Writing the Mother in Anita Desai's Where Shall We Go This Summer?

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JournalMoving Worlds
DatePublished - 20 Dec 2017
Issue number2
Volume17
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)16-26
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In his famous thesis on the Indian nationalist division of the home versus the world, Partha Chatterjee rightly exposes the ‘new patriarchy’ generated by this dichotomy. However, mindful of the cultural specificity of this new patriarchal discourse, he observes that this has taken hold among India’s rapidly emerging middle class, and is ‘irrelevant to the large mass of subordinate class’ (632). This article takes as its point of departure Chatterjee’s analysis of the intersections of gendered and class oppression in order to explore Anita Desai’s somewhat neglected 1975 novel Where Shall We Go This Summer? Desai’s protagonist Sita, the supposed ‘new woman’ of postcolonial India, has to confront dominant attitudes towards motherhood that accrete to her as a member of the upper middle class. The novel builds up to a crisis that reveals the ambivalences surrounding motherhood – both small rebellions against, and acquiescence to, patriarchy – and shadows forth a maternal subjectivity formed out of resistance. We investigate how nationalist and religious discourses around motherhood and the Mother Goddess, as well as constructions of femininity pertaining to the middle class, together shape the maternal experiences of women like Desai’s Sita. We conclude by considering how in a postcolonial context, the author’s literary representation of motherhood responds or offers a counter-narrative to these constructions of motherhood through the depictions of potentially disruptive and contingent maternal subjectivity.

    Research areas

  • Anita Desai, Motherhood, Indian literature, Julia Kristeva, perinatal depression, Feminism

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