How does culture influence identity in the story "By Any Other Name"?

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Santha Rama Rau’s story directly addresses questions of intercultural conflict and educational imperialism in British colonial India. She focuses on the daily workings of the school system. To begin with, the teacher does not recognize the validity of the names of two students, the sisters Premila and Santha. She insists on giving them English names, Pamela and Cynthia. This is an example of linguistic imperalism, as the teacher's rationale is the supposed difficulty of pronouncing their names. Santha, the narrator, cannot really identify with this Cynthia. Instead, she is alienated from the dominant culture as she considers Cynthia to be a persona she cannot fully occupy. The school also imposes colonial control through cuisine, as it serves only English food. Santha’s detachment from Cynthia influences her attitude toward schoolwork, as she does not feel totally present in the classroom and cannot apply her intellect to the lessons.

The injustice of the teacher’s attitude finally breaks the girls away from the school. Premila refuses to submit to the teacher’s discrimination, as she announces that Indian students cheat and must sit in the back row during a test so she can observe them more closely. Premila takes Santha and goes home. She reports this injustice to her mother, who agrees that this school is not the place for them. Santha remains detached, as the situation had involved the other girl, Cynthia.

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