The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Bim and Tara are completely opposite in their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the world, and each serves as a foil for the other’s lack of a critically reflexive self-image. The novel chronicles the sisters’ history of competition in a number of ways. Their childhood rivalry for adult attention is surpassed by each woman’s desire to earn Raja’s respect. For Tara, this means playing the role of a competent and gracious diplomat’s wife, wiping out the memory of an emotionally needy and naive child whose marriage conveniently unburdened her family. Bim, struggling to maintain her self-righteous dignity, counters Raja’s perceived emotional and economic betrayal with the only tools available to her. Remaining physically distant and refusing to communicate, Bim reaffirms herself through deliberate estrangement from Raja.

The characters of these two women are fully realized. Anita Desai’s skillful development of them meaningfully accounts for apparent incongruities, weaving them into an intense psychological drama. While the sisters’ deepest insecurities remain, for each other, unspoken, their internal disclosures of memory fill the void of understanding between them for the reader. The traumatic events signaling the children’s passage into adulthood is narrated from Bim’s point of view. Then, Tara recounts the symbolically laden events of early childhood (the unspeakable terror associated with the household well, in which the cow was...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bim Das

Bim Das, a history teacher. The unmarried, eldest Das daughter, now over forty, still lives in the decaying family home situated on the outskirts of Old Delhi. Slightly heavy and turning gray, Bim is not particularly attractive and makes little effort to be so. Her energy and capability, along with her keen understanding, compensate for whatever she lacks physically. Shown through flashbacks in her younger years, Bim has always been at peace with herself and managed to convey that quality to others. She represents the old India: spiritual, peaceful, unselfish, unhurried, and sure of life. In some ways, though, she has not come to grips with the present and melded it with the past, and therein lies her flaw.


Tara, Bim’s sister, an Indian diplomat’s wife. Altogether the opposite of her older sister, Tara is attractive, sophisticated, and worldly, having accompanied her husband to various overseas posts. To an extent, her poise is merely an exterior quality, in spite of her seemingly successful marriage, her two teenage daughters, and her role as hostess and wife in diplomatic circles. Representing the new India that was created after independence in 1947, Tara finds herself torn between the past and the present, especially when she visits Bim at the family home and dredges up memories of another time, when life seemed surer and more settled.

Baba Das

Baba Das, Bim and...

(The entire section is 479 words.)