Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“In a Great Man’s House” explores the psychological complexities in the marital relationship between a talented, famous man and his adoring but heavily fettered wife. It concentrates on the turbulent feelings of Khan Sahib’s wife, Hamida, as she conducts her life torn between joyous pride in her husband’s “greatness” and talent, and sorrow in knowing that she has no rights or powers of her own. Hamida is not a terribly intelligent woman who suffers a great moral dilemma in this conflict, however. Her tale is basically a simple one, a snippet of domestic realism that has undertones of irony in its characterization of a “great man,” talented but coarse and unfeeling in the ultimate analysis. It is, therefore, possibly the story of many a marriage in which a prominent man uses his “greatness” to secure the bondage of his less talented spouse, while she is confused as to whether she should allow her personality to be totally consumed by his or should assert herself periodically.

Hamida does occasionally attempt to demand her rights—usually by throwing tantrums—but they are of no avail in the face of her husband’s mountainous power. Therefore, she has become increasingly acquiescent, now confining her expressions of sorrow to tears and sulks. On the other hand, she has not lost her ability to revel in her husband’s talent. She can even drown her sorrows in it, finding in his song a kind of sublime happiness, even though he sings it for other people, not to her. Hamida can, apparently, exist in the great man’s house only by accepting her inferior status. She can be happy only if willing to undermine her own needs and take pleasure in catering to his. Her ultimate happiness is derived from a true appreciation of that which makes him great, his musical ability, for it is only through his love songs that she can feel close to him.