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Analyzing 'A Devoted Son'
Transcript of Analyzing 'A Devoted Son'
by Anita Desai The story focuses on a family in a small, poverty-stricken village in India whose son, Rakesh, is able to pursue his medical career in the United States. Due to his parents' sacrifices, Rakesh is able to attend medical school - even winning a scholarship - and achieves great success in America. He returns home as a doctor, starting a family of his own. Shortly after, his mother passes away and his father, Varma, becomes ill quickly, causing Rakesh to take control of his father's diet and treat him as if he is only another patient. However, Varma remains stubborn and wishes to live as he did prior to falling ill. Ultimately, Varma passes with anger in his heart, resenting Rakesh for not allowing him to die on his own terms. Plot Summary Education Anthropological Lens for this Indian community, receiving an education at all is quite rare, and is seen as an honor. Marriage Arranged marriages are a popular tradition throughout Indian culture: this pairing is normally arranged by the parents of each child while both children are still quite young in age.
Since the idea of an arranged marriage is not uncommon in his culture, Rakesh agrees to marry a girl his mother picks out for him from the village. Cuisine Anthropological Lens (continued) The story touches upon different Indian delicacies such as halwa, ghee sweets, betel juice, kheer, jalebis, soojie halwa, and samosas. Material Wealth Material wealth is not as important to this Indian family as it is to Canadians.
When Rakesh’s achievements are being celebrated by his family, guests bring him fountain pens and a few watches as gifts for his success. Gratitude and Respect in the Household Anthropological Lens (continued) Touching the feet of an elder is a common way to show respect in the Indian culture.
Rakesh shows gratitude and respect for Varma by bending down to touch his father's feet.
This act can be connected back to Christian beliefs, specifically where Mary Magdalene washes Jesus' feet with her hair before his crucifixion. By doing so, Mary shows her respect and gratitude for Jesus. "When the results appeared in the morning papers, Rakesh scanned them, [...] then went up the steps to the veranda where his father sat [...] and bowed down to touch his feet. (75)" Anthropological Lens (continued) the residents of Rakesh's village live in poverty. Garbage trucks dump their contents at the end of the street, where stray pigs can pick through it and people can build their shacks on. Living Conditions Situational Archetypes Archetypal Lens After becoming a medical doctor in India, Rakesh leaves home to pursue his career in the United States, returning home to his village with new ideals. The Quest The Initiation Varma's health begins to decline, allowing Rakesh to become the new man of the household, seizing control. The Task With his new status as a doctor, Rakesh takes on the task of looking after his father as his health worsens, fighting him each step of the way. Nature vs. Mechanistic World Varma vs. Rakesh
Varma is a native to the village who believes in his old ways of tradition. Rakesh comes back from the United States - a more modern world - with a new mindset opposing that of his dad’s. The Ritual leads up to the initiation; as Varma becomes weaker, Rakesh becomes stronger, resulting in a power shift. The Fall Varma's health rapidly worsens, causing him to fall from power within the household. Situational Archetypes (continued) Archetypal Lens (continued) Death and Rebirth Rakesh's mother is a pivotal character; her death brings about Rakesh's rebirth.
After his mother dies, Rakesh is "born" anew, acquiring a position as leader of the household. The Unhealable Wound After Rakesh's mother passes, a subconscious change in him occurs, causing him to take control of the rest of Varma's life.
During the last weeks of Varma's life, Rakesh continued to take more and more of Varma's freedom, causing him to die with anger in his heart. Innate Wisdom vs. Educated Stupidity Varma has cultural wisdom and knows what he wants out of life. Rakesh is educated, but shows stupidity by ignoring his father’s last wishes. Symbolic Archetypes Archetypal Lens (continued) The Colour Red disorder: Rakesh and Varma switch places; Rakesh becomes head of the household while Varma is treated as a child by his own son.
anger: Varma's feelings towards his son; his last wishes aren't granted and he isn't allowed to die on his own terms.
sentiment: Rakesh's mother, her death triggers change. Silver Crescent Moon change: Varma begins sleeping outside after falling ill, singifying the change in his health and control within the household. Feet stability, freedom: once he falls ill, Varma can no longer walk by himself, causing him to rely on others to help him move. The loss of using his feet represents Varma's loss of freedom and stability. Themes New Criticism Lens Devotion Rakesh stays devoted to his father and his family throughout the story, even after he becomes successful in America. He returns home to visit his family, even setting up a clinic of his own to treat people within his village.
Rakesh took care of his mother and stood by her until she passed away. "[...] for it was her own son who ministered to her in her last illness and who sat pressing her feet at the last moment - such a son few women had borne. (78)" Rakesh also remains devoted to his father once he falls ill. However, this sense of devotion is twisted: Rakesh is devoted to keeping Varma alive, not to his father's happiness. "It was Rakesh who brought him his morning tea [...] in the old man's favourite brass tumbler, and sat on the edge of his bed [...] and discussed, or, rather, read out the morning news to his father. It made no difference to him that his father made no response apart from spitting. (79)" "All this was gratifying for the old man. What was not so gratifying was that [Rakesh] even undertook to supervise his father's diet. One day when the father was really sick, having ordered his daughter-in-law to make him a dish of soojie halwa [...], Rakesh marched into the room [...] and declared, 'No more halwa for you, Papa. We must be sensible, at your age. [...] [N]othing fried, nothing rich. We can't have this happening again.' (79)" New Criticism Lens (continued) Themes (continued) Neglect Rakesh selfishly neglects Varma's last wishes in order to keep him alive. While strictly controlling his father's diet, Rakesh refuses to give Varma any of the sweet food that he enjoys. Instead, Rakesh replaces what makes his father happy with foods that are unenjoyable, to say the least.
Even as Varma begs his son to let him die, Rakesh ignores his wishes, doing what he believes is best for Varma's health. "Halwa was only the first item to be crossed off the old man's diet. One delicacy after the other went - everything fried to begin with, then everything sweet, and eventually everything, everything the old man enjoyed. [...] If he called for another helping [...] Rakesh himself would come to the door, gaze at him sadly and shake his head, saying, ' Now, Papa, we must be careful, we can't risk another illness, you know.' (80)" "[...] if he complained of a pain or even a vague, grey fear in the night, Rakesh would simply open another bottle of pills and force him to take one. 'I have my duty to you, Papa,' he said when his father begged to be let off. 'Let me be,' Varma begged [...]. 'Let me die. It would be better. I do not want to live only to eat your medicines.' (82)" New Criticism Lens (continued) Tragic Irony Varma passed away with anger in his heart, never realizing that his son was indeed a devoted son. Conflict Human vs. Human (Rakesh vs. Varma)
As Varma's health worsens, he loses his position of authority within the household. The hierarchy changes, causing Rakesh to hold the power his father once did.
Varma wishes to die on his own terms, but Rakesh continues to pump him full of medications, causing Varma's last few days to be stressful and upsetting. "'How are you feeling, Papa?' [...] 'I'm dying,' he croaked. 'Let me die, I tell you.' 'Papa, you're joking,' his son smiled at him, lovingly. 'I've brought you a new tonic to make you feel better. You must take it, it will make you feel stronger again.' [...] [Varma] spat out some words, as sharp and bitter as poison, into his son's face. 'Keep your tonic–I want none–I want none–I won't take any more of–of your medicines. None. Never[.]' (84)" New Criticism Lens (continued) Symbolisim The food mentioned throughout the text is the greatest symbol in 'A Devoted Son'. Once his father falls ill, Rakesh completely changes Varma's diet. He eliminates all the unhealthy food that Varma loves, restricting him to a diet composed of dry and bland meals.
The sweets that Varma craves most as his illness worsens and what Rakesh serves him instead represents the change in Rakesh.
The sweet and fried delicacies Varma asks for represent his old, respectful son, while the dry, bland food Rakesh serves Varma instead represents his transformation into a powerful, disrespectful son who sees his father as just another patient. Social Criticism:
Empathetic Lens Rakesh lacks empathy for his father; as Varma's health worsens Rakesh forgets to see things through another perspective: his father's.
Instead of understanding that Varma's wish is to die happily and on his own terms, Rakesh forces his medicinal background onto his father, who has a traditional mindset.
Rakesh views the situation through a singular mindset: he only focuses on the disease (or the problem at hand), and disregards his father's feelings towards the situation. Rakesh continues to treat Varma as if he is merely another patient, forgetting that he's treating his own father.
As a result, Rakesh and his father's relationship deteriorates, resulting in a very disconnected doctor-patient relationship.
Ultimately, Rakesh refuses to let his father have his favourite foods – the last joy in his life – causing Varma to pass with hate in his heart at Rakesh. Due to his medical training, Rakesh loses respect for his father. With his medical background and his new status as head of the household, Rakesh becomes controlling, beginning to treat his father as though he's a child. He shows no respect for Varma, yet expects respect in return. "Rakesh marched into the room, not with his usual respectful step but with the confident and rather contemptuous stride of the famous doctor ... (79)" Social Criticism:
Empathetic Lens (continued) Did Rakesh treat his father out of love or because he felt obligated to do so due to his medical training? Discussion Questions "[...] Rakesh returned and the first thing he did on entering the house was to slip out of the embraces of his sisters and brothers and bow down and touch his father's feet. (77)" Was Rakesh consciously denying his father's last wishes, or was he doing so subconsciously? Do you believe that the death of his mother was a trigger for his transformation, or was it just a natural instinct for him to treat his father? "[...] it was, of course, inevitable -- not every son in that shabby little colony at the edge of the city was destined to shine as Rakesh shone[.] (Desai, 76)" "[...] he agreed, almost without argument, to marry a girl [his mother] had picked out for him in her own village, the daughter of a childhood friend ... (77)" "There were garlands and halwa, party clothes and gifts (enough fountain pens to last years, even a watch or two) ... (76)" "[...] he actually returned to that small yellow house in the once-new but increasingly shabby colony, right at the end of the road where the rubbish vans tipped out their stinking contents for pigs to nose in and rag-pickers to build their shacks on ... (77)"