Alienation in Anita Desai’s Cry, the peacock


Anita Desai is a dominant figure in the twentieth century Indian English fiction. She has given a new direction to Indian English literature. Her novels are considered to be the great contribution to the Indian English literature. She started her literary journey with the publication of her first novel Cry, the Peacock in 1963. The 1960’s scattered a sense of great dejection and gloom all over India. In 1962 china obtain a victory over India and this defeat brought a sense of disgrace and humiliation to the hearts of Indians. During this period of dejection and humiliation, Anita Desai’s novel Cry, the Peacock published. Perhaps she must have had a nag of disillusionment in her subconscious mind, which came before us in the form of the novel Cry, the Peacock. She has measured the individual level of the abondoned self of her characters. Desai has delineated the self-alienation, despair, death, desolation and socio-psychic fragmentation of the protagonist. Through this article I have made a humble attempt to discover the meaning of alienation and inner life of Desai’s protagonist Maya in the novel Cry, the Peacock. I was, being human, borne alone; I am, being woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get1.

Every wife yearns for the intense intimacy with her husband. But in Cry, the Peacock the protogonist Maya receives hostility and indifference rather than delicacy and affection. In this novel Desai presents the silence, solitude, meloncholy and dark world of shadows in Maya’s life. Cry, the Peacock is concerned with its chief protagonist Maya’s Psychological problems. Based on the mythological and archetypal images and symbols, this novel explores the hidden and dormant impulses of Maya’s psyche. As a young sensitive girl, Maya desires to love and to be loved. She marries the friend of her father, Gautama, who is much older than herself. She belongs to a traditional Brahmin family which believes in astrology and other prophetic strains of Brahmanical order. On the other hand, Gautama’s family represents the rational side of life. Thus Maya is haunted constantly by the rationalistic approach of her husband to the affairs of life. Maya loves Gautama passionately and desires to be loved in return; but Gautama’s coldness disappoints her2. They are different with each other in tradition and modernity, trust and distrust in human relationships, brahmanical and non-brahmanical order of the society. The prophecy of albino astrologer creates a fear psychosis in Maya’s mind: The astrologer, that creeping sly magician of my hallucinations-no of course they were not hallucination, Arjuna had proved them to me, and yet-could they be real? had never said anything to suggest that it was I who would die young, unnatural and violently, four years after my marriage, nothing to suggest that he even thought that3. The astrologer’s prophecy proves to be true in the case of Maya’s brother, Arjuna. Gautama as a rationalist, fails to understand Maya’s emotional mental state. In the first part of the novel the death of her pet dog Toto serves as the symbol of an abondoned self doomed to loneliness: All day the body lay rotting in the sun. It could not be moved on to the verandah for, in that April heat, the reek of dead flesh was over powering and would soon have penetrated the rooms. So she moved the little string bed on which it lay under the lime trees, where there was a cool agueous shade, saw its eyes open and staring still, screamed and rushed to the garden tap to wash the vision from her eyes, continued to cry and ran, defeated, into the house4.

Maya feels alianation due to the death of Toto. It was intolerable to her. The death of dog indicates the eternal truth in human life. The idea of death terrifies Maya and she is obsessed with it. She is badly disturbed by the indifference of her husband Gautama to the death of dog and it shows his carelessness towards his wife. Because Maya is a childless lady and Toto was like a child to her. Both of them have different views about death. Gautam thinks death to be a normal event while Maya is disturbed by it. The second part of the novel reveals Maya’s psychic depth and narrates the tragic death of Maya’s husband Gautama. Maya and Gautama have different approaches towards life. Gautama is a lawyer. In his family one did not speak about love and affection and spoke of parliament, cases of bribery and corruption revealed in government while Maya’s family champions human values and rights. She is very sensitive and cannot ignore her feelings. Maya wants her fulfilment as a woman and as a wife. But her father like husband does not soothe her burning heart. She opts for an ideal love. Maya symbolizes the pangs of the peacock mating, narrates the secrets in the following lines: Do you not hear the Peacock call in the wilds? Are they not blood chilling, their shrieks of pain? – Pia, Pia-, they cry -Lover, Lover Mio, mio – I die I die-. ….. They spread-out their splended tails and begin to dance, but, like shiva’s their dance, knowing that they and their lovers are all to die….. when they have exhausted themselves in battle, they will mate. Peacock are wise. The hundred eyes upon their tales have seen the truth of life and death, and know them to be one. Living they are in love with life. – Lover, Lover-, you will hear them cry in the forests when the rain clouds come, – Lover, I die- …….5

The anguished shriek for mating, the crying and the yearning for the male peacock reaches out to Maya but not Gautama. She asks Gautama to hear the call -Pia, Pia-, but Gautama remains listless to the cry. He has no sexual and passionate urge towards her. Maya, the -pea-hen’ fails to have her instincts fulfilled from Gautama, the -peacock’. She feels loneliness, isolation and desertion. Gautama is a self controlled reasonable, dutiful and worldly wise man. He did not try to soothe her. Maya knows about the insensitive and indifferent nature about her husband. She says:

……he knew nothing that concerned me. Giving me an opal ring to wear on my finger, he did not notice the translucent skin beneath, the blue fleshing veins that ran under and out of the bridge of gold and jolted me into smiling with pleasure each time I saw it. Telling me to go to sleep while he worked at his papers, he did not give another thought to me, to either the soft, willing body or the lonely, wanting mind that waited near his bed6.

Maya aspires for human love. She yearns to be loved by Gautama’s family members. But the cold behaviour & indifference of Gautama’s family members disappoints her: And I yearned, yearned for her to hold me to her bosom. I could not remember my own mother at all. My throat began to swell with unbearable self-pity. I would cry, I know it in a while, and dreaded it, in their same presence. -Please, I whispered’7….

In this passage the last word -please- is the expression of Maya’s inner psyche. She is a love-lorn lady. She wishes that her mother-in-law should stay with her. The word -Please- reflects the pangs of a modern sensitive lady and her helplessness in the human world. The constant anxiety and loneliness breed in her delusion. The hallucination born of her isolation and lonely temperament make her a psychic patient. A mental shock produces an injurious effect on her subconscious mind. This trauma leading to an obsession in her psyche. Another shocking effect upon Maya’s psyche is the prophecy of an astrologer about her future that after four years of their marriage one of them would die either husband, or wife. After four years of her marriage she recollects about this prophecy:

…… we had been married four years. It was as though the moon light had withered the shadows in my mnd as well, leaving it all dead-white, or dead-black. When the drums fell silent and the moon began to sink over the trees, I knew the time had come. It was now to be either Gautam, or I8.

The constant sound of prophecy of the astrologer haunts her waking and sleeping hours. She spent many sleepless nights due to regular process of day dreaming, nightmares and constant fear. This anxiety phobia makes an unconscious journey through her dreams to an unknown world: Yet, once I fall asleep, the dream dissolves quickly into a nightmare in which a row of soft, shaggy, frailfooted bear shamble through a dance…….. By a grotesque transformation, the bears are rendered into a lonely, hounded herd of gentle, thoughtful visitors from a forgotten mountain-land and the gibbering, cavorting human beings are seen as monsters from some prehistoric age, gabbling and gesticulating, pointing at their genitals, turning their backs and raising their tails, with stark madness in their faces……9

In this passage, one wonders to see a world of dreams beyond human imagination. It is a bizarre world. The phrase -monsters from prehistoric age- refers to the pre-unconscious level of human mind. Human mind when faced with the worries and anxities of life traces for its recesses of pre conscious level of human psyche. The passge becomes a wonderful example for the repressed desires and obsessions of the unconscious mind. The grotesque figure of the bear is followed by some horrifying sights like -gibbling-, -cavorting- human beings as -monsters-. They are with definitive absured gestures, pointing out their genitals and then showing their behaviour with -stark madness-. This bizarre world of animals world symbolizes sexual obsessions of Maya. The sight of it becomes representative of Maya’s inherent fear for death10. Thus Maya’s loneliness, obsession, seclusion, unfulfilled womanhood, emotional stimuli unrestness, debilitative husband and over-ridden death phobia make her neurotic in her behaviour. He insanity grows more and more. Her growing insanity and neurotic behavour is approaching near some disaster. She whoops and produce a sound -like an antic owl- 11. Before mirror she giggles -at the absurd image- 12.

She finally invites her husband to follow her for fresh air out of the room. She leads him upstairs on the roof. Gautama follows her upstairs on to the roof and she hears the sound of -an owl- for an ill-omen. She in a fit of maddening fury, thrust him down the roof. He falls down to the very bottom and dies13.

In the third part of the novel she also dies, Thus this alienation and solitude between husband-wife relationship brought out their death. The novel Cry, the Peacock describes the reasons and consequences of alienation in the relationship between Gautama and Maya. Maya’s neurotic behaviour is due to her intense alienation. Both husband and wife have different attitudes towards life. This attitude alienates them from each other. Maya’s isolation haunts her no more as she kills her husband in a fit of maddening fury. It is alienation which brings a disastrous end of their life.

Works cited

1-Elinor Wylie, -Let No Charitable Hope-, cited by Polly N. Chenoy in Indian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 13 No.2 (July 1983), p.172. 2-O.P. Budholia’s Anita Desai -Vision and Technique in her novels’ Published by B.R. Publishing Corporation (2001), p. 3. 3-Anita Desai, Cry, the Peacock (New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, ) p. 4-Ibid p. 5-Ibid p. 6-Ibid p. 7-Ibid p. 8-Ibid p. 9-Ibid p. 10-O.P. Budholia’s Anita Desai -Vision and Technique in her novels’ Published by B.R. Publishing Corporation (2001), p. 138-139. 11-Anita Desai, Cry, the Peacock (New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, ) p. 12-Ibid p. 13-O.P. Budholia’s Anita Desai -Vision and Technique in her novels’ Published by B.R. Publishing Corporation (2001), p. 140.