Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
Thematically, “House Opposite” poses a universal question: What is sin? The nature of sin is explored through the characters of the hermit and the prostitute. Because both these characters are nameless, they represent types, not individuals, personifying two opposing ways of life and value systems. It is important to note that because the hermit is the focus of attention in the story, the prostitute is seen primarily through his eyes.
Because the hermit believes in asceticism and total renunciation of worldly pleasures, he looks down on the prostitute as a temptress, a contaminator of humankind, and an adversary to his moral view of life. He thinks that both the prostitute and her male customers are wallowing in sin and illicit pleasures. He therefore decides to admonish her to leave her present profession and atone for her sins to ensure a life of virtue in her next birth.
The irony is that the self-righteous hermit, for all his asceticism, meditation, and rigorous self-discipline, has not been able to conquer his erotic desires. Even a chance vision of the woman arouses in him desires that he had successfully suppressed for so long. He is so tormented by lustful thoughts of the woman that he cannot concentrate in his meditation or sleep at night.
The theme is clearly suggested in the hermit’s recollection of the ancient Indian tale in which a prostitute is sent to heaven after her death, but her self-righteous reformer is condemned to hell because of his mental obsession with the prostitute.
This tale becomes a catalyst for change in the hermit’s attitude. At the end of the story, as he is about to leave his house for good in order to save his soul from corruption, he encounters the woman. When he looks at her closely, he sees her in a new light as if a film had been suddenly removed from his eyes. She no longer appears to him as a seductive temptress, but a victim of social circumstances and male exploitation. In this moment of illumination, he suddenly becomes aware of his own secret sin, as he recognizes the prostitute essentially as a human being and a loving daughter.
The moral implications of the story are that sin and virtue are relative, depending on an individual’s circumstances or way of life. No one therefore has the right to judge others who lead a different lifestyle. Though the story is embedded in a distinctively Hindu world, it conveys a universal theme: the need for tolerance, understanding, compassion, and acceptance of human foibles.
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