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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 896

The Complexities of Feudal Order

A prominent theme that threads through this collection of stories is that of the complexity of feudal order and its influences on contemporary life. All eight stories are in some way linked to K. K. Harouni, an aging landlord whose family occupies high status in...

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The Complexities of Feudal Order

A prominent theme that threads through this collection of stories is that of the complexity of feudal order and its influences on contemporary life. All eight stories are in some way linked to K. K. Harouni, an aging landlord whose family occupies high status in Pakistan. The stories show elements of the lives of Harouni himself as well as his employees, family members, servants, and acquaintances. The characters relate to one another based on the conventions of the social classes they occupy, and characters are careful to act within the confines of social order. For example, Husna is a distant relative of Harouni’s; although they are from the same family, Husna’s immediate relatives have ended up on a different social path. When she comes to the home seeking employment, Husna does not pretend that the circumstances of her birth are irrelevant—she seeks the mercy of Harouni. When Husna and Harouni develop a relationship, everyone around them looks down on the coupling because they are of different social classes. Harouni’s daughter Sarwat is appalled that her father likes Husna’s company, and although she cannot force her father to stop seeing the girl, Sarwat does demand that Husna not be brought in her presence when she is visiting the estate. Although Husna is deeply upset by Sarwat’s demands, Harouni does little to discourage Sarwat. Upon his death, Husna is not provided for by the family and is instead sent back to the village from which she came. In this society, social mobility seems virtually nonexistent.

Power and Influence

Corruption lies at the heart of the Pakistani society developed in these eight stories, and anything is possible when money is involved. In “About a Burning Girl,” the sessions judge openly admits that he is less than honorable and just, and when he accepts a bribe at the end of the story, it becomes clear that this is not the first—or the last—time he has accepted a bribe and finagled the judicial system. Similarly, in “A Spoiled Man,” when Rezak is taken by the police on suspicion, one of the officers says he does not think Rezak is guilty because the police have not received any information about the deal. The police appear to the public to be actively working toward ridding the city of underground prostitution rings; however, it is revealed that the police are paid to look the other way while the gangs continue to engage in human trafficking. Stories like these show that money is the symbol of power, and the characters use their influence to get what they want.

Short-Lived Happiness

The eight stories in this collection remind the reader that happiness never lasts long. The characters spend much of their lives trying to find some element of happiness no matter what the cost, and once they have it, they are unwilling to let it slip away. In the last story, “A Spoiled Man,” old Rezak has spent the greater portion of his life working to be paid only in dying chickens. When he is offered a job as gardener for the Harouni family, he is overwhelmed by the salary that he receives, and he invests his earnings in himself by purchasing luxury items for his portable home cubicle. But Rezak still feels like he is missing something in his life, and he takes on a simple-minded girl as his wife, hoping she will bear him a child. Rezak is happy with his new situation and feels that he is lucky in his old age. But this does not last long—the girl runs away, and the police severely beat Rezak on suspicion that he has sold his wife into prostitution. Rezak is released, but he is never quite the same after this brutal treatment by the police. His happiness leaves as hastily as it had come. After Rezak’s death, the old man is buried on the edge of the garden, and Sonya Harouni, the mistress of the estate, orders that his cubicle be brought to the front of the estate in his honor. At first the doors are locked, but soon the cubicle is broken into by one of the other servants, and all Rezak’s possessions find new homes: happiness, like our lives, is fleeting.

Forgiveness and Redemption

In the system of personal survival, forgiveness and redemption are far-fetched ideals. In the first story of the collection, “Nawabdin Electrician,” Nawab cannot find forgiveness in his heart for the man who tried to rob him of his motorcycle. The pharmacist who is acting as emergency doctor has pronounced definitely that the robber will not survive; because he is on his deathbed, the robber begs Nawab for forgiveness. But Nawab’s thoughts are colored by his position in the class system—he has been rewarded for his good work and the motorcycle is all he can show for his years of service. Nawab tells the robber that he refuses to forgive him because the robber did not consider that if he managed to kill Nawab, he would leave behind a flock of children and a wife to starve in the street. Other characters in the stories in the collection are equally unforgiving, and even on their deathbeds they curse the ones who were close to them rather than try to find peace.

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