Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

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What is the theme of the short story "Games at Twilight"?

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The central theme of "Games at Twilight" revolves around alienation and isolation. Ravi, the protagonist, experiences these feelings during a game of hide-and-seek where he is overlooked and forgotten, causing him deep distress. The story also explores the contrast between fantasy and reality, as Ravi's daydreams of victory and control clash with the harsh reality of his insignificance and powerlessness, further emphasizing his feelings of alienation.

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One of the main themes throughout the short story "Games at Twilight" concerns alienation and isolation. Throughout the story, Ravi is bullied and forgotten during a game of hide-and-seek. An older boy named Raghu intimidates Ravi by pounding on the shed where he is hiding during the game. Ravi's hiding spot is in a rundown shed attached to a garage where old household items are stored. Ravi avoids detection and waits until the sun has gone down before he remembers that in order to win the game he has to touch the veranda. After Ravi runs out and touches the veranda, declaring that he has won, the other children look at him awkwardly, and Ravi realizes that he has been forgotten. Ravi's sense of alienation becomes apparent as he refuses to participate in their new game. Anita Desai writes,

"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" (3).

Desai examines Ravi's feelings of inferiority and alienation throughout the story. While he is in hiding, Ravi daydreams about being recognized as the winner of the game. Unfortunately, when Ravi confronts reality he finds out that he has been sadly forgotten. The feeling of being overlooked and neglected traumatizes the young boy. Ravi becomes so depressed that he lays facedown on the ground and contemplates his insignificant existence.

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The main theme of "Games at Twilight" is two-fold. Desai has written "Games at Twilight" as a Fruedian exploration of a child's play and unconscious reality. Twilight symbolizes the unconscious mind where things aren't in the direct light of thought as they are in the conscious mind. In the midst of a child's game, a fantasy of mind, the connection or the difference between reality and fantasy are explored as Ravi switiches from an external, controlled fantasy (a game) to the inner, rampant fantasies of his mind. It turns out that, once liberated from his fear of his merciless older brother, Ravi fantasizes about having power and control over his life circumstances, including his older brother, Raghu.

Then fantasy meets reality when he comes dashing out of hiding to claim his victory only to find that he has been utterly forgotten and overlooked by his family and no one is in the least interested in his presence or his victory in stumping the "finder" in hide and seek. Now is introduced the other arm of the theme and that is the alienation of the individual. Ravi suddenly perceives the undercurrent of the separateness--of alienation--of individuals who don't perform according to expectations. He discovers what he sees as his valulessness and powerlessness. Whether Ravi perceives this alienation, valuelessness and powerlessness to be universal is not readily apparent from his reactions.

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What can be a theme statement for the story "Games at Twilight"?

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by theme statement.  I think that you might be asking for a theme that is stated or present within the story.  One theme that I think is clearly illustrated by "Games at Twilight" is the theme of alienation.  Ravi is bound and determined to be a part of the group.  He doesn't only want to be a part of the group though, he desperately wants to be accepted as a "cool" kid within the group.  In order to do that, Ravi believes that winning the hide and seek game is tantamount to his success.  

To defeat Raghu—that hirsute, hoarse-voiced football champion—and to be the winner in a circle of older, bigger, luckier children—that would be thrilling beyond imagination.

Unfortunately, his victory doesn't get Ravi any more credibility than he had before.  He was so alienated at the beginning of the story that all of the other kids forgot that he was even playing.  Then at the end of the story, he is still alienated, because none of the other children are willing to accept his supposed victory.  

"Don’t be a fool,'' Raghu said roughly, pushing him aside, and even Mira said, "Stop howling, Ravi. If you want to play, you can stand at the end of the line,'' and she put him there very firmly.

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How can we relate the main theme to the title of "Games at Twilight"?

Clearly the central theme of this story is the way in which we all go through a stage where, like Ravi, we realise our own insignificance and thus undergo a kind of death in terms of our innocence and our hopes which ends our childhood. This is of course highlighted by the funereal game that the other children are playing at the end of the story and in which Ravi refuses to participate. Note how the story ends as Ravi struggles and grapples with what he has learnt from being ignored:

The ignominy of being forgotten--how could he fact 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.

This is the true theme of this short story as it focuses on growing up and key moments that form a part of that process and teach us of our own "insignificance." The title is related to this theme through the association of the word "twilight," which we think of as being the death of the day. Likewise, "games" is a word that brings to mind competition and struggle and the need to learn the "rules" of life in order to live it successfully.

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What is the theme of "Games at Twilight."

You might want to begin by considering the significance of the title in this great short story. The word "twilight" has associations of the death of the day and the word "games" indicates competition and struggler and the need to learn the "rules" of life and how we fit in to the wider scheme of things. Both of these elements are present in the story. There are a number of images of death throughout, such as the animals and plants in the heat and perhaps most importantly, the funereal game that the children are playing at the end of the story. However, this of course foreshadows the "death" that Ravi himself experiences as he realises his own true insignificance in the world and how indifferent that world actually is. Thus the theme of the story relates to this idea of our own insignificance and how this is a lesson that we all learn at one stage or another. Having experienced this, Ravi is free to mature and become a well-functioning adult, not believing that he is the centre of the universe, yet this is a stage that is universal to us all and that we all must pass through.

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