Studies in the Park

by Anita Desai

Start Free Trial

Historical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Colonization and Independence of India
India was a colony of the British empire for almost a century, from 1858 to 1947. The history of India during this period, therefore, is one of expansion of British power in conflict with organizations, protests, rebellion, and terrorist activism among the peoples of India. Before 1848, India had been colonized and ruled by the East India Company, but power was transferred to the British crown in 1858. In 1876, Queen Victoria of England took on the additional title of Empress of India. Rebellion on the part of the Indians against European colonization was waged off and on throughout India's history of colonization. However, the first nationally organized Indian effort at achieving independence was formed in 1885, with the first meeting of the Indian National Congress. Nevertheless, Britain continued to expand its region of power in the area. In 1886, Britain conquered Burma, which it added to its Indian territory. In 1906, the British government instituted a series of reforms ostensibly to increase Indian political influence. With the advent of World War I in 1914, many Indians willingly fought on the side of the British, with the expectation that their loyalty in war would result in further concessions of British power to Indian self-rule; but the disappointment of this expectation following the war only served to spark further protests. Throughout the inter-war years, Indian resistance to British rule continued, with the Indian National Congress inspired by the leadership of Gandhi. In 1947, when the British Parliament voted in the Indian Independence Act, British rule was finally ceded to Indian self-rule.

Desai's father was of Bengali origin. The region of Bengal, primarily Muslim (as compared to a Hindu majority throughout India) was divided into two provinces by the British in 1905, without regard to the concerns of Bengali national identity. While the Bengali had previously been active in resistance to British power, the division of Bengal inspired massive protest. From 1908 to 1910, struggles between Bengali resistance movements and repressive measures on the part of the British government were particularly fierce. In 1911, Bengal was reunited, and the British capital of India was transferred from Calcutta (in Bengal) to Delhi.

Religions in India
In Desai's story, it can be assumed that Suno is from a Hindi family, as he notes that the young woman he sees on the park bench is Muslim. The major religions of India are Muslim and Hindu. During the years of protest against British rule, particularly in the inter-war period, Indians were internally divided in their political goals along these religious lines. Gandhi worked hard to unify the two religions in the cause for independence, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Thus, when the British ceded power in 1947, India was divided into two countries—Pakistan was to be Muslim, while India (to be called the Republic of India) would be Hindu. However, the process of instituting this national division was wracked by bloody civil war among Hindus and Muslims.

Languages of India
With the achievement of national independence in 1947, India officially recognized 14 different languages and dialects throughout the nation, while maintaining English as the language for government transactions. The national language was to be Hindi. Thus, while English is not the ‘‘mother tongue'' of most Indians, many writers choose to write in English. Desai, for instance, has always written in English because, she has explained, it is the language she was taught to write in school. Other Indian writers and intellectuals, however, argue that a true Indian literature should be written in an Indian language.

Education in India

(This entire section contains 694 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

important element of Indian protest against British rule included a call for various reforms and improvements in the area of education, and particularly for a system of national education. Gandhi's call for the boycott of British products eventually included a boycott of British schools and colleges. During this period, independent Indian schools were established, but were quickly dissolved with government suppression of the movement. Gandhi also pushed for increased educational opportunities for girls, and helped women to organize public protests on this issue. In the post-independence era, various efforts at reform have been instituted by the government in the area of education; major reforms were enacted in 1968, and again in 1986.

Literary Style

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Narrative Point of View
This story is told in the first person, which means that the narrator is a character in the story whose knowledge is restricted to that of his own point of view. The narrator in this story is Suno, a young man at odds with his family life. Suno's first-person narration is central to the story because it focuses on his internal monologue regarding the pressures his family has placed on him to study for the exam, and the distractions they cause which make it hard for him to study. Because the story is about Suno's internal transformation, as a result of his "vision" in the park, the internal monologue provides the reader with a view to Suno's inner struggles and his renewed sense of the meaning of his life.

Stream-of-Consciousness Narration
Characteristic of Desai's writing style is the stream-of-consciousness internal monologue of her main characters. A stream-of-consciousness writing style aims at representing the flow of thoughts which run through a person's mind; thus, it is often characterized by a disorganized jumble of ideas and images. Suno's stream-of-consciousness narration runs throughout the story, beginning with the opening sentence: "Turn if off, turn it off, turn it off!'' It becomes clear that Suno is not actually telling his father to turn off the radio, but is merely thinking, in a frustrated and exasperated frame of mind. Listing the six different languages in which his father listens to the radio news, the narration continues in Suno's stream-of-consciousness thinking: ‘‘What next, my god, what next? Turn it off before I smash it onto his head, fling it out of the window.. . .’’ But of course Suno could never outwardly express this anger toward his father, and so the thoughts which quickly follow these violent thoughts within the same sentence are a warning to himself not to act on his rage: ‘‘... do nothing of the sort of course, nothing of the sort.’’ Expressing both his rage and his efforts at calming himself within a single sentence presents the reader with a sense of urgency and exasperation which mirrors Suno's internal state. This stream-of-consciousness narration reappears throughout the story, in order to represent Suno's internal state of mind.

The setting is a central element of this story. It is set in India, as are most of Desai's stories. More importantly, perhaps, this story is set in two primary locations: Suno's house and the park in which he studies. These two locations have very different effects on Suno. His home is a place of noise, irritation, and intrusion by various members of his family. When he is not being reminded by members of his family to ‘‘study, study, study,’’ he is being interrupted in his studies by the various noises they make. The park, on the other hand, while still a reminder of his upcoming exam, is free of the oppressive intrusion of his family on his thoughts. Symbolically, the home represents a place where Suno is expected to conform to the expectations of his family and his culture—to ‘‘get a first’’ in the exam. The park, however, represents a space in which Suno ultimately discovers "life" and, as a result, a sense of "freedom" from these expectations—particularly the expectation to study for the exam.

The tone of narration may change throughout a story. In this story, Suno's thoughts about his family while in his room trying to study are particularly sarcastic in tone, and therefore often humorous. While Suno the character is completely exasperated with his family, his descriptions of their activities are exaggerated to the point of satire. Early in the story, Suno describes the hissing sounds of his mother's cooking in the kitchen as a source of irritation in his attempts to study for the exam; yet what begins as description launches off into fanciful sarcasm and exaggeration: "What all does she fry and feed us on, for God's sake? Eggplants, potatoes, spinach, shoe soles, newspapers, finally she'll slice me and feed me to my brothers and sisters.’’ Suno's sarcastic and exaggerated descriptions of the sounds

Literary Heritage
Desai is one of the leading Anglo-Indian fiction writers of the 20th Century. Anglo-Indian places Desai with other Indian writers whose works are originally written in English (rather than Hindi, or any of India's regional languages). The first Anglo-Indian novel, Rajmohan's Wife, was written by Chandra Chatterjee, and the first modern Indian novelist was Bankim Chandra. According to R.K. Dhawan, ‘‘The Indian English novelist until the thirties wrote for a readership largely Indian and unmistakably nationalist.'' Writing in 1989, Dhawan explains that, "The Indian English fiction in post-Independent India has assumed over the preceding thirty years all kinds of colourful traditions. It is now free from the social and political overtones of a rabidly nationalistic variety.’’ Dhawan concludes that ‘‘The Indian English novel has enjoyed its golden period during the last few decades.'' Desai is the most widely recognized of contemporary female Indian novelists, in the company of Kamala Markandaya, Ruth Jhabvala, and Nayantara Sahgail.

Compare and Contrast

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Mid-Nineteenth to Mid-Twentieth Century: Between 1958 and 1947, India is a colony under British rule.

Late Twentieth Century: As of 1947, India becomes an independent nation called the Republic of India. Pakistan is created as an independent nation.

Mid-Nineteenth to Mid-Twentieth Century: In 1947, the newly formed Republic of India officially recognizes 14 different Indian languages and dialects, as well as English.

Late Twentieth Century: The Republic of India now officially recognizes 18 different Indian languages and dialects (as well as English).

Early Twentieth Century: In the pre-independence era of Indian history, there is essentially no substantial body or output of Indian literature written in English, known as Anglo-Indian literature.

Late Twentieth Century: A notable body of Anglo-Indian literature emerges in the 1950s and continues to develop.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Bande, Usha, The Novels of Anita Desai: A Study in Character and Conflict, Prestige Books, 1988, p. 11.

Dhawan, R. K., The Fiction of Anita Desai, Bahri Publications, 1989, pp. 10-15.

Jena, Seema, Voice and Vision of Anita Desai, Ashish Publishing House, 1989, pp. 9, 11.

Ramachandra, Rao B., The Novels of Anita Desai, Kalyani Publishers, 1977, pp. 7-8, 62.

Ramachandra, Rao B., "Themes and Variations in the Novels and Short Stories of Anita Desai,’’ in Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, Vol. 2, Nos. 2-3, April-July, 1982, pp.74-9.

Sharma, R. S., Anita Desai, Arnold-Heinemann, 1981, pp. 5, 149-50, 165-66.

Further Reading
Bellioppa, Meena, The Fiction of Anita Desai, Writers Workshop, 1971.
From technique to critical reception around the world, this book includes a variety of essays designed to lend insight into Desai's writing.

Choudhury, Bidulata, Women and Society in the Novels of Anita Desai, Creative Books, 1995.
Critical discussion of Desai's novels in terms of the oles of women in Indian society.

Dash, Sandhyarani, Form and Vision in the Novels of Anita Desai, Prestige, 1996.
Critical discussion of language and themes in Desai's novels.

Gopal, N. R., A Critical Study of the Novels of Anita Desai, Atlantic Publishers, 1995.
Critical analysis of Desai's novels to date.

Parker, Michael, and Roger Starkey, eds.,Postcolonial Literature: Achebe, Ngugi, Desai, Walcott, St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Parker and Starkey review how the aftermath of colonialism is reflected in the literature of various countries.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide