"Point of View" refers to the system of beliefs, values and categories by reference to which a person or a society comprehends the world, while in a narrative text, point of view refers to the set of values, or belief system, communicated by the language of the text. A novel, for example, gives an interpretation of the world it represents, a fact that is central to the interpretative descriptions offered by literary critics. It also establishes a broad division between third-person and first-person narratives. In a third-person narrative, the narrator is someone outside the story proper who refers to all the characters in the story by name, or as "he," "she," "they." In a first-person narrative, the narrator speaks as "I," and is himselflherself to a greater or lesser degree. He/she also becomes a participant in the story. In the novels written by women writers, the stories are always presented from a female perspective. The choice of an exclusively female point of view is bound to have effects on the presentation of the social order and its participants. It is not the story that undermines the patriarchal system, but the discourse with its implied modifications of the order of the action. This relationship between story and discourse helps to elucidate the dichotomy between the established patriarchal family system and the envisaged matriarchal order.
In narratology, the narrative voice seems to be a crucial though circumscribed term, designating tellers of narrative. According to Gerard Genette, "even in the most unobtrusive narrative, someone is speaking to me, is telling me a story, is inviting me to listen to it as he [sic] tells it" (101). When feminists talk about the narrative voice, it usually refers to the behaviour of actual or fictional persons and groups who assert womencentred points of view by resorting to any type of narrative strategy. Thus feminists may speak of a literary character who resists patriarchal pressures as "finding a narrative voice" whether or not that voice is represented textually. When narrative theorists talk about the narrative voice or narration it is usually concerned with formal structures and not with the causes, ideologies or social implications of particular narrative practices. With a few exceptions, feminist criticism does not ordinarily consider the technical aspects of narration, and narrative poetics does not ordinarily consider the social properties and political implications of narrative voice. Lanser in her Fictions of Authority states:
Formalist poetics may seem to feminists naively empiricist, masking ideology as objective truth, sacrificing significance for precision, incapable of producing distinctions that are politically meaningful. Feminist criticism may seem tonarratologists naively subjectivist, sacrificing precision for ideology, incapable of producing distinctions that are textually meaningful. (5)
As a narratological term, "narrative voice" may attend to the specific forms of textual practice and avoid the essentialising tendencies of its more casual feminist usages. As a political term, it may rescue textual study from a formalist isolation that often treats literary events as if they were inconsequential to human history. When these two approaches to "narrative voice" converge in what Mikhail Bakhtin and P. N. Medvedev has called a "sociological poetics" (30), it becomes possible to see narrative technique not simply as a product of ideology but as ideology itself. Raymond Williams in his Marxism and Literature observes that "narrative voice, situated at the juncture of social position and literary practice, embodies the social, economic and literary conditions under which it has been produced" (179). Both narrative structures and women's writing are determined by complex and changing conventions that are themselves produced in and by the relations of power that implicate writer, reader and text. Susan Sniader Lanser in Fictions of Authority states that "the works of materialists like Fredric Jameson and even Bakhtin, which have been so enthusiastically embraced by critics working with 'marginal' discourses, are androcentric in both their textual canon and their assumptions about literature" (6). The exploration of narrative strategies in women's writings may, in turn, challenge the categories and postulates of narratology, since the canon on which narrative theory is grounded has been relentlessly if not intentionally man-made. Hence this study is an attempt to explore certain configurations of the narrative strategies adopted in some of the novels written by Bharati Mukherjee,Shashi Deshpande, Suniti Namjoshi and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
In thus linking social identity and narrative form, I am postulating that the authority of a given voice or text is produced from a conjunction of social and rhetorical properties. Lanser states in Fictions of'Authority:
Discursive authority, which can also be interpreted as intellectual credibility, ideological validity, and aesthetic value claimed by or conferred upon a work, author, narrator, character, of textual practice--is produced interactively; it must therefore be characterised with respect to specific receiving communities. (6)
Lanser mentions another type of narrative voice called the "communal voice," which means a spectrum of practices that articulate either a collective voice or a collective of voices that share narrative authority. Because the dominant culture has not employed communal voice to any perceptible degree, and because distinctions about voice have been based primarily on the features of this dominant literature, there has been no narratological terminology for communal voice or for its various technical possibilities. According to Lanser, "it is a practice in which narrative authority is invested in a definable community and textually inscribed either through multiple, mutually authorizing voices or through the voice of a single individual who is manifestly authorised by a community" (Fictions of Authority 21).
In most of the works of Suniti Namjoshi, she can be said to be making use of collective protagonists. The use of the collective protagonist may imply that problems or issues that one sees as individually based are in fact social in cause and in cure. In the novel The Mothers of Maya Diip, motherhood is celebrated and a new social structure is created through this utopian presentation, unlike the patriarchal society where women are always considered as "nurturers of the young, and are relegated to a subordinate position" (247). The matriarchal society presented seems to be a kind of androgynous society to the extent that in the three parts of the novel, the characters adopt various roles that do not accord with sex or gender. Namjoshi in The Mothers of Maya Diip envisions a community of equals.
Lanser further distinguishes three possibilities that result from various confluences of social ideology with changing conventions of narrative technique: a singular form in which one narrator speaks for a collective, a simultaneous form in which a plural "we" nanates, and a sequential form in which individual members of a group narrate in turn. This communal mode seems to be primarily a phenomenon of marginal or suppressed communities. Although it is possible to represent female community without communal voice, it is dificult to construct communal voice without constructing female community. Communal voice thus shifts the text away ftom individual protagonists and personal plots, calling into question the heterosocial contract that has defined woman's place in fiction. These realized communal forms which exist in the singular, sequential and simultaneous modes suggest the political possibilities of constitutinga collective female voice through narrative. At the same time, communal voice might be the most insidious fiction of authority, for in most cultures it is nearly always the creation of a single author appropriating the power of a plurality.
Suniti Namjoshi endows her women characters with voices that had so far been denied to them. She gives them a brain that can think beyond home, children and maniage. Namjoshi uses the technique of fantasy, and the kind of fantasy employed by her may be broadly termed "feminist fantasy"-- fantasy that is made use of by feminists as a suitable vehicle to explore the various themes of feminism. Making use of only female characters she presents from a feminine perspective an egalitarian society where women have an independent status.
In the novel, The Mothers of Maya Diip, the writer has envisaged a matriarchal set up devoid of the male species and has succeeded in creating an 'utopian' state in the island of Maya. In depicting a perfect matriarchal set up in the novel the author is in reality satirizing the patriarchal society using the technique of fantasy. It is an entertaining novel in three parts. This entertainer depicts the Blue Donkey, "the brilliantly imagined" character of the fables, setting off on an adventure to the principality of Maya. "Of all the princely states of India, 'there was one in which a matriarchy bloomed unashamedly"' (5). The Mothers ofMaya Diip in presenting the celebration of motherhood is trying to create a new social structure through this utopian presentation. Recently, there has been a radical shift in the theorization of motherhood and mothering in feminist thought, and so a new generation of feminists has now emerged, a generation which has to confront the task of reconciling maternal time (motherhood) with linear (political and historical) time. This positive attitude helps the feminists torecognize the potential for pleasure and self-fulfilment inherent in the bearing and rearing of children, without viewing it as a form of drudgery which keeps women tied to home thereby preventing their active participation in the public sphere. It is in accordance with this view that the majority of women today see the possibilities for fulfilment, at least to a large degree, in bringing a child into the world. Julia Kristeva in her essay "Women's Time" emphasizes the fact that for a woman time is kequently linked with "the space generating and forming the human species" (190) than with the linear time. The idea is to present time not as measured by the clock but as "pure time" or "duration" which the consciousness grasps as a "flowing irreversible succession of states that melt into each other to form an indivisible process" (Edwards 288).
Namjoshi's Conversations of Cow explores the notions of identity and sense of alienation, themes already touched upon in her poems. The problem of warring egos fornl the matrix of her fictional plot in this novel. The work is in fact Suniti's quest for identity and acceptance in society as a lesbian. Her attraction for Bhadravathi itself lies in the fact that she too is a lesbian. The quest for identity goes on till the end, when Suniti is finally prepared to accept Bhadravathi as she is.
A novelist has to impose a particular pattern on her material in order to present the truth of life or philosophy of life as she perceives it. The quality of readability, the most important of all the desirable qualities of a novel, may be achieved when there is compatibility between the narration and the narrative strategies adopted by the writers. In this context the important thing to be decided is the centre of vision. Percy Lubbock observes that "the whole intricate question of method in the craft of fiction, I take to be governed by the question of the point of view--the question of the relation in which the narrator stands to the story" (251). Since scientists state that the question "how" is more of a scientific question than "why," the study is an attempt to show how particular women writers and texts may have come to use particular narrative strategies to write their fictions, in order to find a voice and to find a way.