The short story “The Disappearance” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni basically is about an Indian man who lived in America. At first, he married an educated Indian girl. However, she, unlike her husband, did not have a traditional mindset. She eventually left him, and this was something which he could not accept. He started to recall the times when she was with him. He was in a state of denial that his wife could possibly leave him when he thought he had been good to him, and that he had done enough to satisfy her.
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However, this was not the case. His wife wanted a modern husband – one who would let her have her say, and not only bringing her to Yosemite Park. He tried to forget about her, but he could not do so. He then came across a light old tea tin which she used to put her jewelry in. In his deep conscious mind, he knew that something was wrong in their marriage, although it seemed perfectly fine on the surface. He went to bank to find all her jewelry gone, but she did not take anything which was not hers.
Reality slapped him in the face – he realized that she had really left him. Sad and humiliated, he remarried a simple and uneducated woman who would never be anything like his first wife – a modern woman with a need for say and equality. Before moving on to the analysis of the short story, one needs at least some background knowledge about the author to fully understand what compelled him or her to write a story. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was born in Kolkata, India.
She went to the United States for her graduate studies, receiving a Master’s degree in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She also has a Ph. D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Most of her works are set in India and the United States, and the focus of her stories are often on the experiences of South Asian immigrants. She held many oddjobs to continue studying, including babysitting and working in the dining hall of the International House where she lived before.
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She also serves in organisations that help South Asian or South Asian American women who find themselves in abusive or domestic violence situations (Creative Writing program at the Universityof Houston, and the Advisory board of Maitri in the San Francisco Bay Area and Daya in Houston), and helps educate underprivileged children in India (the board of Pratham). Here, we can see why she writes mostly on stories based in India and the United States. We can also say that the influence of their culture has brought some impact to Divakaruni’s short story “The Disappearance” which portrays some aspects of feminism and culture of both the traditional Indian and the modern society of the West. Knowing the theory used in the story is also instrumental. Feminist criticism examines the ways in which literature reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social and psychological oppression of women. This paper is about the analysis of the short story “The Disappearance” using Feminist theory. This short story reinforces the oppression of women economically, socially and psychologically. The main theme of the story is about the delicate balance that is necessary in a marriage.
In “The Disappearance”, the coming together of two different individuals caused a clash in expectations for both the husband and the wife. The husband had high expectations of his wife, wanting her to be dutiful and obedient, but also educated at the same time. This is absurd as most women who are educated would not be submissive to their husbands. On the other hand, the wife wanted to pursue her own dreams. She thought by marrying an Indian man living in America, she would get a husband who has a more modern mindset. However, this was not the case.
All she got for a husband was exactly that – an Indian living in America, but still with a traditional way of thought. In short, it was traditional marriage which the husband wanted versus modern marriage which the wife strived for. Marriage should be a mutual agreement between two individuals, and both should be equal in terms of say and rights. However, in this short story, the husband had most of the say in things. For instance, his wife wanted to wear American clothes, but he insisted that she wore Indian clothing. He also objectified both his first and second wives as trophies.
He had many expectations of his first wife at first – he described his ideal type of woman as if she were an object subject to his likeness. This is proved by the quotes in the short story, “If you can find me a quiet, pretty girl, he wrote, not brash, like Calcutta girls are nowadays, not with too many Western ideas” and “But she had to be smart, at least a year of college, someone he could introduce to his friend with pride”. His way of putting it makes it clear that he viewed his wife as a prize or trophy which he could be proud of and show off to his friends.
After his first wife left him, again he had specific “requirements” that needed to be fulfilled in looking for a second wife. This time, he wanted a simple and uneducated woman. This main theme here reinforces feminist criticism in the way that women were viewed as objects rather than individuals, especially in this story where the society is patriarchal, and that the women were expected to obey and give precedence to their husbands. The sub theme of “The Disappearance” is the duties of women as wives.
The women work as full-time housewives. The first wife was economically oppressed. This can be seen from the quote “Once in a while, he had to put his foot down, like when she wanted to get a job or go back to school or buy American clothes”. The husband denied the wife of the opportunity to hold a job and hence, she did not have the chance to support herself financially. She was also oppressed psychologically because she was restricted and could not live the life she wanted even though they were living in a free country.
She eventually escaped and left behind the only product of their marriage which she really loved – her son. This must be a hard decision for a mother to leave her child behind, but we can say that she is not entirely irresponsible. This is because chances of her child growing up normally like his peers would be unlikely if they were to be in hiding everyday. By leaving her son behind, the wife could ensure that he would be taken care of, at least financially, by her husband.
She could not guarantee that for her child given the circumstances she would be facing by escaping from her husband. So, this point here reinforces Feminist criticism. However, there is also a quote in the story which undermines Feminist criticism. “She’d been out for her evening walk, she took one every day after he got back from the office. Yes, yes, always alone, she said that was her time for herself”. Here, we can see that the wife was allowed to go for a walk every evening. She was not really restricted to be at home 24/7. This point here then undermines Feminist criticism.
Besides that, the characters can also show us whether the short story reinforces or undermines Feminist criticism. There are two main characters in “The Disappearance”, which are the husband and the first wife. The husband was one who had a traditional mindset. This is different from his wife who had a modern way of thinking. This caused them to have a clash in expectations, and such a matter would most likely affect the delicate balance in a marriage. Even though he loved his first wife dearly, he was blind to her interests and needs, resulting in her escape later.
The quote “But he always softened his no’s with a remark like, What for, I’m here to take care of you, or, You look so much prettier in your Indian clothes, so much more feminine” shows us that he made decisions for his wife despite what she wanted, denied her freedom, and that he viewed women as weak creatures who had to be dependent on men. He also domestically abused his wife. “He was always careful not to hurt her, he prided himself on that. And he always told himself he’d stop if she really begged him, if she cried.
After some time, though, she would quit struggling and let him do what he wanted. But that was nothing new. ” Here, we see how the husband was insensitive of his wife’s feelings and needs. The wife needed something – something more than sex. She had learned to quit resisting and only meeting her husband’s needs, only because she knew that resisting would not do her any good. She was subjugated, and her feelings were not taken into account at all. Moving on to the next character, which is the first wife, we can see that she was economically and psychologically oppressed by her husband.
The husband should not have the right to deny her of opportunity to further her studies or to get a job. However, he denied her of both. She was also forced to leave her son behind because she had made her decision – to be free of her ever-controlling husband. These oppressions had caused their marriage to lose its balance when two individuals are not equal – that one dominated the other. The first wife was also someone with a modern and progressive mindset, as opposed to her husband’s which was more traditional.
This led to conflicts as she was merely a decoration – something for the husband to be proud of, like a trophy he brought home. Thus, she had to suffer psychologically not only from the treatment her husband gave her, but also from leaving her son behind after she decided to leave for good. These points here show the reinforcement of Feminist criticism, although one could say that the point where the wife decided to leave her husband oppresses Feminist criticism because she was still strong enough to make decisions on her own and to leave her family behind in pursue of her own dreams.
As a conclusion, the short story “The Disappearance” shows us both the reinforcement and the oppression of Feminist theory, but the reinforcement of the theory is more obvious and portrayed through the oppressions faced by the main character, the first wife, whether emotionally, physically or mentally. As future teachers, it is our job to educate the younger generation so that they are aware of such oppressions and that they can stand up for their rights and fight for justice when necessary. Women should not be oppressed in any way because they can contribute as much to the country as the men can.See More on Gender