How do I write a critique of "The Fourth Daughter" by Subhadra Sen Gupta?  

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A critique of a literary work includes analysis and discussion of all parts of the work. Thus a critique will cover aspects like structure; narrative devices, like chronology and point of view; tone; mood, also called atmosphere; tropes, which are figures of speech, including word schemes; imagery; and symbolism. An in depth critique isn't possible here but an overview can be provided.

"The Fourth Daughter" is a short story written in Indian English in 1952 by Indian writer Subhadra Sen Gupta. The story is told in chronological order without flashbacks or flashforwards, although the narrator often interrupts the flow of the story to provide editorial comment, such as:

The obsession with sons is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche, particularly in the northern states. Thanks to rising consumerism and escalating dowry demands, nobody wants daughters.

The tone the third person narrator takes is editorial with a subtle disdain and irony that borders on sarcasm. This is evident in sentences like these:

If there is no son to carry on the line, their money would be scatter among relatives. Surely that's a thought no one could possibly bear.

The mood of the story is incredulously ominous and depressed. The mood is established in the first lines:

A mother refusing to feed her new born child. It was something Parvati Bai had never heard of before. ... Well, under certain circumstances it may happen. If it is a daughter; if it is a fourth daughter.

Sen Gupta employs the trope word scheme called anaphora, which is the repetition of beginning clauses. Three paragraphs repeat the same, or similar, opening clauses:

1.  Mini, the unwelcome fourth daughter, survived because Parvati, the maid ... took her....
2.  Mini continued to live because Parvati, the maid, hunted through her trunk ....
3.  Mini grew up in a misty place between the garage room and the big house.

Sen Gupta also employs the word scheme called asyndeton, which is the elimination of joining conjunctions to create drama or simplicity or speed, when she writes: "Unwanted. Unwelcome. Neglected. Spurned. " She employs the opposite word scheme, polysyndeton, which is the addition of conjunctions for an overwhelming and dramatic effect, when she writes: "Sweets and greeting and smiles."

The story is written in a realistic, almost documentary style, so symbolism and other figures of speech, like metaphor and simile, are few. Although, the story is built upon and closes upon important metaphors. The first opening, foundational metaphor is "the fourth daughter," which is a metaphor for rejection and infanticide. The closing metaphor is "her weapon of defiance," which is a metaphor for defiantly living and attaining a worthwhile life because of Parvati’s mercy and despite being a fourth daughter: “the thin, dark squatting baby with huge accusing eyes.”

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