A Crisis of Consciousness and Values in Anita Desai’s Select Novels

P.F. Patil


            Anita Desai’s concern is largely with “the enduring human condition” which is commonly faced by the middleclass Indian women. She has raised a genuine question of a crisis of consciousness and values which has an universal significance . Through this question, she has established a meaningful pattern of values which include love, loyalty, compassion, sensitivity, righteousness, trust, a sense of realization etc. which help sustain the human spirit.

Her major women characters like Maya, Monisha, Sita, Bim, Lila, Nanda Kaul, Ila Das in Cry, the Peacock, Voices in the City, Where Shall We Go This Summer ? Clear Light of Day, Village by the Sea and Fire on the Mountain respectively have an elemental guest which is the guest of human being in general to understand human being’s predicament through the above mentioned human values. Her novels explicitly reveal her intimate involvement in Indian social and cultural situations existing after nineteen-sixty. Indian women after this period seem to be constantly becoming conscious of their individual rights and roles as well as human values. Her focus of interest in all her illustrated novels lies in the portrayal of an inner states of mind rather than holding up the mirror to society.

In her Where Shall We Go This Summer ? Her characters – Sita , Deedar, Moses and Miriam suffer from the crisis of faith which is closely related to human survival and his/her dignified adjustment in society. These characters tremble because their values and beliefs are in danger. Question remains before them – where shall they go? Because the citadel of consciousness and values has almost crumbled. The cruel forces of money, machines, automations, deception, violence have  resulted in distrust, divorce, rape, illicit sex and emotional and psychological breakdowns. Nobody feels secure even mothers feel scared of giving birth to their children in such a chaotic social and cultural situations. Crisis of consciousness and values leads to gradual decline in faith which means a total collapse of culture and civilization. Civilization based on perverted vision, sychofancy, violence, incest, robbery etc. is no better than a prison. Sita’s [the protagonist of the abovecited novel] survival, her existence, her adjustment are symbolical of the entire humanity. Self – preservation , self – improvement are most human but these occur provided we have genuine faith in our Creator.

The theme of a crisis of consciousness and values is not a passing reference but a recurrent , a pervading strain in Anita Desai’s novels. Her Fire on the Mountain deals with the detrimental effects of a stifling home environment upon the tender psyche of Nanda Kaul, Ila Das and a young child Raka. Nanda Kaul, days and nights works as a dutiful housewife and dutiful mother, but her pleasure loving husband, Mr . Kaul, the Vice –chancellor of the University has nothing to do with her private self and her relationship with her children are not intimate either. Her suffocation and weariness are caused by her pleasure loving husband and indifferent children.

Her Voices in the City is a tale of struggle by men and women of Calcutta for higher and sophisticated life. Calcutta is a “City of Death”. It is a city of crowds and beggars with hidden violence and anger which reveal themselves in cruel murders and crimes. Men and women living in the city aspire for a life, full of values but in vain. They experience a crisis of consciousness and values. In her Clear of Light of Day, Bim, the protagonist of the novel cherishes values as clear than anything else. But indifference and ungratefulness of the close relatives hurt her sensitive mind deeply.

            Anita Desai’s sympathy is with the suffering of humanity. Her moral and psychological proinquities are with  George Eliot’s rather than with Jane Auten’s and Emile Bronte’s. Her vision of life is steady and whole, not fragmented and punctured. She delights to see human consciousness intact and his/her life whole and untainted despite all odds and discomforts.

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Primary Sources

 Anita Desai, Where Shall We Go This Summer? New Delhi, Orient Paperbacks 1982

 Anita Desai, Fire on the Mountain, New Delhi, Allied Publishers, Pvt. Ltd 1977

 Anita Desai, The Village by the Sea, New Delhi, Publishers, Pvt. Ltd 1982

 Anita Desai, Voice in the City, New Delhi, Orient Paperbacks 1982

 Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day, New Delhi, Allied Publishers, Pvt. Ltd 1980

Secondary Sources

 F H Heinemann, Existentialism and Modern Predicament, London, Adam and Charles Block, 1953, P- 178

 Anita Desai’s, Statement in James Vinson, ed. Contempory Novel, London, St. James Press, 1972, P-348

 Meena Belliappa, Anita Desai : A Study of Her Fiction, Calcutta, Writers Workshop,1971, P-1

 Yashodhara Dalmiya, An Interview with Anita Desai” The Times of India, P-13

 Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach.


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