Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

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What is the theme of the short story "Games at Twilight"?

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One of the main themes throughout the short story "Games at Twilight" concerns alienation and isolation. Throughout the story, Ravi is bullied and forgotten during a game of hide-and-seek. An older boy named Raghu intimidates Ravi by pounding on the shed where he is hiding during the game. Ravi's hiding spot is in a rundown shed attached to a garage where old household items are stored. Ravi avoids detection and waits until the sun has gone down before he remembers that in order to win the game he has to touch the veranda. After Ravi runs out and touches the veranda, declaring that he has won, the other children look at him awkwardly, and Ravi realizes that he has been forgotten. Ravi's sense of alienation becomes apparent as he refuses to participate in their new game. Anita Desai writes,

"He had wanted victory and triumph—not a funeral. But he had been forgotten, left out, and he would not join them now. The ignominy of being forgotten—how could he face it? He felt his heart go heavy and ache inside him unbearably" (3).

Desai examines Ravi's feelings of inferiority and alienation throughout the story. While he is in hiding, Ravi daydreams about being recognized as the winner of the game. Unfortunately, when Ravi confronts reality he finds out that he has been sadly forgotten. The feeling of being overlooked and neglected traumatizes the young boy. Ravi becomes so depressed that he lays facedown on the ground and contemplates his insignificant existence.

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The main theme of "Games at Twilight" is two-fold. Desai has written "Games at Twilight" as a Fruedian exploration of a child's play and unconscious reality. Twilight symbolizes the unconscious mind where things aren't in the direct light of thought as they are in the conscious mind. In the midst of a child's game, a fantasy of mind, the connection or the difference between reality and fantasy are explored as Ravi switiches from an external, controlled fantasy (a game) to the inner, rampant fantasies of his mind. It turns out that, once liberated from his fear of his merciless older brother, Ravi fantasizes about having power and control over his life circumstances, including his older brother, Raghu.

Then fantasy meets reality when he comes dashing out of hiding to claim his victory only to find that he has been utterly forgotten and overlooked by his family and no one is in the least interested in his presence or his victory in stumping the "finder" in hide and seek. Now is introduced the other arm of the theme and that is the alienation of the individual. Ravi suddenly perceives the undercurrent of the separateness--of alienation--of individuals who don't perform according to expectations. He discovers what he sees as his valulessness and powerlessness. Whether Ravi perceives this alienation, valuelessness and powerlessness to be universal is not readily apparent from his reactions.

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