What is the theme of the short story "My Aunt's Gold Teeth" by V.S. Naipaul?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hello! A theme is the central or major idea of a story. Theme is often an author's opinion on a particular subject. Each story has its own theme/s and "My Aunt's Gold Teeth" has several. I present two below:

1) In some cultures, superstitious faith is a necessary source of ritual as well as a barrier to trust in effective medical treatment.

The writer's aunt (Gold Teeth) is a devout Hindu. When her husband, Ramprasad, falls ill, she blames what she believes is her ill-conceived desire to explore Christianity for her husband's illness. Although the medical diagnosis is diabetes and the prescription is insulin, Gold Teeth doesn't quite trust what she hears. To be safe, she consults "Ganesh Pundit, the masseur with mystic leanings, celebrated as a faith-healer." He tells her that her husband is beset by seven spirits and assures her that he will "tie" up the house in spiritual bonds so that the spirits will not be able to bother him. He prescribes a course of religious ritual to Gold Teeth, which comforts her.

It is not until he assures her that her dabbling in Christianity is in no way a contributor to her husband's diabetes that she breathes a sigh of relief. Ganesh is a successful healer with many satisfied clients because he is able to exploit what he calls the "commodiousness" of Hinduism, making room for all beliefs. One suspects he understands the place superstition and personal faith hold as sources of comfort for afflicted patients as well as their families. However, superstition clashes with modern medicine: the room Ramprasad is resting in supposedly lets in too much light and air, according to Gold Teeth's mother.

With card-board, oil-cloth and canvas, she made the lattice-work air-proof and light-proof.

Many doctors would recommend as much fresh air and sunshine as the patient can tolerate, but Gold Teeth's mother believes this is not suitable for a sick man. So, you can see the writer skilfully juxtaposes both the effectiveness and limitations of superstitious faith in his short story.

2) The curse of childlessness as a source of great stress is manufactured by societal expectations.

To be childless is a curse in Hindu society, and poor Gold Teeth is willing to cover all her bases by praying to other gods if it means she will be able to bear children. She even buys candles from the church to burn in secret.

She burned it secretly, at night, before her Hindu images and sent up, as she thought, prayers of double efficacy.

The prayers she offered to these Christian things filled her with new hope and buoyancy. She became an addict of Christianity.

Gold Teeth is afraid her family will find out, so she carefully keeps her Christian rituals secret. When her prayer to Mary frees her from the supposed grip of spirits, her mother is impressed and assures everyone that she has always told Gold Teeth to pray to the Christian gods. However, when Gold Teeth expresses her distress that her dabbling in Christianity may have led to her husband's death, her mother insists that she has always warned Gold Teeth against praying to the Christian gods. Now, her husband is dead and Gold Teeth's mother coldly tells her that it is her own fault that she has no children. It never occurs to Gold Teeth's mother that depriving a sick man of fresh air and sunlight may not have been the best course of treatment. Like Gold Teeth, her faith in her superstitions is as necessary for hope as it is for life.

Thanks for the question.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To expound a little more on theme number (2) above:

Women in Indian society are expected to bear children. Societal disapproval of those who do not meet such an expectation is often a great source of grief to women. Just as Indian society expects women to fulfill their feminine responsibilities, it also expects women to fulfill all the obligations of religious observation and to pay special homage to treasured superstitious rituals. Any discrepancy or diversion from this expected course of action is believed to invite curses and punishment. Therefore, the source of stress for women (whether inĀ  matters of the womb or religion) is often manufactured by societal expectation: it is a way of life that has persevered for centuries.

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