had the friends like Sikhs, his neighbors at hostel. The Sikh, Gautama’s friend, gets surprised to know that Gautama has never briefed her about his college life: “He never told you that we were neighbors in the hostel at college? And how I used to sing so loudly that he would come to the door to shout at me or send me a note?”. Despite Maya’s understanding on the suppression of male domination up on her, she fails to rise above from the patriarchal mind set. Because of her upbringing in patriarchal society, she has internalized the male values, and accepts them unconsciously. She depends on male, and expects to perform the same role by her father, brother, and husband at the time of crisis: “Father Brother Husband Who is my savior? I am dying and I am in love with living”.

In the novel, Desai shows that tradition and family customs regulate woman’s role in Indian society. Family plays important role in the life of women in Indian society. Desai identifies woman with the male members of her family. Her affiliation with them holds significance in her life. The woman’s well-being depends on her relationship with her family members. If she loses her affiliation with her family members, she will lose her Self, leading to a serious mental breakdown. As Sunaina Singh says: “Since women are both culturally and emotionally dependent on men, any disruption of the affinity or consanguinity is seen not as loss of relationship but as a “total loss of self which is then perceived as neurosis”. Maya adheres to Indian tradition and embraces the patriarchal values. She always wants her husband’s support. But her husband coldly rejects it since love is an attachment for him. She realizes that he does not love her: “You did not want me”. Maya admits that she has the life of hell. So, the feeling of losing her bond with her husband leads her to the feeling of insecurity. Then, her feeling of loneliness and insecurity leads her to her traumatic condition.

Maya gets traumatized and exudes abnormal behavior but the patriarchal society labels her mad. Patriarchal society defines madness at its disposal. A woman deviating from her prescribed feminine role is labeled as mad. It is a gender -biased definition. The women, questioning the existing male values, are often labeled as mad. Maya often questions Gautama’s value: “But I am not like you; I am different from all of you”. Sometimes, Maya violently resists Gautam’s negligence and humiliation to her: “You listen to me tonight. You never will let me tell you this. Why? Are you afraid? Because you cannot meet it? You feel out of element? You can’t bear to be not alone”. Maya’s blame hurts Gautam’s male ego. Exasperated with her questions, he accuses her of being ‘mad’: “This is madness, Maya, quite uncalled for”. In this way, Gautama accuses Maya of being ‘mad’ when she voices against male domination. The ethos of patriarchal culture traumatizes the females.

The novel depicts the contradictions of patriarchal society. Gautama, Maya’s father, and the astrologer represent the principal characters of a male dominated society. The cabaret dance episode in the novel reveals the patriarchal nature of the society. This episode shows how males sexually and emotionally exploit women. The cabaret dancers except Maya “began to clap with the irresponsibility of children”. The same dancers reappear for the next item which is “exactly like other except the costumes grew saucier”. They even present the striptease show to fulfill the demand of the guest. When the show is over, Maya is abruptly ready to go out because she feels dizzy to see such things. She cannot entertain such an exploitation of women. When she is watching, she identifies herself with them because she herself is a victim of the patriarchal society. But Gautama never accepts this view. He always perceives this through male perspectives. The different reactions by Gautama and Maya, regarding the show, also disclose their different perspectives. He does not know why Maya is anxious after watching the show. He thinks that she has a bad effect of that show because of her habit of attachment. Maya clearly detects the anguishes in their face: “None of them looked as though they were doing what they wanted to do. They all looked so sad to me – so terribly sad”. Maya thinks that their body and mind were fallen apart when they danced: Vigorously they pumped their long, muscled legs into the air, and soon they begin to pant with the effort. Their arms they held in positioned martialled into them by unimaginative teachers, but limpy, as though they were not conscious of that they had arms. The only portion of their anatomies of which two or three, at least appeared conscious, were their protrubent posteriors.

Maya realizes that females get exploited by male domination: “It is like passing seventy years of one’s life in a graveyard – being born in one, and dying in one. It’s a waste – a waste”. When Maya describes the audience on that show, she presents them as animals – especially as haunting wolves. Whenever, the paper hats of the dancers are thrown to audience, they pounce to get as if they are wolves: “Once they came out wearing little paper-sailor hat which they threw into the audience with wild catcalls that tingled down our spines as though they were the howls of praying wolves haunting in packs, in the darkening jungles”. Similarly, once she describes the audience again as animals. When somebody lights a spotlight over the audience it highlights the teeth that “greened animal- like, squirms and gesture betraying pleasurable and covert discomfort, it revealed in its band glow such a seething mass of pimps and lechers, of those who imagine they can offered an attitude of superiority over the poor and beats”.

Gautama has a different view than Maya. He articulates that the cabaret dances are as happy as they have the capacity for it: “And they’re as happy as they are capable of being happy”. He regards them as exhibitionists and their show as “exhibitionism”. He argues that the women are not considered exploited when they show their thighs and other parts of their body. He states that they are “merely physically aberrant women of small ambition who think it a compliment if a man leer at their thighs”. They show gratitude, as he thinks toward audience when they look at their thighs. He thinks men have the right to have such entertainment.

Indian society is a male dominated society. Everything is controlled and determined by the males in such society. In the society, women are identified with the male members of the family – either with father, brother and son or with husband. They have no independent personality. Graham Allen pints out the position of woman in patriarchy: “they live in a society regulated by a god-like male authority figure. Their lives, like the lives of colonial subjects, are inevitably fractured or divided. Seen as other, as mute, objectified and outside of discourse”. A woman’s well being is always connected to her affiliation with her family. If she cannot maintain the relationship, she feels totally lost, and that situation leads her to a serious mental problem. In Indian society, any woman without having any affiliation with man is always discarded, insulted and humiliated. Maya marries Gautama, much elder to her because her father chooses him for her. She thinks that her conjugal life would be happy but it proves to be wrong since it does not go smoothly. Due to the difference of family background, age, the temperament and mainly of the different attitudes on life, Maya finds it hard to live happily with the man. She always feels insulted, humiliated and discarded. She wants to talk with her husband about her problem but he does not communicate with her. For him, reading books and meeting his friends are more important than communicating with her.

Being childless, Maya develops much attachment for her pet dog Toto whose death makes her situation gets further worse and reflect her own loneliness suppressed by her: It was not pets death alone that I mounted today, but another sorrow, unremembered perhaps, as yet not even experienced, and filled me with despair”. She breaks down at Toto’s death: “saw its eyes open and staring still, screamed and rushed to the garden tap to wash the vision from eyes, continued to cry and ran defeated into the house”. Gautama considers the pet dog insignificant. He is unable to measure the intensity of Maya’s grief over Toto. Maya finds herself unable to bear with Gautama’s indifference towards Toto: “Oh, Gautama, pets might not mean anything to you, and yet they mean the world to me”. Maya feels that he is not concerned about her misery, her physical and psychology demands: “Engrossed in his busy schedule, Gautama continues to ignore Maya’s needs remaining callously immune even to her physical desires. This is how Maya usually suffers the agony of her unfulfilled desires”.

Maya has father-fixation, and shares a very affectionate relationship with her father. She from her childhood regards the world as “a toy specially made for her painted in her favorite colors and set to dance her favorite tunes”. She looks for the father image in her husband. When she fails to identify herself with her husband’s world, she feels being alienated from the affection that she received from her father: “As a child, I enjoyed, princes-like, a sumptuous fare of the fantasies of the Arabian Nights, the glories and bravado of Indian mythology, long and astounding roles of the princes and regal queens”. Gautama blames Maya’s father for her morbidity: “You have a very obvious father — obsession — which is also the reason why you married me, a man so much older than yourself. It is a complex that, unless you mature rapidly, you will not be able to deal with, to destroy”.

As fully dependent on Gautama, Maya cannot express her rage openly. Therefore, she suppresses her aggressive traits. She projects herself as a helpless, a childless woman, and sees her own body detached itself from her soul and “float away, to rest upon the dim mirror where I gaze upon it from a cool distance” (90). Rejected by her husband, Maya is torn between her love of life and her fear of death. She is stricken with the sense of loneliness and insecurity:

God, now I was caught in the net of the inescapable, and where lay the possibility Of mercy, of release? This net was no hallucination, . . .. Am I gone insane? Father! Husband! Who is my savior? 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, forget, rest. But, no, I’ll never sleep again. There is no rest any more — only death and waiting.

Maya realizes that there is no place for her in the world of Gautama. He neither understands her nor wishes her to enter his world: “On his part, understanding was scant, love was meager”. Maya turns insane, having failed to repair her marital life with Gautama. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar states: “Maya is at once the centre and the circumference of this world. Her sanity — whether she is sane, hysterical or insane fills the whole book and gives it form, as well as life”.

She is traumatized not because of her female sexuality but because of social conditioning that is the conscious or unconscious presupposition that males are superior to females. The internalized male values make women themselves involve in their own subordination. They also become the expression of conflicts between their traumatic experiences of being women and their internalized male values. Christopher O’ Reilly contends Desai’s importance is attributed to “her ability to convey the experience and generally restricted position of women in Indian society”.

Maya deviates herself from the prescribed gender roles of Patriarchal ideology. Her realization that she cannot be heard in the patriarchy and she has failed to win the love of her husband leads to her nervous breakdown, and she kills her husband. The murder of her husband is also the result of her fear generated by the Albino who forecasts that she will meet either her or her husband’s unnatural death after the four years of marriage. True to the title of the novel, like the peacock, Maya also cries for love, and she realizes that in a deadly struggle in her married life, either she or Gautama is destined to die. She chooses Gautama to die because of her passion for life. M. Mani Meitei comments: “Lack of mutual concerns leads to apathy which causes the total breakdown of husband-wife relationship”.

Thus, the novel tells of a traumatized woman who seeks a neurotic solution to free her from the patriarchy by killing her husband when she fails to win his love and her individuality. Her mental breakdown is the expression of her traumatic experiences caused by humiliation, and isolation imposed upon her by the patriarchy. Maya falls a prey to the male values imposed upon her and also internalized by her.

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