Themes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519

Family
Like many of Desai's stories, this one focuses on the theme of the individual struggling to define her - or himself in the face of overwhelming family and societal pressures. Thus, the role of the family is central to the story. Suno is overwhelmed by his family's intrusions into his life. In the first place, it is his family that is putting so much pressure on him to study for the exam: ‘‘study, study, study,’’ they tell him. Yet it is also the activities of the family members which make it impossible for Suno to focus on his studies. His father listens to the radio news in six different languages. His mother makes noise in the kitchen with the sizzling sounds of her frying and the sounds of water sloshing around. His younger brothers and sisters tease and harass him when they return home from school. Even the sounds of his father's shoes squeaking on the staircase interfere with Suno's powers of concentration. And his mother, in an effort to help him study, only further interrupts him to make him drink milk with sugar in it. Suno's first step in escaping the oppressive atmosphere of his family life is to leave the house in order to find a quieter place to study. In the process of physically stepping out from the family home, Suno eventually makes a symbolic break from the path they expect him to take in life.

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Death in Life, Life in Death
Suno's "vision" of the young woman in the park allows him to truly experience life for the first time. However, before he reaches this point of personal transformation, Suno sees all around him images of death. The death he sees symbolizes the death-in-life he has been leading, studying night and day for an exam his parents are pressuring him to take. Suno first associates his life of studying for the exam with a living death when he speaks with another student whom he meets in the park. Suno notices that the other student's "face was like a grey bone.'' From this image of bone Suno makes a leap to images of death. "I felt as if we were all dying in the park, that when we entered the examination we would be declared officially dead.’’ Suno thinks of the educational degrees for which he and the other students are studying as being ' like official stamps— they would declare us dead. Ready for a dead world. A world in which ghosts went about. . . . Slowly, slowly we were killing ourselves in order to join them.’’ Leaving the park, Suno comes across a beautiful dying girl on a park bench. This image of life on the verge of death jolts Suno into a realization about life. Suno thinks of the dying girl on the bench with the older man as belonging ‘‘to the dead,’’ but he realizes that ‘‘now I had seen what being alive meant.’’ With this "vision," Suno makes the choice to live his own life by refusing to take the exam which for him would only be a stamp of death.

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Characters