Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341
The story unfolds through the eyes of Lenny , a precocious Parsi girl. Lenny's disability keeps her from attending school and gives her more time to be around adults—to listen to their conversations, observe human behavior, and make her feisty interpretations. The constant company of her Ayah allows her to...
(The entire section contains 766 words.)
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The story unfolds through the eyes of Lenny, a precocious Parsi girl. Lenny's disability keeps her from attending school and gives her more time to be around adults—to listen to their conversations, observe human behavior, and make her feisty interpretations. The constant company of her Ayah allows her to move beyond the boundaries of her affluent society and foray into the world of cooks, gardeners, masseurs, and ice-cream sellers. The reader witnesses the chaos of India's Partition and the violence of religious hatred through Lenny's perspective.
Ayah, Lenny's nanny, is a beautiful young woman. She is the cynosure of all men. She uses her sensuality to control a circle of religiously diverse suitors. The violence of the Partition shatters the illusion of her amicable life, exposing an ugly cauldron of lust. Eventually, she discovers her potential for self-reliance.
Mrs. Sethi is Lenny's mother. She runs the household efficiently and controls an entourage of servants. A woman of the privileged upper class, she keeps herself busy with her social obligations. Behind her elegant persona exists a woman who nurses the pain of infidelity and an abusive marriage.
Papoo is the sweeper's daughter who lives in the servants' quarters behind the Sethi bungalow. Despite her mother's ill-treatment, she displays admirable courage and resilience. Her family destroys her rebellious spirit and marries her off to a much older man with a roving eye. Papoo's coercion into marriage reflects a social mindset that legitimizes sexual slavery and subservience.
Roda is Lenny’s godmother. The family's matriarch, she is the pillar of strength in Lenny's life. She refuses to be a mute spectator to events and dares to challenge the pervasive presence of sexual violence in society.
The Ice-Candy-Man is an intelligent and glib raconteur who tries to woo Shanta. The Ayah flirts with him but chooses to reciprocate the love of the masseur instead. The spurned suitor is then overcome with a maddening desire to possess her. The holocaust that follows the Partition fills him with a vengeance and transforms him into a beast.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425
Lenny, the protagonist and narrator. Lenny is eight years old in 1947, at the time of the partition of India that creates Pakistan. The protected and pampered daughter of a wealthy Parsee family in Lahore, she not only observes the violence that engulfs the city but also witnesses and participates in the consequent upheaval that affects both her family and her circle of friends. As the events unfold and the horror that the partition creates encroaches on her childhood, she gains a fuller understanding of her own nature and the adult world.
Ayah, Lenny’s nursemaid. This beautiful Hindu woman, simply called Ayah—the Urdu word for nursemaid—serves as Lenny’s link to the outside world and provides her with the warmth her aristocratic mother fails to give. Ayah attracts a variety of male admirers, whom she treats for the most part with disdain. Ayah’s circle offers Lenny a firsthand view of two important factors in Asian society: the subtleties informing male-female relationships and the conflicts created by religious differences.
Godmother, another of Lenny’s mainstays. She possesses admirable strength, stability, and wisdom, as well as a keen understanding of human nature. Lenny depends on these qualities as the events of partition crack her once-secure world. Not only does Godmother, who remains nameless like Ayah, represent the finest qualities of womanhood, but she also emerges as a richly comic character, especially in her relations with her husband and sister, known as Slavesister.
Ice-Candy-Man, one of Ayah’s admirers. When the novel was first published, it took this character’s name as its title. Even though he does not play a major role in the conventional sense, he hovers over the action. His name comes from his occupation as a seller of flavored ice, a favorite confection in Pakistan. He represents the uncaring male world that, through its cold, political calculation, unleashed the destructive forces of partition and carried out the associated violence.
Cousin, Lenny’s relative and companion. Another nameless character, this typical young Asian male has recently reached puberty and attempts to explain the mysteries of sex to Lenny. The narrator’s stormy yet comic relationship with Cousin enriches the domestic side of the novel, showing how day to day life plays out alongside historical events of magnitude.
Electric-aunt, Cousin’s mother. A nervous, energetic woman, she appears at first to be vacuous and silly. Once faced with the challenges of partition, however, she and Lenny’s mother show their mettle when they smuggle gasoline to Hindus.