1. Is the title of the story straightforward or ironic? Does the story suggest that grief can be managed?
The title of Bharat Mukherjees novel ‘The Management of Grief’ strikes to me as being quite ironic. Grief is an emotion that takes people by surprise. Events associated with grief are caused usually by loss of something and even death. Grief then becomes an emotion that is not easily controlled or even understood. Sure, psychologists separate the way people deal with grief in different stages but the momentum and the time taken to pass through these stages is different for everyone. Suggesting that there is a straightforward way to the ‘management of grief’ is ironic since grief is an emotion that cannot be easily understood, so it would be hard to control in any event.
However, it’s very irony suggests that no matter how hard every emotion can be conquered and grief like any other experience in a person’s life can be managed over time.
2. What is unique and personal about the way the heroine passes through stages of grief?
The story Management of Grief is about an Indian woman living in Canada. The woman loses her husband and two sons in a plane explosion and we see the story build as the woman deals with her loss, the conflict she faces living in a different culture all the while trying to get her life back together.
The personal and unique aspect of the way the heroine passes through the stages of grief is derived essentially from the fact that the stages emerge through the cultural differences between the East and West. How a person deals with their emotions depends largely on the manner in which they are brought up. Culture, society and religion all play an important part with how emotions are dealt with. Death has certain rituals associated with it in every culture and the emotions that death brings then, have a similar association. The story takes place in the West while the protagonist is from the East. That the protagonist was from the East and had been brought up to deal with grief in a certain manner and then had to live out that grief in a completely different way gives her emotions and experience a very unique perspective.
The protagonist has to deal with her grief on losing her entire family in a horrific manner. The plane her husband and son were on was the target of a terrorist attack. The unexpectedness of this loss and the violence associated with it would cause any person to come under stress. Psychologists call it post traumatic stress disorder. Then, to have to deal with the cultural conflicts where the protagonists has been brought up to deal with grief in a certain manner and yet, living in a strange land, being unable to follow that instinct of letting out that grief creates an extraordinary situation for an individual.
The personal and unique experience of the protagonist Shaila, is shown through the contrast with, another women that has lost her husband in the crash. While Shaila tries to create a midway between her own cultural beliefs and the beliefs of the new land she is living in, Kusum retains her cultural beliefs. With her husband dead she believes, her life as a ‘woman’ is over and she can never remarry or have a relationship with a man. Shaila, on the other hand tries to overcome the impersonal way the West deals with death compared to her own background while, understanding that she cannot completely cling to her beliefs. Her family is gone but she is alive and she understands that living in this ‘new world’ she must adapt the best of it and go on with her life. For any immigrant reading this struggle with grief and past cultural beliefs, the lesson learnt would be that there is something good in all societies and what has to be done is choosing what is best for themselves, as individuals.
3. Miss Templeton means well, but what is the fundamental difference between her attitude and that of the heroine?
The heroine Shaila is a realistic sort of person. She feels the loss of her family, she feels the conflict and she feels the grief, yet, she is strong enough to look through it and survive. She goes back to India for a while and yet, feels conflicted there as well. In India she is being forced to realize her life is over for as a widow there will be no one to marry her, while in Canada the conflict was having to let go of the loss of her family too soon. Her words represent this conflict, “I am trapped between two modes of knowledge. At thirty six, I am too old to start over and too young to give up. Like my husband’s spirit, I flutter between worlds.”
Ms. Templeton was a social worker who was trying to help the Indian community who lost their lived ones in the crash deal with their loss and accept it. However, her mistake was she was trying to impose the Western culture of ‘going on’ onto people who were brought up to cling to memories. The men and women in the East are brought up in a different manner and the mistake the government made was dealing with everyone the same way. Miss. Templeton asked the protagonist to help as she seemed calm and more integrated with the Western society than others. However, Shaila saw the government and the social worker imposing on grief.
While the management of grief in the West is very systematic and somewhat impersonal, in the East there are a lot of cultural boundaries. Woman cannot remarry especially in India; they are dependent on the men -their whole background is such that they cannot go forward without a man. Men can marry and must do so immediately. Children are the binding force and without them a family is incomplete. Ms. Tempelton was asking families to deal with red tape, telling widows about getting further education or getting jobs without their husbands and expecting parents to accept the death of their children. This was something that was against their cultural norm and something that made the families close up rather than go towards the governmental support agencies.
While Shaila dealt with her grief in her own way, she knew and accepted everyone in her community would deal with grief differently, she accepted that. Imposing her views on others was something she would never think of doing and that was what differentiated her from Ms. Templeton.
Mathur, Suchitra, “Bharati Mukherjee: Overview,” in Feminist Writers, edited by Pamela Kester-Shelton, St. James Press, 1996. Ref The Management of Grief…Bharti Mukherjee