Jashoda becomes the mother of twenty children. The Halders’ daughter-in-law “ called a halt at 12-13-14,” but the granddaughters-in-law leave the home and join their husbands in the...

Jashoda becomes the mother of twenty children. The Halders’ daughter-in-law “ called a halt at 12-13-14,” but the granddaughters-in-law leave the home and join their husbands in the workplace. How does Jashoda’s treatment by the Halder family and by her own family once her economic productivity as a wet nurse ends criticize Indian culture?

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

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Mahasweta Devi's story depicts a setting in which where spiritual notions of identity preach treating people as ends in their own right, yet the exact opposite ends up taking place.  While so many believe Jashoda to be an incarnation of the divine, she is treated as a means to an ends.  Her husband uses her as a means to make money after he becomes crippled.  The women in the Halders' household use her as a means to an end, so that they are able to maintain their figure and spend time with their husbands while Jashoda nurses their children. Jashoda believes that she will be treated as an ends in her own right because of the "gift" of her breasts and her ability to nurse so many children.  At the end of the narrative, it is revealed that Jashoda has nursed close to fifty children. However, Jashoda's status as the wet- nurse to so many is a reflection of how so many used her as a means to an end, and not as an ends in her own right.

It is here where much in way of criticism about Indian society is offered.  Jashoda is rejected when she no longer serves any material or utilitarian purpose.  Her husband rejects her when he is able to pursue Golapi. Her children reject her when they wish to live their own life.  The Halders' rejection comes when they begin to embrace more modern ideas, including procedures to prevent having more children.  It makes sense that Jashoda suffers from breast cancer. The force that had given so much to so many becomes infected with cancerous, a destructive cellular growth where malignant cells feast on healthy ones.  Devi uses this to criticize Indian society.  Through Jashoda, the Indian social order is one that parasitically feasts on others.  It uses them until they have no life left.  Like the cancer that rages through Jashoda's body, Indian society is shown to be cancerous in how it uses people and then discards them when they have no use left.  This becomes the primary criticism of Indian society, where social interactions are supposed to take place under the divine watch of a multitude of Gods and Goddesses.  By the end of the narrative, this gap between reality and theory swallows up Jashoda.

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