In the book Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai develops an extended metaphor of the Das family house to symbolize the entrapment of the Das children: Bimla, Tara, Raja, and Baba. Desai’s book follows each of the children as they grow up, but when the family gathers at the Das house for Raja’s daughter’s wedding, it is the first time the family had been at the house together since childhood. The house, kept the same through the years, then morphs into a prison, causing each member of the Das family to be reminded of their personal experiences there as children.
As a child, Bimla, the eldest sister, never wanted to be at the Das house and enjoyed school because it “brought out [her] natural energy and vivacity that was kept damped down at home because of the… atmosphere” (Desai 123). She had experienced tough situations in the house as she “devoted her life to looking after others: Raja during his deadly illness in 1947, the alcoholic Aunt Mira, the retarded brother, and everyone else who needed care“ (Hashmi 56).
When Bimla grows older, she feels like it is her responsibility to maintain the house as the other children (aside from Baba) leave. While caring for the house, Bimla chooses to change nothing, demonstrating her inability to accept change. Bimla holds bitterness and is trapped by the memories that the house holds and the responsibilities she took on as a younger woman, which she still believes she must tend to. Bimla cares for not only the house, but also Baba, her mentally disabled brother.
Baba is a stagnant character throughout the book, exhibiting very little change. He cannot speak, and plays the same records on his gramophone day after day to make his presence known throughout the house. The house acts as a trap for Baba, due to his fear, causing even more of a reason for Bimla to keep it the same. After years of Bimla encouraging Baba to head to the office to get a change of scenery, and him declining, when he finally decides to leave the house and go on his own, he is struck with fear and runs back quickly to the house and to Bimla (Desai 16-17).
Tara, the youngest sister, leaves the house as a teenager to escape the family issues and marries Bakul, an Indian diplomat who is determined to “save” Tara from her tragic home life and place her into a busy life that consists of taking care of her children and taking care of her husband’s name by meeting with his wealthy partners’ families and making friendships with their wives. As a child, Tara is described as a “terror” in school and found her childhood home where she was happiest (Desai 157).
When Tara returns to the Das house, she “looks back fondly on her childhood days, but is not sorry that she left them behind” (Meilan). Returning back to the house, she is swept up in the good memories of her childhood and looks at her life with Bakul as boring and unhappy. Upon returning to the house, Tara is stricken with guilt for leaving in the first place, causing her sister, Bimla to cope with the family issues. She finds herself trapped in memory lane because of the house and all its similarities to her childhood.
Her husband notices that although she seems relieved to be back, she is actually unhappy and feels obligated to stay when her husband goes to meet businessmen in town because she had been gone for so long (Desai 18). The house causes Tara to reflect on her current situation and regret that her children will never live the same life that she lived at the Das house. In her experience staying at the house, Tara is trapped emotionally. After his parents die, Raja, the oldest brother is diagnosed with tuberculosis and because their aunt Mira is an alcoholic by this time, she is unable to care for him. Bimla takes care of Raja, causing them to get closer to each other as Bimla finds that Raja is an excellent writer, and it is how they connect.
On a whim, Raja leaves home at a young age to Hyderabad with the family landlord in search for money and a new life apart from the tragic Das house. Although he is not a dynamic character, it is clear Raja cannot stand all of the memories held in the house, and feels as though his life wouldn’t amount to anything in Old Dehli. Raja never returns to visit Bimla or Baba, who he had become very close to, causing tension between them. Come his daughter’s wedding, Bimla finds that Raja had become successful with business and had stayed in Hyderabad to start his new life.
The house acts as a trap to Raja because he simply refuses to return to the house, in fear of it becoming a trap of responsibilities for him. Due to concealing herself in the house for so long, Bimla feels resentment towards her siblings who left her alone to maintain the house and take care of Baba, slowly causing her to deteriorate emotionally. She does not seem to realize how different she has become from her siblings, for example, “Raja brings Bimla romantic fictions but she feels that she wants ‘something different – facts, history, chronology.’
Though Raja accuses her of not having any imagination, she has her own perspective on the world. She thinks knowledge is much more important than imagination” (Bite 7). As Bimla digresses from her past, the house deteriorates from staying unchanged. By the end of her stay, Tara recognizes her sister’s unhappiness and recognizes the house as an unhealthy trap, particularly for Bimla. After confronting Bimla, Tara is shocked That Bimla blows up on her, voicing her struggles with her sister and brother leaving home. Bimla refuses to go to her brother’s daughter’s wedding and when Tara leaves the house where she stayed due to the obligation and guilt she felt, Bimla stays with Baba, still trapped in the house.
By the end of the book, Desai creates a sense of peace in Bimla after she had blown up at Tara for her asking Bimla to make some change and on Baba for what he is not in control of, his fear. As she is sitting with Baba, they are listening to Mulk and his guru’s music. Bimlan begins to re-evaluate her feelings towards the house, realizing that it had acted as a trap for the years she has kept it the same and finds peace as she feels, “her own house and its particular history linked and contained here (the house) as well as her whole family with all their separate histories and experiences- not binding them with in some dead and airless cell but giving them the soil in which to send down their roots, and food to make them grow and spread, reach out to new experiences and new lives, but always drawing from the same soil.
That soil contained all time, past and future, in it” (Desai 182). Bimla recognizes the house as a metaphor to their lives, as the house acts maybe as a trap but also as a means of the “same soil”. In conclusion, Anita Desai creates the Das house as a metaphor for Bimla, Baba, Tara, and Raja. Bimla is trapped because of her responsibilities, Baba because of his fear of the unknown and change. When Tara visits, the house acts as a trap in means of joyful childhood memories and guilt while Raja just never returns in fear of the house becoming a trap for him as well, like his oldest sister, Bimla.
By the end of the book, it is seen that each character has found a way to escape the Das house and the painful memories. For Tara it was to go back to her life with Bakul. For Raja, it was moving on, as seen with his daughter getting married and him inviting his siblings, for Bimla it was accepting her painful past and finding peace in where she is. Although Baba doesn’t speak, it is implied that he, too feels the samepeace that Bimla does. Each character and their experiences in their childhood home were tragic, and because Bimla keeps it the same, memories flood each character no matter how long their stay in the Das household, asking the reader, “is home really where the heart is?”
Bite, Vishwanath. “Interpretingthe Dialectics of Duality in Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day.” The Criterion 3.3 (2012): 1-9. Print. Hashmi, Alamgir. “A Reading of Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day.” The International Fiction Review 10.1 (1983): 56-58. Print. Meilan, Sun. “A Review of Anita Desais Clear Light of Day.” Humanities 360. RR Donnelley, 16 Aug. 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
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