As in most of her other novels, Desai’s focus in Clear Light of Day is ostensibly narrow: She is interested in representing family relationships and individual acts of self-realization. In this novel, however, the personal explorations of guilt, betrayal, inertia, and responsibility double as political realizations. Women must find a new political role in postcolonial India after the country’s independence in 1947. Desai argues that women must struggle to make a place for themselves in a paternalistic nation, where womanhood is a mere symbolic construct (the “mother” nation). Her analysis of gender and politics thus extends into a critique of Indian nationalism, which excluded gender issues from its political rhetorics of liberation and rejuvenation.
Thus Bimala’s understanding of self and the nation is worked out through her reconstruction of the maternal figure: The mother is both a personal role to which she has been reduced by her family and a political symbol which is manipulated by the male political leaders of modern India. Bim must reinvent a positive maternal image in order to go beyond her personal role of caretaking and her politically inert position in society. The narrative of remembrance and reconciliation is effected through a complex web of maternal symbols and metaphors.
While the political implications of Desai’s work are clear, the personal dynamics of self-knowledge and insight are prominent as well....
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