Essay: Comparative Analysis of the Female Protagonists in the Barking and Breast Giver

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¶ … desire to enjoy the sexual act with his wife leads to the introduction of Jashoda as 'professional mother' to the Haldar infants, and liberates the Haldar women from at least one stage in the endless cycle of pregnancy, birthing, and suckling" (Indrani, et al. 1991)

Comparing the female protagonists in "The Barking" and "The Breast Giver" is an exercise in contrasts, dramatic juxtaposition and cultural separation. Moreover, these two short stories are extremely interesting and reveal many human flaws.

Authors create characters not necessarily just for the entertainment or amusement of the readers, although certainly entertainment plays a substantial part in the writing of a short story. But in many cases -- including the two protagonists in the short stories "Breast-Giver" and "The Barking" -- characters are placed in a story as metaphors, or symbols, for cultural divisions in society. The main characters can serve as tools for an educational theme by the author. In these stories the protagonists are clearly representative of more, in literary terms, than just the roles they play within the context of the stories. They reflect key components of their respective cultures -- lower income cultures vs. wealth.

Critique of the Protagonists: The protagonist in "Breast-Giver" is Jashoda, a woman whose husband is crippled by the careless youngest son-in-law of a neighboring family, the well-to-do Haldar family. As a result of the accident Jashoda's husband can no longer be the breadwinner for the family. And so to feed her family, Joshoda takes on a remarkable career, giving birth to 20 children in thirty years and suckles about 50 babies, hence "Breast-Giver."

There are things that come up in her life that are so brutally unfair, only a very strong person could endure. And author Mahasweta Devi carves out a story depicting not only Jashoda's plight but also the Indian culture, grabbing readers and not letting them go.

As to the tragic story of Jashoda, author / critic / translator and feminist intellectual Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak offers some worthy background on author Devi that helps a reader understand the dynamics and the history of Jashoda. Spivak writes that Breast-Giver is a "parable of India after decolonization" (after the British were driven out that is). Spivak explains that, "like…Jashoda, India is a mother-by-hire…all classes of people, the post-war rich, the ideologues, the indigenous bureaucracy…the people who are sworn to protect the new state, abuse and exploit her" (Spivak, 1987, p. 244). Moreover on page 245 Spivak explains that the nationalistic Indian narratives were, "irrelevant to the life of the subordinate" in India, and in this case the subordinate is Jashoda.

A classic example of the cultural divide in post-colonial India is reflected in the actions of the son-in-law of the elite culture (the Haldar family is a microcosm). He runs over Jashoda's husband's feet and shins with an automobile. On page 226 Devi writes that the driver "…breathed relief as he saw that his Studebaker was not much damaged…" -- and the upshot of his accident is that Jashoda is now forced to become a baby factory and to suckle dozens of babies.

Jashoda as a character and as a metaphor for India in this short story becomes a kind of mother-for-pay to help the wealthy crowd build families without having to go through the hassle of pregnancy. "The wives are happy. They can keep their figures. They can wear blouses and bras of 'European cut'" (Devi 229). That juxtaposition of cultures is made very clear in this passage (Devi 229) When the rich family is out late watching movies, the pretty wives of the wealthy husbands "…are no longer obliged to breast-feed their babies" when they return home, because Jashoda suckles their babies for them. Reviewing the book Breast Stories, with 82 pages of "introduction, notes, and analysis by Spivak" -- who is known to have "scored many broadside hits on white feminists" while Devi is "steeped in postcolonial consciousness and analytic acumen" -- Uma Parameswaran writes that Devi and Spivak combine for an "interesting example of what happens in cross-cultural discourse" (Parameswaran 1998). There is that word "culture" again, bringing focus to the short story.

Meanwhile, in "The Barking," the protagonist, Mrs. Jordan, also known as "old Mrs. Jordan" and "the old woman" in "The Barking," is also a pivotal part… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Comparative Analysis of the Female Protagonists in the Barking and Breast Giver.  (2009, May 3).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/comparative-analysis-female-protagonists/276844

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"Comparative Analysis of the Female Protagonists in the Barking and Breast Giver."  3 May 2009.  Web.  22 November 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/comparative-analysis-female-protagonists/276844>.

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"Comparative Analysis of the Female Protagonists in the Barking and Breast Giver."  Essaytown.com.  May 3, 2009.  Accessed November 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/comparative-analysis-female-protagonists/276844.