Concoction of the traditional Indian patriarchy in “A Liberated Woman” by Shashi Deshpande.

Recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award, Shashi Deshpande is known for her vocalization of the matters of women in India, uncovering the realities of the silent oppressions committed upon the women in India, both mental and physical. Although known to not be formulating her opinions based on feminist epistemology, her own opinions that which are formed via experience and thought do in fact reverberate the feminist narrative. Furthermore, in her own opinion, Western feminism is entirely different from that of Indian feminism, for her, feminism is not a matter of theory. She feels that the Western Feminist theories cannot be applied to the real-life situation in India.

In the short story A Liberated Woman Deshpande goes over the psychology of a woman who although is financially self-sufficient finds herself helpless in the face of the traditional Indian structure of marriage. The protagonist marries her husband out of her own will, which already is going against the traditional ‘arranged marriage’ phenomenon of the Indian society. Unfortunately for her, the marriage takes a vile turn in the future as her rise to fame and success in her own career, that which overtakes her husband’s, unravels the rotten roots of the societal structure they live in. Shashi Deshpande goes on to depict many of these roots as the protagonist opens up to another character in the story. She shares all her despondence and agony with the friend in the garb of a smile on her face without shedding a single tear presenting the fact of how woman shares their hard times just to release the pent-up pain and frustration so that they can carry on with their very lives despite its dark and obscure future. Interestingly, Deshpande makes the protagonist experience an internal strife towards her own identity as an Indian woman, that which puts the blame on the oppressed herself. The husband is acquitted of all conspicuous charges as the wife blames herself for outgrowing that which is societally accepted. 

Mrs. Louise Mallard (the protagonist) experiences consequences – which she sees as conclusive – that are both physically and emotionally destructive. Sexual intercourse being a primal part of any healthy marriage is devoid of any essence love, as she tells the narrator, “You tell me what to say about a marriage where love-making has become an exercise in sadism?” She sees her misery as “…his way, the only way, perhaps, of taking a revenge on me for what I’ve done to his ego.” Realizing divorce as an escape from the marriage, which includes her children with the husband, her hesitation kicks in, which is formulated by the generic phrase of “log kya kahenge” (what will the people say). This phrase is a major underpinning of the story, Deshpande makes an effort to showcase the effect of this mental state of absolute submission to society within the Indian context. In a prolonged session with the narrator, Louise makes a statement which encompasses the understanding of the entirety of Indian patriarchy, she says, “Listen, have you seen really old-fashioned couples walking together? Have you noticed that the wife always walks a few steps behind her husband? I think that’s symbolic, you know. The ideal Hindu wife always walks a few steps behind her husband. If he earns 500, she earns 400. If he earns 1000, she earns 999 or less.”

Shashi Deshpande is able to contain in this short story the stories of many women, recognizing the faults of the society; victimization and abuse of women for being more successful than men, especially in marriage, the concept of “good woman” and else. The author vividly shows the agony of an educated woman falling in the frustrating dilemma of following the conceptualization of marriage and gender roles as laid out by the traditional Indian patriarchy by continuing an abusive marriage or expressing herself as an individual, her sanity and her self-respect are crumbled in her reproach of accepting her circumstances and situations. The impact of the short story was notable, short story as a genre in itself came to be seen on the literary horizon, somewhere during the Pre-independence period. Women writers from the Indian subcontinent realized the potential of this form and with the power of their knowledge started portraying the Indian life, with all its different hues. This form was more suited to the women writers because it was less painstaking like the novels, and this allowed them to write and express their thought processes during their free time from the “mandatory” household chores.

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