What is the significance of the title "The Freaks" in the poem by Kamala Das?

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

To answer this question, it might be helpful to think about what we mean by the word "freak." Officially, the word "freak" refers to an unusual, abnormal or irregular person. It can also be used in reference to abnormal or unusual behavior.

If we apply this definition to the poem, it becomes clear that the title is significant for two reasons. First of all, the speaker presents a romantic relationship which she clearly believes to be abnormal or 'freaky.' In this relationship, the male is completely driven by his own lust and his sexual advances fail to arouse any desire in the female speaker. She describes his advances, for example, as nothing more than "skin's lazy hungers," implying that he is only interested in satisfying his own lust instead of making a real connection with her. So, the speaker thinks that she and her mate are freaks because they have a relationship which is completely loveless and lacks any real intimate connection. It is, therefore, completely abnormal and irregular.

Secondly, towards the end of the poem, the speaker calls herself a "freak." We learn the reason for this in the next few lines:

It's only
To save my face, I flaunt, at
Times, a grand, flamboyant lust.

In other words, the speaker is forced to act lustful, like her mate, even though she does not really feel that way. In fact, she feels empty and unloved and, at times, repulsed by her mate's physical appearance. She is truly a freak, then, because she must act against her true impulses and this, she acknowledges, is an abnormal form of behavior.

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jmj616's profile pic

jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

"The Freaks," by Kamala Das, is a poem about a couple (presumably a man and a woman) who cannot arouse much sexual desire for each other, and perhaps not for anyone.

The man has his hand on the woman's knee, which, the narrator says, should cause them "to race towards love."  Instead, their minds "only wander, tripping/Idly over puddles of/Desire."

She wonders:

Can this man with
Nimble finger-tips unleash
Nothing more alive than the
Skin's lazy hungers?

In other words, can he arouse a desire that goes any deeper than a pleasant sensation upon the skin?

The narrator conludes that she and the man "have failed in love," and that their hearts are "An empty cistern," or barrel.

She calls herself a "freak."  She seems to mean that she must be abnormal, because a normal woman's lust would be aroused by a man's touch, but hers is not. Since the title of the poem is plural--"The Freaks"--the narrator seems to be accusing the man of being abnormal also.  

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