Feminine images in Anita Desai’s ‘Cry, The Peacock’

In Indian life and so in Indian fiction, role expectations are highly specific. Thus women's role in the family has remained multifarious. It is true that her complex psychological nature has endowed her with certain specific obligations. Despite quite radical changes, the status of women, more than that of man, is bound up with the traditional wife and mother role. "Ideal" housewife is the favourite image virtually moulded in the some fashion in all these novels. We find that service, sacrifice, submissiveness and tolerance are the qualities which come to them naturally. Excessive endurance. and the series of adjustments she makes is endless. Faithfulness and obedience expected of her. Anita Desai protested against monotony, drabness, injustice and humiliation. Her women refuse to be taken for granted and do complain against this condition. Largely the indo-Anglian novel depicts the paradise of husband, wife it gives us the miserable and pathetic account of the wife. The Independence had hardly made any change in the wife's plight. The only Cry "you do not understand me" fills her whole being with pain. The final and sublime role of the feminine image is in the words of Anand Coomar Swami "for everything feminine is of the mother and her womb is her life"(99) the strong maternal instincts essentially runs through the veins of every feminine heart in Indo-Anglian novels. Indian women normally exemplify self-sacrifice through selfverifies. The image of women as a mother is divine and unparalleled. Thus, the observation shows the main area of her influence and this image is so deep rooted that no Indo-Anglian writer can help ignoring it.

From the Vedic age, the birth of a son is a blessed favour. Anita Desai's women feel that they grow smaller everyday, trapped in a myth of the wife and the mother. They are, as Nayan Tara Sahagle says, "may be she had been an animal, only a nice obedient, domestic one seating on cushion, doing as she was told. And in return she had been felt and sheltered."(57) True, the new woman can be free and yet good at the same time is not acceptable. But when all is said and done the question arises whether these women are simple straw figure idealized and created only to project "the Indian image." Are they treated merely as vehicles to carry the writer's deliberate interpretation of the East and not as humans with real feelings? The answer is 'sadly' yes. They are merely types with stock situations made to entertain foreign audience. The obsession to justify Indianness forces them to be myth conscious.

It seems that a tradition with most of them is to go back in time in order to provide the desired model. Hence, the importance of mythology and legend even the very names Sita, Savitri, Gouri, Laxmi and Parwati are suggestive of their epic and mythic parallels to their names. And this impact of myth is mainly responsible for creating stereo typed characters. They are ideals rather than facts, shadows rather than actual living beings of flesh and blood, they do not question the terms and aims of their lives but pointed as models of virtue. Society speaks in them but they are not supposed to speak for themselves. Their mythological pomp and superlative politeness make them more as Goddess' without power rather than real women on the earth.

This confused, contradictory state of affairs brings forth two possibilities. Either the society itself is hollow and hypocrite as it treats women like dirt and yet glorifies her as a Goddess or the whole creation of Indo-Anglian novel stands to play to the tune of its Western readership and thus creates such stock situation with puppet feminine characters. There is, however, no need for pessimism, there is a change in the wind younger writer have already shown their capacity to project their dimensional women characters. Writers like Anita Desai have broken new ground. In their novels women is not a mere Goddess or a lifeless engine of propaganda. They pass through a process of transformation which signifies for them a change form bondage to freedom, from in decision to self-assertion and from weakness to strength. As against the revivalist tendency to glorify the ancient heritage, a reformist approach is adopted by them. Here, the women wish that they should be judged by an equitable standard and that man should rise above the prejudices of his sex. The need for self-discovery and self understanding is emphasized. Here we feel that Indo-Anglian fiction has taken bold strides. The charge of "cultural imperialism" levelled against the IndoAnglian writers thus stands considerably watered down. The gravity is shifting and the mythological haze will be removed to bring io bright sun sine.

R.K. Dhawan edited book ‘Anita Desai: The Indian Writers problems Explorations in Modern Indo-English Fiction’, Anita Desai rightly analyses her psychological feelings and she observes: "it has been my personal luck that my temperament and circumstances have combine to give me the shelter, privacy and solitude required for the writing of such novels, there by avoiding problems a more objective writer has to deal with since he depends upon observation rather than a private vision"(255) Her forte is the quest of sensibility and her writings expose inner realities and psychic echoes of her characters. The most recurrent theme in all her novels, as Raji Narasimhan remarks, are "the hazards and complexities of man-woman relationships, the bounding and nurturing of individuality and the establishing of individualism".(23) Anita Desai presents the plight of introspective hypersensitive women in her novels. She insists on analyzing her characters. A critic, in The Indian Journal of English Studies, in his critical assessment of Anita Desai's novels rightly remarks: "her novel is concerned with the emotional world of women, reviling a race imaginative awareness of various deeps forces at work and a profound understanding of feminine sensibility.”(81)

Mrs. Desai is representative of the present trend in Indian English fiction .she represents the creative release of the feminine sensibility which begins to emerge after the Second World War. Her novels present an exploration of the long will of a fractured soul. Maya, in Cry The Peacock is a spoilt and pampered daughter of a wealthy Brahmin and is married to Gautam, an older man, insensitive, pragmatic and a rational lawyer who fails to understand her sensitive nature. She suffers from father obsession and looks for the typical father image in her husband. She feels lonely as she is childless and loneliness proves to be the Borden of her psyche. Maya's tragedy is that there is no one to share her feelings. Temperamentally, they are opposed to each other. And to cop it all she is not even sexually satisfied. Gautam does not respond "to either the self, willing body or the lonely, wanting mind that waited near his bed." ( P.9) The ever widening gap in communication between the husband and the wife is noticed through out the novel. In her childhood, an Albino Astrologer has predicated that four years after her marriage, one of them would die. Maya is sensitive and highly disturbed. Reacting to the death of her pet dog, she rushes to the garden tap "to wash the vision from her eyes." (p.15) But her husband does not take it seriously and remains unaffected. Ultimately, Maya's psychic problems, aggravated by her infantilism, drive her to a kind of nervous break down. She describes herself as "body bethought heart, a heart bethought body" p. 196. Mrs. Desai' s Cry The Peacock is an externalization of the interior of Maya's sensibility.

The central theme of marital incoherence and its impact lays stress particularly on women. Maya and Gautam are the chief exponents who reveal this problem with emphasis and poignancy all around them. The title of this novel sensitively relates the spiritual pangs of Maya, the half-child, half-woman romantic heroin who identifies herself with the peacocks in the agony of ecstasy of their fatal love-experience. Their marriage is more or less a marriage of convenience as we can say a marriage of traditional bond. The central protagonists Maya reacts to everything in a way that indicates her final collapse in to insanity, feels everything with extraordinary sensuous and intensity. She rejects the detachment preached in the Gita, is a born artist and lives a life of pure but overwhelming sensation. She is devoted to her brother Arjun, a rebellious, nationalist and socialist who has left India to work in America, where he has joined the civil-rights movement. The contrast between her self-centered father and her socially conscious brother is agonizing to her sensitive involvement with both of them.

Maya, the heroine, unfolds the mystery of the feminine psyche in several ways and she has her own individual personality. She is brought out in a protected atmosphere and is unaware of the hard realities of life. Her husband, Gautam blames her father for her immaturity and inability to come to turns with the reality of lives. Though Gautam takes care of Maya and loves her in his own way yet Maya is not satisfied and happy. She thinks that Gautam never cares for her and is indifferent to her. The novel begins with the death of Maya's pet dog Toto. This worsens the situation and takes on a serious turn. This event upsets Maya and she loses her mental balance. Being childless, she is very much attached to the dog and it appears that the dog is a child substitute. Maya is highly emotional and mystical due to the death of Toto. Gautam, a practical man, takes this event easy and tries to console her wife in his own way and promises that he would bring another dog for her. The death of Toto may be trivial for Gautam, a rational and professionally busy man, but it matters a lot to Maya. Though they live together, yet, as a matter of fact, Gautam knows very little about her. In order to console her he offers a cup of tea bethought realizing Maya's agonies. Here we notice that without any ill intension on the part of either Gautam or Maya, tragedy takes place. Maya as the representative of 'feminine psyche' is hurt to the core when Gautam dismisses her grief at Toto's death, and does .not seek to be as serious as Maya.

The death motif is built skillfully in to the theme of the novel. Toto's death brings to Maya's mind a premonition. of some impending tragedy. Maya's life becomes worlds and worse with the passage of time. She loses control over herself, turns insane and kills her husband. But being a cultured Hindu woman she suffers from the guilt and remorse for killing her husband and in spite of her rationalization and in the end she kills herself. Maya's tragic story may be the story of any woman, anywhere in the world. It is the story of a Hindu woman whose religious cultural roots are deep, Prabhat Kumar Reddy a reputed critic, rightly says that "Maya's tragedy is that there is no one to share her feelings, childless with an uncaring husband, she is lonely and loneliness is the burden of her psyche.” The sexual starvation presents another foilto Maya who is internally shattered, this is because of this may need she becomes sad. Ultimately this insatiable physical hunger finds expression in an act of delicate violence. The novelist keeps the prophecy of death alive through out the novel. The cry which ominously suggests the ecstasy of love has the finality of death ..

The other female characters in the novels are Pom and Laila who are Maya's friends. Pom moves away from her in-laws with her husband but does not get satisfied in getting peace. She is the typical culturally uprooted woman of India, who swarms the big cities. Another woman in the novel is Maya's friend Laila who has marriaed a tubercular man against the wishes of her parents. Her attitude towards life is fatalistic. The two friends of Maya are two different'women but fatalism is common to Maya and Laila. The novel is typically feminine novel, a novel of sensibility rather than of action. It has the 'quality of an orchid and of a flout about it. It is concerned mostly with the terrors of existence.

Anita Desai's treatment of feminism is different in the sense that her protagonists are generally not rebellious in nature, rather they suffer and suffer only to learn how to encounter with the harsh reality of life. Like the tragic heroes of Shakespeare, her female characters learn by suffering.


The Indian Journal of English Studies 33 (1995): 81.
Desai, Anita. Cry, the Peacock. Orient Paperback, 1980. Reprint.
Dhawan, R. K., ed. Anita Desai: The Indian Writers Problems in Exploration in Modern Indo-English Fiction. New Delhi: Bahri, 1982.
Narsimhan, Raji. Sensibility Under Stress. New Delhi: Asha Janak Prakashan, 1976. Print.
Panday, P.K. "The Lovely Voyage: Feminine Psyche In Cry The Peacock." Indian Women Novelist, Volume- Third. Ed. R.K. Dhawan. Prestige Books Publication, 1991. 83.


Hasmukh J. Patel
Assistant Professor (English)
Gujarat Commerce College (Morning),


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