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“The village by the sea” By Anita Desai Essay

This story takes place in a small fishing village, called Thul, which is ¨only fourteen kilometres away from Bombay¨ (Chapter 4), one of the biggest cities on the western coast of India, on the Arabian Sea. Although the author does not specify the year in which the story is set, we can deduce it takes place in the early twentieth century. We reach to this conclusion through the description of Bombay, ¨[…]here there was everything at once […]- cycles, rickshaws, hand-carts, tongas, buses, cars, taxis and lorries¨. There are some more elements that help to set the story in time, for example, the fact that new factories are going to be built in the village.

We can state that the setting in this novel is circular, due to many reasons. First of all, the weather in this place makes the change of seasons very clear. This helps the Indian villagers to know when the year starts and when it finishes, and to adapt their lives to it. So they take full advantage of the first part of the year when it is awfully dry (autumn and winter) and stock food for the monsoon, when they stay indoors most of the time because of the heavy rains.

Another thing which tells us about the circular setting is Mr Panwallah´s words: ¨The wheel turns and turns and turns¨ (Chapter 11). Throughout the story, Hari is told many times that he will have to adapt to changes in his life. In the end, he understands what that means: giving up the traditional way of living to adopt a new one, according to the new environment. This adaptation happened along the past times and will continue forever. As we cited: ¨The wheel turns¨.

The opening scene of the novel shows Lila, the eldest of the four children, offering some flowers to the sacred rocks in the edge of the sea. This was not only her habit, but also one of the first things most women did in the morning to say their prayers. The novel finishes with the same scene, but, instead of being Lila the one portrayed, there is a group of women wading into the sea, the children´s mother amongst them. This opening and ending is another element used by the writer to make the plot and setting circular.

The story is told in 3rd person by an omniscient narrator. Through him we get to know the protagonist: Hari, a young boy from this fishing village who has to earn the money needed to take care of his sisters and ill mother. In desperation, he runs away to Bombay, where he learns everlasting values.

All the main characters are developing as they grow up and we can see them learning and going through different situations which are part of their personal lives. This is why this novel can be referred to as a bildungsroman. It describes the processes by which maturity is achieved through the various ups and downs of life. Hari realizes he hasn´t got many possibilities in his small village and decides to run away to the city where he thinks life is much easier and comfortable.

However, he finds out it is not and ends up working in a restaurant and helping a watchmender to earn a living and save some money to take back home. During the months he stays in the city, he learns how to manage on his own and he realizes he is turning into a man. ¨[…] Hari stood staring at the note: he suddenly felt he was not a child any longer, that he was a man¨(Chapter 11). But, meanwhile, he suffers hunger, sickness, longing for his family and home, loneliness.

We see a great development in the three sisters as well. At the beginning of the story, Lila, is introduced as the one in charge of the house, as her mother is ill and her father is always drunk. She is the one who cleans the place, prepares meals, takes care of the mother and other chores. Her younger sisters, on the other hand, still go to school and depend totally on Hari and Lila, although they also help to look for food or go to the market when needed. However, when things get worse and their brother dissappears, they give up school in order to cooperate with their sister. Lila is left to cope alone and, eventually, she manages to deal with her family needs.

The technique of characterization used by the writer is dramatic because we get to know the different personalities of the main characters through the story and the events. We are not given a specific description of them but we are told what their thoughts or their reactions are.

As refers to the plot, the writer does not follow the usual steps; instead, he develops two parallel stories: Hari´s and Lila´s. By this technique, we are told the events taking place at Thul at the same time that we learn about Hari. At the end both stories meet when Hari comes back to the village and the family gets together again.

As the novel takes place in India, the writer makes use of different elements to give it local colour. Some of them are: the descriptions of the places, the reference to the traditional ceremonies and customs, and the most significant, the usage of many Indian words, referring to food, people, money, clothes, festivals or places.

Some of the main themes in this novel are:
– changes
– survival
– responsibility
– identity
– progress
– brotherhood

To show the instabilities in life and its changes, the writer uses as an imagery the nature cycle: the seasons, the sea that sometimes is at high tide and others, at low tide. Another symbol used is the birds, at the end of the story. They represent the man´s ideals of liberty and independence.


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