Discuss how "Girls" is the story of the middle class Indian family with traditional views about how girls should behave.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Pande's work speaks to the idea that for middle class or lower class families in India that are wedded to the traditional notions of gender, girls need to behave with an almost sense of shame about who they are.  The protagonist in the story, a girl without a name, is representative of how girls in Indian families linked to traditional Indian notions must deal with the fact that their gender defines much of their being.  The fact that the mother blames her for everything, yearns for a boy, and constructs a reality in which the girl has to feel silenced and marginalized because of being born a girl is representative of the predicament for many girls in Indian homes with traditional settings.  This is seen in traditional Indian configurations where girls are seen as "expenditures" in having to supply marriage elements, jewelry, and always living in the shadow of a boy's parents when a girl is marrying age.  The narrative that Pande renders is one in which the traditional notion of being a girl, of being a woman, in India is one whose application takes away voice from women.  The girl is one who must accept this, and recognize that somehow, being born a girl is something as a source of shame and behave as if it is.  The narrator appeals to us simply because she is trying to break out of a mold that is casting her and her behaviors in a particular manner.

I think that where some intricacy might enter is with the class element.  The modern Indian middle class is a bit more cosmopolitan and the extent of the disdain hurled at the girl because of her gender in the story is one that is seen in more traditional homes or of homes with limited means.  If we see "middle class" in a more traditional element, one that is not so upwardly mobile as the Indian middle class of today is, then I believe that Pande's read can be seen as applicable.  Yet, I think that in the modern middle class, the treatment of girls is not as intensely difficult as it is rendered in the story.  With this in mind, I do think that there are still some difficulties in being a woman in a middle class setting, even a modern middle class notion, in India.  The challenges of weddings, bridal arrangements, being secondary to the son's family are all still there even in the modern middle class Indian family.  Where I think that some level of liberation might be found is in the upper strata of Indian life.  For example, Aradhya Rai, the girl of Bollywood couple Abhishek Bachchan, will probably not have to endure what Pande's protagonist endures even though she is a girl born in India.  This is a bit on the hyperbolic side, but the element of truth is still there in that once one progresses higher on the social class scale in India, there is more of a likelihood of seeing girls treated as they would be in the West, where gender is not as big of an issue in terms of how girls are raised.  I think that there might be some type of correlation between class and greater denial of girls' voices.  This might be able to serve as descriptor of where Pande's family fits into the strata of class and its treatment of girls.

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