Compare and contrast the female characters Veronica in ‘Veronica’ and Guleri in ‘A Stench of Kerosene’.
In this essay both female characters in ‘Veronica’ and ‘A Stench of Kerosene’ will be examined for similarities and differences in their culture and traditions.
When you read these two stories the three things that stand out is their culture, tradition and the theme of love. The story teaches us that sometimes tradition gets in the way of life. It can sometimes control your life or sometimes not. In both the stories, the women hold on tightly to their traditions. The authors are not just talking about their family traditions but the global tradition of fertility and obedience. The main characters in these stories are Veronica and Guleri. This essay portrays about the roles of women.
Although there are a lot of similarities between them on the surface but there are more concealed. In both the stories, the main belief in the female characters is their culture. Throughout the stories it shows us how important their culture is to them and how their society forces them to do certain actions that occasionally leads to a person’s death as seen in ‘A Stench of Kerosene’.
Veronica and Guleri both live in male dominated countries, which make females seen by everyone as inferior. The story of ‘Veronica’ is told in first person by Okeke who is Veronica’s childhood friend and the ‘I’ in the story. The story of ‘A Stench of Kerosene’ is told in third person by an omniscient narrator.
The author of ‘Veronica’ is Adewale Maja-Pearce and he was brought up in Nigeria, the same place as Veronica was.
Maja- Pearce later returned to London, as this was his place of birth so that he could supplement his education. In ‘Veronica’, the person narrating the story, Okeke can be compared to Adewale Maja- Pearce as he grew up in the same surroundings as him and also the same education and they lead similar lives.
The author of ‘A Stench of Kerosene’ is Amrita Pritam and she was brought up in India which later became Pakistan, then she moved to New Delhi so that she could begin writing in Hindi.
She had very unhappy experiences of marriage and divorce, this links with Guleri in ‘A Stench of Kerosene’ as Guleri can not have any children and her husband marries again agreeing to his mother so that he can have children and this makes Guleri depressed and broken hearted which then leads to her gruesome death as her mother-in-law controls everything that goes on with Manak and Guleri. Manak’s mother is an important force, though scarcely comes in as character.
Veronica and Guleri both grew up in fairly rural areas of the country where they were reasonably poverty and war. But the only dissimilarity in their surroundings is that Veronica is in the country with troubled political history. The country has been torn apart by divisions between tribes and political groups, suffering massacres and civil war.
As a result, financial development within the country has been limited and the rural areas have been badly affected by poverty.
The characters in these stories have much resemblance in their personalities in the way they lead their lives even though both stories are set in very different countries. The author use comparable and diverse techniques to present and show their characteristics.
Veronica is a very unfortunate woman who grew up in her native village. She lived with her susceptible mother, abusive and alcoholic father and other young siblings who have not been mentioned much throughout the story.
On the other hand, Guleri lived in the village in India with her husband Manak and her mother-in-law. She had no children but was content with her life. Manak and Guleri had a much fulfilled marriage until her mother- in-law interfered by forcing her son to marry another woman so that she accomplishes her vision of being a grandmother and ruining Manak and Guleri’s life.
The central theme of the story is the conflict between a man’s love for his wife and the obligation to have children. The major cultural issue concerns a man taking a second wife in order to do this. The author tells us that this practice of burning oneself for escapism is not unusual in certain parts of India but was very prominent.
Guleri lives with her husband and her moth-in-law. It was pointed out that Manak was satisfied with his fate and didn’t want to marry again as most people around the country would have.
Veronica cooked and served for her family. She married at a young age to a soldier and lived happily. Later on, she gave birth to a son. She is a very strong-willed person and is very content with her life.
The physical appearances of both the female characters’ are not quite similar. Okeke describes Veronica, as ‘no great beauty she still had a certain attractiveness that I knew would appeal to men’. This is a very uncertain view as no one can be good looking and unattractive at the same time, they contradict with each other.
Veronica being described as ‘shabby’ may have been because of her surroundings and her lifestyle that has influenced her to be that way.
Guleri’s physical features are barely described throughout the story. But when it reads ‘they had bartered their hearts to each other’ an assumption that can be made from this is that Guleri must have been a very attractive woman as no one falls in love at first sight if the woman is unappealing. Also, as Guleri has never given birth before, she must have had a slim figure.
Veronica is very comfortable with her life accepts the fact that she’s married to a soldier rather than being in the city with Okeke. She lives in the same hut as she used to when she grew up and she had never changed. She is like a slave first to her father and then to her marriage to her husband. She is pleased with what she does and doesn’t complain about it much but if she had the opportunity to raise her voice she would have probably had a say in what she desires to accomplish in life.
‘They are my family and this is enough’, this is a line of Veronica’s low expectations. She feels her family is everything she needs and nothing else would have the same satisfactory.
Guleri on the other hand is very ‘childishly stubborn’ and always wants everything her way. She is portrayed similar to a little girl. Guleri is a happy go lucky person and loves her life. Manak and Guleri are expressed as a happy couple and care about each other.
In ‘Veronica’ culture is a main portion of her life. Her life was about tradition. When she refuses to go to the city with Okeke and says that it will be harder for her as she is a woman and she isn’t educated enough.
‘God blessed us with a son. Is that not enough?’ this explains that Veronica is always the same after a long period of time that the two have been apart. She is still surviving in the squalor of a village of which Okeke had once lived. The low expectations of Veronica have for herself, compared to the high expectations Okeke has for himself throughout for story, shows us that this is a male dominated country. The social expectations demonstrate this too. Veronica is very stubborn and it shines through the story.
Veronica’s life was all about the tradition. Guleri’s dignity is the main view of her life. Her life was all about Manak and her parents’ village. She always liked being the centre of attention. After Manak got married again, Guleri couldn’t believe the situation she was in the middle of. She did not have to express her distress and jealousy in words. The look on her face was enough. But her husband Manak did not do anything about the circumstances.
‘Her husband pulled out his hookah and closed his eyes’. Hookah is a tobacco pipe with a long, flexible tube by which the smoke is drawn through a jar of water and thus cooled. He seemed as if he either did not like the tobacco or that he could not bear to face his wife. In this short story, Guleri’s character shines winning the sympathy of the readers. Guleri, a cheerful girl coming from a ‘well-to-do’ family and her marriage to Manak, her failure to give Manak’s family a son, creates a terrific situation for her tragic end and the readers’ immediate sympathy is with the heroine of the story, Guleri. She was the pleasant young girl who ended her life with an extremely disastrous manner.
Indian culture is such that a married woman should bring a son to the family. If a woman fails to fulfill this role, she is not successful, in marriage and therefore rejected. Thus Manak’s mother escapes a reasonable percentage of getting accused for bringing a second wife for her son, Manak.
Not that she hated Guleri, but Indian culture had influenced her to extremes of believing in the gift of a son to the family.
On the other hand, Guleri’s family was rich and wanted a man from a good family, for their daughter.
‘But Guleri’s father was prosperous and lived in cities. He had sworn that he would not take money for his daughter, but would give her to a worthy man from a good family’. Guleri failing to give Manak’s family a son and having to wait seven years and even the sad end to her life could have been sad even from the early days of her marriage. In India, the mother is supposed to be the representation of Indian culture. A mother enjoys an important place, if she is able to fulfill a mother’s part meeting with the expectations of motherhood; these being the customs and traditions of Indian culture.
Manak playing his flute as they walked or were at the fair, made Guleri feel that the music brought her joy, taking her closer to Manak’s heart. Thus the flute standing as a symbol of joy in their lives.
‘He looked at her sadly. Then putting the flute to his lips blew a strange and anguished wail.’ Striking the signal of the tragedy and anticipating the tragic end. Bhavani announcing the sad end of Guleri, ‘when she heard of your second marriage she soaked her clothes in kerosene and set fire to them.’ Manak getting mute with pain.
‘He stared a long time uncomprehending, his face as usual expressionless.’ Therefore the death of Guleri could be called ‘cultural violence’ in Indian society, though not recognized as violence; in reality it is a violent act leading to death of a person. In the short story, ‘A Stench of Kerosene’ the writer, point out in simple diction the theme of the ‘theme of violence’ present in the culture of Indian society. Amrita Pritam gives a clear picture of the episodes with the appropriate choice of a family setting and the intended aim and view of marriage in typical Indian society.
‘The family setting of the extended family’, this can be compared to Veronica as her father beats her and was bullied by her father while she was growing up.
In ‘Veronica’, Okeke felt responsibility for his death, as so feels an extreme guilt as he did not come back to her from the cities more often and persuade her more to go with him and if he had done this enough, she would have agreed at some point to go to the city. Manak with this haunting event trapped in his mind leaving every joyful moment with his new wife feeling guilty instead of happiness after the tragedy of his former wife and the manner and circumstances he had married her.
Amrita Pritam shows us how this guilt has not only affected his life but his mind and senses at the same time as it reads in the last line of the story when he holds the new born baby of his second wife when it is given to him, he says;
‘Take him away! He stinks of kerosene!’ this portrays that the baby symbolizes the death of his former wife and the baby being brought to this world has made his former wife leave it.
In both the stories we should pity Veronica and Guleri, as they were just ‘victims of death’. Veronica physically dies against her own rule and Guleri mentally felt that she could not live no more. Therefore, the main two women, in both the stories suffered the main tragedies. The reader may also have felt pity that Veronica was unable to prevent being born into a sexist and poor culture, which caused her to live her life with the tragic ending. Manak was also a victim, not of death but of guilt as he was taunted by the events of his wife and the evidence at the end of the story proves this as he thinks his child smells of kerosene, which is the liquid that caused his previous wife to burn to death. This proves that his future with his new wife will be very hard to cope with.