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Anita Desai's use of white is significant in this short story. The story begins on a typical hot day in India. It is so hot that even the dog's eyes look like 'two white marbles rolling in the purple sockets.' Here, white represents the white-hot heat of India, which everyone is at the mercy of. Even the sky is white; there are no clouds to block the scorching rays of the sun.
Desai uses the color white to explore the hidden depths of a child's mind and to illuminate the different levels of consciousness within his psyche. In the shed, Ravi is conscious of his insignificance, his helplessness, his fears, and his inadequacies. The shed where Ravi hides is an uninviting haven, a 'mortuary of defunct household goods seething with ...unspeakable and alarming animal life.' It is a place where decay and brokenness reside; Ravi's mother sweeps away white ant hills from the shed once a year.
Termites are also called white ants, although they are not technically ants. These insects are well known for feasting on decaying, organic matter. Here, the color white represents the lifelessness of Ravi's hopes; he wants to be noticed and to be recognized as a significant figure in the group, but the bigger children fail to regard him. Ravi is left forgotten in the shed. Any possible triumph is thwarted in this atmosphere of decay and ruin, where termites and other unattractive animals/insects reside.
The only source of light in the shed are the 'white-hot cracks along the door.' The white here represents a sliver of hope, a faint optimism that he, Ravi, will yet prevail and be recognized for his triumph among the older children. Yet, the sliver of white light also foreshadows hopelessness and destruction. For in India, white is the color of death. Widows wear white to symbolize that the death of their husbands have robbed their lives of the color and vibrancy of love.
Eventually, Ravi realizes to his embarrassment and deep shame that he has forgotten to complete a necessary step in his bid for victory. He rushes out of the shed and makes for the house, in order to touch the white pillars of the white house, for that is the final step required of the winner.
Alas, Ravi is too late; the others have moved on to another game, fittingly, a 'funeral game.' The white pillars of the white house represent the death of Ravi's hopes. His battle for significance and self-assertion is in ruins.
To summarize, although white can symbolize purity and innocence in Indian culture, it is the color most associated with death and hopelessness. In Desai's story, the death of Ravi's hopes for significance is represented by the color white.
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