Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 298
The antagonism between society and the individual is of major importance in this text. Tyler, Mala's gay nurse, works to understand his own gender identity, while feeling caught somewhere between man and woman. He achieves some level of acceptance with his Cigarette Smoking Nana, as well as with Mr. Hector, a man who works on the grounds at the Paradise Alms House, but he faces greater opposition to his identity from the other nurses and from Toby, another grounds worker. Mala Ramchandin offers him unconditional acceptance and understanding—he just "is," and the fact of himself requires neither shame nor celebration—and he begins to feel more and more confident, especially when he meets Otoh, Ambrose Mohanty's transgender son. Ultimately, his individuality triumphs over society when he begins a public and romantic relationship with Otoh.
Likewise, the individual identities of Sarah and Lavinia triumph over social restrictions when they give up everything to run away together. Lavinia leaves behind humiliated parents, and Sarah leaves behind her husband, Chandin, and her two young daughters (who are horribly victimized in her absence). In addition, several years later, Asha runs away from home, leaving her sister, Mala, behind to fend for herself. Asha tries to reach Mala via letters, but they are never delivered, and Asha eventually moves on to try to create a new life for herself in Canada. Sarah and Lavinia and Asha all leave people behind, which would likely compel others to label them as selfish or unfeeling, but do they not have a right to a life where they feel safe and loved and protected? It's an interesting question, but these women do have the strength to overcome the rules society places on women (including submissiveness and heteronormativity) in order to be true to their own selves.