"Clothes” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Essay
954 WordsMay 26th, 20084 Pages
The short store “Clothes” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is about a young Indian woman, Sumita, and her cultural transition to America that is symbolized by her clothes and the color of her clothes. The traditional Indian attire for a woman is a sari and each one has its own purpose. Her clothes also indicate her progression from daughter, to wife, to woman.
The story starts off with the bride to be in a yellow sari preparing to meet her future husband by bathing in a lake. She describes the yellow sari as a sunflower after rain. Yellow here could possible signify new times to come or peace. The bath she was taking is relaxing her to the idea that she is about to marry a man she has not even met, as well as the thought of losing her…show more content…
[talk about Indian tradition and beliefs about Indian women becoming Americanized]
In some countries white signifies purity and cleanliness. In others it is the color of royalty or deities. Sumita’s husband owns a 7-11 store in California. He is constantly having to work the night shift to try to earn extra money so that they can move out on their own. One night he is held at gun point and shot to death. To mourn his death Sumita wears a white sari.
During the mourning of his death they perform a bangle breaking ceremony. [talk about the ceremony and what It means] They break the bangles that are on Sumita’s arm and send multi-colored shards flying all over the room and on the sheet that her husband lies under. The multi-colored shards might represent the fact that right now her life has shattered like the bracelets and she is scattered in a place that she is not familier with.
You can now tell that Sumita has become pretty Americanized compared to when she first arrived in the United States. For instance, she is talking about getting an education and working in a school teaching in front of a classroom of blond kids in her cream-and-brown American dress. She is beginning to make more decisions on her own and step away from her beliefs. Here the color cream and the color brown are making her feel more americanized. If you are to go back a few paragraphs when her husband first bought the skirt and
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The story starts with the unnamed narrator, a child of 7 of undisclosed sex, coming to a realization that his/her mother is being abused by his father, a foreman in Rashbihari Printing Press. She would cry while the narrator would be sleeping and he/she would pretend to sleep for she would smother him/her with a hug. She began to get visible wounds and would lie about the source. One day, the mother stealthily leaves in the middle of night to Gopalpur for her uncle, all the while telling the narrator that they were leaving for a vacation. The grandpa-uncle, as the narrator calls him, is a custodian to the orchards of a zamindar (wealthy land-owner). He shelters them and the narrator begins to like him immensely.
One day, a horde of bats attack a mango grove. The uncle uses poison but the bats keep coming despite the dead bodies. The uncle says that, something keeps them bringing back. Eventually, they stop coming. The narrator and the uncle go fishing in a huge pond to celebrate. They find a ring in the gut of a fish, with runes from a strange language. The uncle says it belongs to a wizard and has the power to fulfill every wish. When the return, the mother informs them of father’s apology and of his request to come back. Despite narrator’s resistance, they leave. The uncle gives the narrator the ring on the platform as they are leaving. When they return, the father continues to abuse both of them. They have to flee multiple times, but the mother always insists on coming back. The narrator takes care to not lose the ring amidst these wanderings. One day, the ring gets left behind as they leave in haste. When the narrator gets back to look for it, he can’t find it.
Sumita is being prepped by her friends for bride-viewing, a custom when the prospective groom and his family come to see and judge a girl as worthy of being a bride. Her friends have been rejected multiple times because of their complexion. She is apprehensive about the whole situation as the groom’s family lives in California and her parents are trying hard to get the match fixed. She is excited about the new heavily embellished and expensive saris in her bridal trousseau. After her marriage, she discovers her husband, Sumesh, is a patient and loving person contrary to her expectations. He works at a store which is not doing well presently. They begin to save for their own apartment as he wants her to have more freedom and pursue a teaching course, while she wants to work at the store, which she can’t do as this would be disrespectful to her in-laws. He often buys American clothes for her which she doesn’t wear in front of her in-laws. One day, as he is working the graveyard shift, he is shot at the store in a robbery and dies. She has to wear colorless clothes now to signify her widowhood. It is also evident that she has to go back to India with her in-laws and stay with them her entire life being the dutiful daughter-in-law, but she decides to stay in America and run the store as she dreamt.
Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs
Jayanti Ganguli, a rich aristocrat family’s daughter is excited to go to America to study. She is to stay with an aunt, Pratima, who has been much coveted for marrying an NRI businessman. When she arrives she is disappointed by their shabby house and neighborhood. She is also wary of her uncle, Bikram, who seems to only hate the country and who she feels is trying to brainwash her ideas. She thinks her aunt is not happy in her marriage- her jewels are gone, she is always working in the kitchen, she is always on edge, looks worried. The day after her arrival, Jayanti convinces her aunt to take a walk around the neighborhood. Jayanti is happy to explore the snowy streets till they get lost. They run into a gang of children who make racist marks and attack them with slush which gives her aunt some minor wounds. They find their street soon and the aunt becomes agitated when she is unable to find the keys to her apartment. The uncle arrives soon after and is angry with the aunt to leave the house and slaps her. Jayanti wonders how to save her aunt from further assault when she finds the uncle crying bemoaning his lost fortune in the country and the aunt consoling him. Jayanti is confused on this newly discovered layer in an abusive marriage. She wonders if her fate would be the same. Eventually, the illusion she had about America fades.
The Word Love
The unnamed narrator is living-in-sin with an American man while she is studying in college. Her mother is very strict and foreboding and she lives in constant terror of her. Her mother, a widow, is very particular on the conduct of a good girl. She had the narrator sit a whole day outside her house and seemingly threw her clothes-filled bags outside the house to teach her daughter a lesson when the daughter dared to go to movies. The narrator receives weekly calls from her mother and is paranoid that her mother would call her randomly to check on her. So, she doesn’t allow her boyfriend to receive the calls. Her boyfriend seems to be jealous of her dependence on her mother or unable to understand the fear she has of her mother. Slowly, she relaxes and has her partner receive her calls sometimes.
One day, her mother calls and her boyfriend receives it. Her mother disowns her for bringing shame to the family. The mother stops receiving her calls and letters and eventually gets the number changed. Her relatives desert her and her partner is unable to understand her anguish. She is depressed and suicidal. She remembers a tale her mother told her once of a peasant’s daughter who was let ‘too free’ by the peasant. As a result, she gets pregnant from a promiscuous relationship and commits suicide. The peasant had to leave the village out of shame brought upon him by his daughter. The narrator decides to commit suicide but takes a walk first. During a walk, she has an epiphany and decides to leave both her mother and boyfriend to start a new life with no judgments.
A Perfect Life
Meera has a perfect life, a great apartment, a good job and a loving boyfriend. She is frequently cajoled by her mother to marry. She believes marriage to be an excuse to have kids and she is not interested in kids and is repulsed by them. One day, as she is leaving for a morning jog, she discovers a boy of sevem, seemingly Mexican, hiding under the staircase in her building. She takes the boy in and keeps him for several days. At first, she finds him difficult and even violent but he slowly begins to trust her and even follow her instructions. They can’t talk due to language barriers, but he understands her enough to perform his daily chores. They begin to live like a mother and son. Finally, on the advices of her boyfriend Richard and friend Sharmila, she decides to adopt Krishna, as she had begun to call him. While she awaits her foster parent certificate, she has to leave Krishna with another foster parent on the advice of her counselor. They have a tearful separation, and while Krishna turns violent, Richard has to almost drag Meera out of the place. Krishna escapes from his new foster home never to be found again. Meera grows inconsolable and her relationship with Richard starts falling apart as she feels him to be inconsiderate. She keeps on searching for Krishna. It takes a year for Meera to get over the phase. She and Richard decide to marry but not to have any children. She can’t bear the ache of being a mother anymore.
The Maid Servant’s Story
Manisha is having a conversation with her aunt Deepa, about a boy Bijoy she likes but who doesn’t wants to get married. Her aunt and mother are disappointed and worried over this. The aunt begins her to tell her a story when the conversation moves to a saffron wedding sari.
A household had an educated wife to a very rich family, an old aunt and a little daughter. When the wife is pregnant with the second child, she calls for her sister to help with household chores. Her sister is happy to be there. One day, the wife allows a vagabond woman to be employed as her handmaid against everyone’s wishes, but the handmaid, Sarala, proves to be quite proficient. The wife then decides to educate her, again against everyone’s wishes. She decides to gift Sarala an old but beautiful and expensive sari of saffron color. The sari drew everyone’s attention, including the husband, as well as jealousy of other servants. The wife’s health weakens and Sarala goes to a temple to pray for her. Her mother, who had been pimping her, follows her to the mansion and asks her to be let off. Sarala pleads asylum from a life of prostitution, which leads the sister to turn the mother away who threatens to bring a mob to destroy the mansion. The sister is then shifted to a hospital. That night, the sister observes the husband trying to force himself on Sarala. Sarala turns him out. The next day, a mob descends on the mansion and vandalizes the driveway and wounds the sister, which leads to the husband asking Sarala to go away. The wife comes and is unhappy to find Sarala gone. A year later, as the family is driving to a party incidentally through a neighborhood popular for prostitutes, the wife is rejoiced to find Sarala. Sarala however shows no sign of recognition and spits on the wife’s outstretched hand. When the return, the wife has the servants burn the saffron sari that Sarala had left behind. Manisha then realizes that this is her mother’s story and that her late father had been a philanderer despite a beautiful and educated wife.
The unnamed narrator’s wife disappeared when she was out on an evening walk. He is surprised that she has not been found but not too upset. He had wanted a girl who would be slightly educated (so as not to be ashamed by her illiteracy), but not too much lest she be westernized. He is new to the idea of a woman to have her own mind, like his wife, which resulted in him marrying her. They have a son soon after. He likes her qualities as quietness, which he thinks must be present in a dutiful wife but not so her wish for further education or western clothes. He pressurizes her into sex, feeling if she is refusing, she’s being modest and if she doesn’t scream, she is not being hurt. Soon, he calls her mother to come to America who is only happy to be there for his son. The household continues as if the wife was never present. The mother and son put away her pictures and clothes, perform a death ritual and plan for his second marriage. One day, incidentally, the husband discovers some jewels to be missing. Worried by his new ideas, he checks his vault in his bank and finds his wife’s wedding jewelry to be missing implying she had left him. He burns her pictures out of spite and marries an uneducated girl who would appreciate his comforts. But, he keeps on wondering why she hated him so much that she decided to leave her son and the comfortable life.
Preeti, an NRI student, and Deepak, an immigrant, decide to marry out of love but their families are worried that Deepak would be orthodox and Preeti would be westernized respectively. They marry anyway and seem to have a perfect life till Deepak’s friend Raj comes to stay with them. Preeti like to keep doors closed while Deepak likes them open. Raj is unaware of this setup and doesn’t seem to understand the concept of privacy. He refuses to sleep in the guest bedroom for fear of imposition and his habits of barging everywhere annoys Preeti, while Deepak seems to be molding in Raj’s tune. She becomes overworked, overwhelmed and her work is affected. She rebukes Raj one day when he barges on her. Subsequently, Deepak asks him to leave to avoid him anymore humiliation. When Deepak observes Preeti packing her bags as well, he tells her that she belongs in his house. They sleep in different beds for the first time and Preeti realizes that a door has closed inside her.
Anju and Runu are cousins anticipating the results of their pregnancies. Anju, belonging to an affluent family is married to Sunil, an NRI, while Runu, belonging to a modest household, is married in a large family to an employee of Indian Railways. Anju believes that Runu’s in-laws are too demanding but Runu has always dreamt of this. Sunil is supportive of Anju but she feels that his love is more for the mother of his child than for his wife. Anju is happy to discover that her baby is a healthy boy while Runu’s in-laws are pressurizing her to abort the baby as it’s a girl. Runu escapes from her in-laws to Anju’s mother as Anju asks her to, but Sunil is not supportive of the action and feels that abortion might be good for her as Runu can never escape the clutches of the stereotypical Indian society and will have no financial support. Anju is repulsed to hear Sunil’s opinions, but begins to plan Runu’s rehabilitation as a financially independent woman with Sunil’s help, deciding to use the status of her motherhood as a leverage.
Abha and Ashok are in an arranged marriage which has turned toxic. He loves to pain her mentally, and chides her for being stereotypical. He tells her of her best friend, Meena being in an affair which shocks her. Abha disapproves of her western ways and her disdain of her husband Srikant. Ashok won’t tell Abha of Meen’s secret lover which makes Abha to suspect Ashok. That night, Abha questions her Indian values of abhorring sex for pleasure. She dreams of Ashok and Meena having sex. Next day, in a party, she watches Meena and Ashok dancing provocatively and is upset. When she goes on a business lunch, she is surprised on enjoying the attention she gets from the editor of the magazine she writes for. While returning, she buys a sexy nightdress and parades before Ashok who chides for competing with Meena. The next day, she wears the same dress and incidentally Srikant arrives. He breaks the news of his impending divorce and seems to admire her. He asks her what she will do after the divorce making her sure of Ashok’s involvement with Meena. Next day, she confronts Meena who tells her of her American lover and their plans to marry. As she describes her broken marriage, Abha’s morals about the ideal marriage dissolve as she can relate to Meena’s story. When she gets back, she decides to leave Ashok.
Asha, a divorcee, living with her son, Dinesh, in a dysfunctional relationship is still coming to terms with her broken marriage. She stops cooking as she feels the task to be mundane now. She has tried to be a perfect wife and mother all her life. Her friend Mrinalini calls to meet her after a long time. Mrinalini was against marrying early and in an arrangement instead of love. She went on to become a career woman, and seems to have a perfect life. Abha lies about her divorce and son saying that her husband and son are not available. Dinesh chides her for not being good enough for her and Asha ends up slapping him which leads him to avoid her for several days. When Asha goes to meet Mrinalini, she lies about her life and says she is a happy wife and mother. Mrinalini breaks down and reveals her loneliness and longing for a life as Asha’s. When Asha reaches her home, Asha realizes that perfection is a mirage. She parks her car in the garage and leaves the engine running in an attempt to kill her from poisonous fumes. However, she has a change of the heart in the last moment and runs out of the garage where Dinesh finds her and figures out her attempt to commit suicide. As an attempt to make up with her son, she cooks pistachio milk, which they have as they talk properly for the first time in many days.
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