Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

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Themes of death and loss in "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai

Summary:

Themes of death and loss in "Games at Twilight" are central as they explore the harsh realities of life and the inevitability of mortality. The story portrays a young boy's realization of his own insignificance and the emotional loss of innocence, highlighting the stark contrast between the carefree nature of childhood and the sobering truths of existence.

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How does "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai explore death?

One of the ways that this story is so fascinating is through how Desai presents an apparently innocent scene of children playing in the Indian heat, only to reveal a far more sinister and depressing tone at the end, where these twilight games are explicitly linked with death and the passing of life. This is achieved through the funereal game that the children play after Ravi's re-emergence. As these children play this death-game, Ravi himself experiences a kind of death as he experiences an epiphany:

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.

Ravi realises that he is not important and he is not the centre of the universe. This is of course a vital realisation that all children have to go through as they pass into adulthood. However, Desai emphasises this epiphany through its timing: it occurs at twilight, the end of the day, that is reminiscent of death, and this highlights the "death" that Ravi experiences as he realises his own insignificance.

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What images suggest loss and death in "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai?

The first image that comes to my mind about loss and death in "Games at Twilight" is the image of the dog sprawled out on the ground.  The day is hot.  Really hot.  Not even the dog wants to move a muscle when the kids come pouring out of the house.  I've had dogs all of my life, and even when they were old, the dogs would still perk up when my own kids or my nieces and nephews would come over.  The dog image created by Desai in this story screams of death and defeat.  

The outdoor dog lay stretched as if dead on the veranda mat, his paws and ears and tail all reaching out like dying travelers in search of water. He rolled his eyes at the children—two white marbles rolling in the purple sockets, begging for sympathy—and attempted to lift his tail in a wag but could not. It only twitched and lay still.

The other reason that the above passage sells the image of death so easily is because it flat out says "dead" and "dying."  

Another image for defeat and loss within the story is the image of the shed that Ravi hides in.  Desai describes it with words like "leaking," "ruined," "broken," "sagged," "rusty," and "depressing mortuary."  Those words do not help to instill confidence in the reader.  Each word seems to further suggest that hiding in the shed will not end well.  And even though Ravi is able to avoid being found by Raghu, the story still ends with Ravi being completed defeated.  

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.

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