Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

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Exploring the setting, centrality, symbolism, and main point of "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai

Summary:

"Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai is set in a large, old house and its surrounding garden in India, capturing the oppressive heat. The centrality revolves around childhood innocence and the harsh realization of insignificance. Symbolism includes the game of hide-and-seek representing life's struggles and the twilight symbolizing the transition from innocence to awareness. The main point is the protagonist's painful awakening to his own inconsequence.

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What is the setting of "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai?

In the short story "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai, the larger setting is India. However, the more important settings shift from the house to the garden and then to the shed.

As the story opens, the children are confined to the house. The heat outside feels suffocating, but they are still begging their mother to go out and play. The mother finally gives in and allows the children to go to the garden. The garden is described as hot as well, with the "white walls of the veranda" glaring "stridently in the sun. The bougainvillea hung about it, purple and magenta, in livid balloons" (para 5). The garden is safe.

However, the children desire freedom, so the setting shifts outside the garden to the adult world. Outside the enclosure of the veranda, this world consists of brown, dusty shrubs, brick walls and compost heaps. When Ravi finally joins the children and decides to hide, he enters the outside world that finally results in his forcing his way into the shed, and the setting shifts once again.

It is in the shed that Ravi experiences fear because it was dark and spooky. However, it is also in the shed that Ravi feels triumph as he has outwitted the children by hiding and being undiscovered. Unfortunately, as he returns to the veranda to claim his victory, he discovers he has been all but forgotten even though he braved the gloom of the shed.

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What is the setting of "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai?

The setting of Anita Desai's "Games at Twilight" is tropical India.  The year is never established, but the story likely takes place during the time that Britain still ruled India.  The second sentence talks about having tea, which is a typical British activity.  The children also beg to play on the "veranda," which is also a proper British vocabulary word; however, the children's names are definitely not British, which is another reason that I think the setting is in India.  

Despite not being given a year, a reader can make an accurate guess as to the time of year that the story is happening during.  I believe the story takes place during the summer.  The opening paragraphs firmly establish that the weather is hot.  Not only that, but the heat is lasting into the late afternoon.  

I can be more specific about the setting location.  The majority of the story happens within a large, walled garden.  That's where the children play hide-and-seek.  The other main location is the shed that Ravi hides in.  

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What is the setting of "Games at Twilight"?  

As was mentioned in the previous post, the setting of the short story "Games at Twilight" takes place on a hot summer day in India. More specifically, the settings include a veranda attached to a large home, the surrounding yard, garage, and shed of the Indian family's compound. The story opens with Desai describing an unbearably hot day as the children are instructed to not leave the porch. However, the boys decide to play a game of hide and seek and quickly begin to run from the oldest boy, Raghu. Despite being instructed by their mother to remain on the veranda, the boys hide in various places in their family's compound. Ravi, the youngest boy, initially hides in their garage before sneaking into an abandoned shed. Desai describes the shed as being dark and full of discarded objects. Ravi hides in the shed until evening before remembering that he needs to touch the veranda in order to win the game. Ravi then sprints to touch the veranda and declare that he is the winner, only to find out that the other boys have moved on to play other games. 

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What is the setting of "Games at Twilight"?  

“Games at Twilight” takes place in India, at the home of a large family on a very hot summer day.  We first see the children in mid-afternoon, an “arid time of day” when “no life stirred…the birds still drooped, like dead fruit, in the papery tents of the trees; some squirrels lay limp on the dead earth under the garden tap.”  Desai provides very vivid imagery such as this throughout the story, reminding us of the dogged, unforgiving heat by direct description and also through the contrast with evening, when the light becomes “fuzzier” and the gardener is “soaking the dry yellow grass and the red gravel and arousing the sweet, the intoxicating scent of water on dry earth….”

As the story progresses it zeroes in on Ravi hiding inside a shed during a game of hide-and-seek, and the spooky crepuscular interior soon mirrors the twilight that descends outside.  This, as well, is part of the setting – the “less definable, less recognizable horrors” of the shed, the dank, dusty, close space that is so similar to the feeling Ravi has at the end of the story, when he discovers that the other children have completely forgotten about him and have moved on to a different game as he stood huddled in his lonely space.

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What is the setting of "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai?

The setting of the story is a large garden somewhere in India. 

The general, broad setting is in India.  That's never stated, but the details about tea time and brown skin colors lead readers to know that the story is taking place in British ruled India.  All of the names in the story hint toward India as well.  

More specifically, the setting is in a large garden with a white wall, beautiful bougainvillea plants, and gravel walkways.  The story takes place in the afternoon of a very hot day.  Those details are important because it explains why the children have been cooped up inside all day, and it explains why they are so anxious to get out.  The garden is a big, wonderful playground, and the kids are straining to be let out to play.  

"Please, ma, please,'' they begged. "We’ll play in the veranda and porch—we won’t go a step out of the porch.''

After the children are released, they begin playing hide-and-seek. Once the game begins, the story moves its setting from the garden to the garden shed.  The story's protagonist, Ravi, uses the shed for his hiding spot.  He remains in the shed until very late in the day.  By the time that he emerges, the other kids have forgotten about him and moved on to playing a different game. 

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Why is "Games at Twilight" central to Anita Desai's writing?

This is considered one of Anita Desai's most important stories because it very successfully captures the psychological aspects of childhood that Desai is exploring. It is both an accurate portrayal of the cruelty of childhood and the psychological awakening of a young boy. Most of the story is symbolic.  Desai spent her career using fiction to explore the depths of human psychology, so this is considered a key work.

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How does Anita Desai use symbolism to develop a theme in "Games at Twilight"?

The first thing to do for this question is to pick a particular symbol. My recommendation is to go with the game of hide-and-seek. I believe that the game is symbolic of life in general. When the game begins, all of the kids are playing it. Nobody is left out. It is like there isn't any other choice. They have to play the game just like a person has to live his or her life. Just like any game, there are winners and losers. Ravi finds a great hiding spot. He has an advantage in the game that nobody else has, and he believes that it is going to win him a great victory and all of the praise that comes with it. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Everybody moves on to a different game, and Ravi ends the story just as insignificant as he began. That's similar to "the game of life." Some people work and work to gain an advantage and make something of themselves only to find out that all of their hard work simply isn't going to pay off in any beneficial way. The game is a competition, and Ravi's hard work still fails him. Life can work like that too.

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What is the main point of "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai?

Arguably, one of the central messages of this great short story is the way that we all go through a transition from innocence to experience, like Ravi does, that involves a recognition of our own insignificance as a human being and the world's utter indifference in that regard. This loss of innocence represents a metaphorical death, which is of course the death of childhood. The title of the story, and the way that it is set in twilight, which is of course the death of day, support this theme. The word "games" likewise indicates the idea of struggle and competition and the way that we all need to learn the rules of life, just as we have to learn the rules of the games that we play as children.

Let us examine this theme by looking at the epiphany that Ravi undergoes as he rushes out, believing that he is going to win the game and gain the glory and approval that he dreams of:

He would not follow them, he would not be included in this funereal game. He had wanted victory and triumph--not a funeral. But he had been forgotten, left out, and he would not join them now. The ignominy of being forgotten--how could he face it? He felt his heart go heavy and ache inside him unbearably. He lay down full length on the damp grass, crushing his face into it, no longer crying, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance.

Note the irony of this passage. Ravi has technically won the game and therefore should receive the glory that he dreams of gaining, however the game was abandoned long before he decides to come out. Instead of receiving honour, he is ignored. He refuses to play the "funereal" game that the rest of the children are playing, but nonetheless he experiences a kind of death himself--the death of his innocence and his own child-like sense of his own importance. He is left with nothing but the "terrible sense of his insignificance."

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