Why a Robin?
Before every short story in the text, Literature Without Borders by George R. Bozzini and Cynthia A. Leenerts, there is a quick summary or biography of the author. This is very beneficial information to have before reading the short stories. It gives an idea of the author’s social location and what would possibly influence them to write such a story. Because the biographies of the authors are always first in our text, I will keep with the same outline. The piece I will focus on is Why a Robin? by Shashi Deshpande. The narrator of the story has many insecurities. The question is…is it her insecurity that has created her family problems? If so, what are those insecurities, and what has influenced Deshpande to write such a moving piece?
The author, Shashi Deshpande, was born in 1938 in Dharwad, India. “She received an English education at a protestant mission school in Karnataka” (bbc). “I find myself much closer to English for my writing style and, of course, I use English in a very natural way,” she states on the BBC World Service web site. It is evident in her writing that the India culture influences her position on the female society and their rights. It is also evident that she has been exposed to many other cultures through her education and travel that influence her feminist views.
Deshpande writes about topics that years ago would not dare be mentioned. Such topics were taboo for society to even whisper under their breath, and now she has written them down in permanent, black ink. Topics such as rape and even the loneliness one feels being placed in an arranged marriage. Deshpande writes on these topics in the most artistic and compassionate manner.
In the story, Why a Robin, I see a tremendous amount of relation to her own life. On the web site, BBC World Service, she explains how she began writing.
I never decided that I was going to become a writer, it was never a conscious decision. I got married, I had no definite career, I had 2 children. I was restless with being just a housewife and mother, I was looking for a job. Then we were in England for a year, my husband was a doctor. I was very isolated there because he was at work all day and I had these 2 children and no friends so then we returned and he said ‘why don’t you write about our year there?’. Then I joined a journalism course. I loved writing. I felt at home with it…so I think in one way I stumbled into it but I really think of it this way as writing was something which was waiting for me along the line and then I reached that point, and then I knew what my life was going to be about.
I see the isolation issue in the story, Why a Robin, which comes from The Intrusion and Other Stories. In her own life she felt isolated, insecure, and without a purpose for the period of time she spent in England. In the short story, Why a Robin, all of the events that take place circulate around the narrator’s insecurity within herself.
The story begins with a daughter asking for help from her mother with a school project. Her assignment was to write a report on a robin. The dilemma was, her mother knew nothing about a robin. However, she did have some knowledge of a peacock. Her English teacher did not want any reports on “exotic” birds, the daughter made clear. This makes me laugh because it is in a way making fun of the English culture and that teacher who is narrow minded. A peacock is not an exotic bird in India. In fact, it is very common and sacred. I have a feeling Shashi Deshpande has encountered others idiocy or lack of knowledge of the culture in which they live.
When the mother was unable to help her daughter with the report, her daughter fled to her father with disgust of her mother’s ignorance. By Deshpande’s great use of detail and description, the audience fully understands from the beginning that the mother is jealous of her daughter’s intelligence and beauty. The insecurity she has within herself screams to be known.
The root of her insecurity is planted within her arranged marriage. Her husband had chosen a wife prior; however, his first choice was killed in an automobile accident. In his grief, he did not care to whom he wed. He simply replied, “anyone” when asked who to chose next. This lowered her self-esteem tremendously because she knew she was not his first selection. Also, she feels inadequate because her husband’s family will never forget that he married in a class beneath him. She feels pressure to constantly impress them upon their visits. She wants them to know that he is being taken care of well; however, she feels that what she does is never good enough.
She feels blankness between her and her husband. They do not speak to one another or sleep in the same bed together. The only thing they share is their daughter, which is not entirely mutual. From the beginning of their daughter’s life, her husband took complete control of her. He would dash to her cries in the middle of the night and shower her with his love. Because of this, they had a very close relationship. A relationship the narrator longed to have. Her jealousy for her daughter could also spawn from her longing for her husband to love her in the same behavior. She feels that when she is around her husband and child she is “foolish, stupid, inarticulate. When I am with them, I become dull and brown-no not even that. I lose colour completely” (Deshpande, 25).
Because of her lack of social interaction she feels nothing within her heart. It is a requirement for humans to be healthy to interact socially. There is not even mention of friends or neighbors to come to her rescue in this story. She mentions her fear to make the effort to socialize with her husband because she is scared of rejection. She is also scared for him to ask her what she wants. This question is crippling for her to answer. She cannot describe in words what she wants. “Without wants, there is no ‘I’. That is why they so often look at me without seeing me” (Deshpande, 29). Perhaps it was her own insecurity and lack of wants or desires that created her unworthiness within her family role. They look at her, but they do not know the true person that lies beneath because she has been too afraid to let it be known, to speak out.
The story mentions three unlike birds, the sparrow, peacock, and the robin. The sparrow represents her husband who is self-assured and confident. The daughter could be considered a representation of the peacock with her beauty, grace, and poise. The narrator states, “We belong to different species” (Deshpande, 28). Therefore, I believe she feels she represents a robin. She has a lack of knowledge about the robin in the same way she has a lack of knowledge and confidence within herself.
Fortunately, at the end of the story, a resolution is made between her daughter and herself. She is able to finally comfort her daughter in a way her husband would never be able to satisfy. Perhaps by the narrator’s recognition of her battle within herself and the problems that have accumulated from the battle, she will resolve her restless emotions. I feel that many women could relate to the story, Why a Robin, from tribulations they have faced in their own lives. I have a hunch that Shashi Deshpande has faced similar insecurities and perhaps uncertainty with her own children.
Deshpande, Shashi. “p. 25-31” Literature Without Borders. Ed. George R. Bozzini and Cynthia A. Leenerts. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001.
“Shashi Deshpande” BBC World Service. 27 May 2005 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/features/womenwriters/deshpande_life.shtml >
enjoyed this story. So far, it is one of my favorites. It saddens me throughout,
but the ending is liberating. This woman has a lack of self confidence. I
believe it stems from her arranged marriage and the lack of her husband's
interest in her. He also married into a lower class. She constantly dwelled on
this class difference. She seemed to be jealous of her daughter. She was jealous
of the attention she received from her father along with her wealth of
knowledge. I believe her daughter sensed her mother's insecurity and took slight
advantage of that.
The author does a wonderful job of drawing you into her inner struggle with herself. I felt her loneliness and disgust. However, I was extremely proud of her when she went to comfort her sobbing child. I am excited that she shared her childhood experience and discussed her beautiful grandmother. Overall, I am thrilled that her daughter accepted her mother and realized that she is an intelligent human being with love to share.
I believe that Why a Robin? is a wonderful short story discussing the hardships that many women face in India. It is a satire writing in that it is informing the public of thoughts and feelings one might have being placed in a marriage without an emotional connection between the two partners.
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