Compare and contrast the different cultures, which are shown in the short stories ‘The Gold Cadillac’ and ‘A Stench Of Kerosene’ by the authors Mildred Taylor and Amrita Pritam. In the short stories ‘A Stench Of Kerosene’ by Amrita Pritam and ‘The Gold Cadillac’ by Mildred Taylor both authors follow the conventions of a short story to create an impact on the reader. In ‘The Gold Cadillac’ Taylor creates a large impact on the reader by showing how the young girl Lois is confused by racism and slowly develops a fear of it.
This helps the reader to clearly see how racism affects families and cultures. ‘A Stench Of Kerosene’ is very similar. Pritam creates an impact by portraying prejudice, not against race but against sex. She portrays this prejudice by showing the reader how women are treated badly in an Indian society and how men are valued more in society. By focusing on these topics both authors give us their views on racism and female powerlessness.
‘A Stench Of Kerosene’ is about a mother who lives in India in a matriarchal society and is concerned about the betterment of her son called Manak. Manak’s mother wants him to have a son, as she wants the family name to carry on. After seven years of no children with his current wife Guleri, Manak’s mother buys him another bride while Guleri is away, in the hope that she will be able to give Guleri a son.
When his first wife discovers this she commits suicide. ‘The Gold Cadillac’ is set in America and is about a black family who seem to be treated as equals. The father of the family Wilbert brings home a Golden Cadillac.
His two children Lois and Wilma are thrilled but their mother is less than satisfied as feel he is wasting his money as they already have a car. Wilbert decides to take a trip down to Mississippi, which is in the south of America where black people have fewer rights and where some people are notoriously racist. After her boycott of riding in the car Wilbert’s wife, Dee decides that the whole family will go including herself. Halfway to Mississippi, Wilbert is arrested and fined unreasonably for speeding. At this point I think that he begins to understand why his wife had protested so much to the car, it had caused his youngest daughter Lois to be so scared that she had to hold a knife for her own protection. It was at this point that Wilbert decides to go home and get his cousins car. When the family got back from Mississippi the car was sold bringing their whole family closer together.
Although the themes of the story are quite similar the endings are clearly different. At the end of ‘The Gold Cadillac’ we see a note of happiness, as the family are brought closer together giving us closure. At the very end of the story we see Lois who has been telling the story say: ‘ I would remember that ride and the gold Cadillac all my life’. While on the other hand Pritam chooses to complete her story with a note of irony and tension: ‘ take him away he stinks of kerosene’ This is ironic because the reason that Manak’s wife Guleri killed herself was because his mother wanted him to have a baby boy and arranged another marriage for him meaning she felt betrayed.
It is also ironic because she killed herself by soaking herself in kerosene and setting herself alight. When Manak sees the baby it reminds him of this. These dissimilar endings leave the reader feeling different. In ‘The Gold Cadillac’ we are left resolved, as we know that the family are no longer having problems. However, in ‘A Stench Of Kerosene’ the reader is left with a sense of disquiet, as we are unsure as to whether Manak accepts the baby. These endings make both stories effective especially in ‘A Stench Of Kerosene’.
Although the stories are set in different cultures they both concentrate on discrimination and prejudice. In ‘ A Stench Of Kerosene’ Pritam elucidates the effects of discrimination against women in India. In ‘The Gold Cadillac’, which is set in America, Taylor concentrates on bringing the effects of racism to our attention and although not a main theme in the story shows us how women are treated as equals as Dee has some power within her family.
In ‘A Stench Of Kerosene’ Guleri represents her gender in her culture. She represents women who do not have as much right and respect as men. In this story Guleri is disenfranchised. She is treated as a piece of property: ‘Someone came to fetch her from her parents’ village’. We see this denial of her volition again when Pritam writes: ‘Guleri was allowed’. Both of these lines are phrased in a passive voice, which creates an emphasis on Guleri’s objectification. This is also evident during the conversation between Guleri and Manak: ‘but he did not reply’ and ‘Manak did not ask again’. From the repetition of ‘not’ in both of these quotes the reader gets the impression that Manak is neglecting his wife Guleri.
Although Guleri represents women from the culture portrayed in this story Manak’s mother has more power than Guleri as she is a matriarchal figure and they live in a matriarchal society where all children must listen to their parents: ‘Obedient to his mother’ However, we could also get the impression that Manak’s mother has simply internalised the cultural misogyny. We get this impression from when she says; ‘ Why do you croak like an old woman…be a man’.