In this novel Cry, The Peacock the name of the central character is Maya. From the beginning of the novel she is obsessed with the prophecy of an astrologer. This prophecy says that she or her husband will not survive during the fourth year of their marriage. Her father treats this prophecy as baseless but she believes in the prophecy. This prophecy is repressed in her conscious mind but not forgotten. It is further triggered by the death of Toto, her pet dog. This prophecy keeps her disturb all the time and she becomes restless. Initially she used to talk to herself and think that it is she not here husband who ill fated. She is going to die soon as the marriage has reached into the fourth year. Later we find that she starts loving her own life and thus she is in a state of dilemma that is she or her husband is ill fated? According to Freud if a person is superstitious it means that there are some kind of suppressed hostility around the person. It can be understood by a quotation-
“it can be recognized most clearly in neurotics suffering from obsessional thinking… that superstition derives from suppressed hostile and cruel impulses. Superstition is in large part the expectation of trouble; and a person who has harbored frequent evil wishes against others, but has been brought up to be good and has therefore repressed such wishes into the unconscious, will be especially ready to expect punishment for his unconscious wickedness in the form of trouble threatening him from without.”1
Now a question arises that these symptoms can be seen also in those characters who feel marginalized. Does the superstitious belief of Maya is an outcome of her repression? is she feeling repressed? She is an obedient daughter and a submissive wife. She has been treated and taught like this. She is abided by all the rules and regulations of a patriarchal society where women who are submissive and obedient are considered as a fair lady. Then we are bound to think that from where she has begotten such cruel impulses? It seems that she accuses her husband Gautama responsible for her plight. Her instincts are unfulfilled and she is not happy in her married life. To solve the problems of her life now she wishes that he is going to die.The analytical mind of Gautama is countered by her emotionality. Freudian theory also says what critics would find that Maya is not satisfied with her husband. In the beginning of the novel it has been admitted by Maya that she is sexually not satisfied. It can be felt by the following lines-
“Telling me to go to sleep while he worked at his papers, he did not give another thought to me, to either the soft, willing body or the lonely, wanting mind that waited near his bed.”2
As a frustrated wife she beats her pillow and it suggests that she is helpless. She cannot do anything. As it becomes a routine then she starts imagining sexuality in the surroundings like a tree of papaya in the courtyard. She says-
“I contemplated that, smiling with pleasure at the thought of those long streamers of bridal flowers that flow out of the core of the female papaya tree and twine about her slim trunk, and the firm, wax-petal led blossoms that leap directly out of the solid trunk of the male.”3
It clearly showsthat she is searching her satisfaction and these findings give her a symbolic satisfaction. In spite of all these things she does not try to find her happiness in any kind of extra marital relationship. Her moral scrupulosity does not even allow her to think on such issue. She is also not strong enough to sublimate such powerful biological urge. It results into her hallucinations. This continuous frustration of the biological needs can be catastrophic to the characters like Maya. A healthy emotional and sexual fulfillment would have given her a meaningful life. This could have healed her and the prophecy might have decayed withy time. But it is not normal to her. She is frustrated and unhappy and it leads to her hallucinations and imaginations. According to Freud-.
“experience shows…that women, who, as being the actual vehicles of sexual interests of mankind, are not only endowed in a small measure, with the gift of sublimating their instincts, and who…when they are subjected to the disillusionments of marriage, fall ill of severe neuroses which permanently darken their lives.”4
It is not only the physical satisfaction but also the emotional as well as mental satisfaction which is the matter of concern for Maya. Anita Desai has tried to portray a very realistic character which can be found anywhere in a typical Indian society.Women who are marginalized or who are not given any chance to speak or prove their worth feel oppressed. Similar thing happens to Maya. Initially it has been shown to us that she is a perfect lady as she is a very obedient daughter and a submissive wife but her words are very limited. She cannot live beyond the four walls she feels frustrated. Her husband Gautama is also a typical representation of a patriarchal society. He is busy in his own work and thus he hardly cares for his wife. Freud further says that-
“the more strictly a woman has been brought up and the more sternly she has submitted to the demands of civilization, the more she is afraid of taking this way out; and in the conflict between her desires and her sense of duty, she once more seeks refuge in a neurosis. Nothing protects her virtue as securely as illness.”5
For Maya also the solution is neurotic but this solution is not enough and as her marriage crosses the fourth year she desires the death of Gautama. She believes in the prophecy very much and imagines that one has to die and it is not she but her husband is going to die and thus grant her t6he freedom to live.Several critics have said that in the works of Anita Desai we can figure out the elements of existentialism. This term existentialism is a philosophical idea which is modern and it emphasizes on life experiences. It says that we ourselves are responsible for our action. Two great philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus view each an every individual as an isolated person who are present in the universes which is alien. In this alien world the individual conceives nothing. Thus there is nothingness in life and it seems that there is a void. Today we are living in a wasteland which is spiritually barren. Today the modern man keeps on searching nothing in life. They are barren and simply absurd. In Cry, The Peacock the central character Maya is a perfect example of barrenness. Her condition is existential and she is preoccupied with the prophecy of death. She is a marginalized woman who speaks less. It seems that for her loneliness is charming. In other novels of Anita Desai like Clear Light of Day, Fire on the Mountain and Voices in the City we can also find the theme of existentialism.Thus in this novel we can clearly see the character sketch of Maya who feels oppressed and alienated. But apart from all these facts we cannot dent that she is a very strong character whom the author has ever created. Though the present novel Cry, The Peacock is the first novel written by Anita Desai yet it is very rich in its symbolism. By exploring the inner world of the characters the author has tried to explore the inner world of the human being. Symbolism has been used to express reality of thoughts. Thus even the symbols speaks the reality of the characters thus the plot as well the setting support each other. It is the unique feature of the author which mark her different from the others. This is one of the reasons that she has been admired by the readers and her novels are the most awaited and widely circulated not only in India but all over the world. The symbols used by the author is not limited in appeal but their horizons are very broad.She uses both the present as well as the past to show us the clear picture of what is happening in the plot. It reflects the causes and depths of the anguish which the protagonist is going through. The present and past techniques also gives a hint that the writer is using the techniques of the stream of consciousness. We have already seen that the death of Toto, the pet dog of Maya triggers in her the reality of death and tragedy of the prophecy. Maya is childless and Toto was like a child to her. It also reflects the desires of which she is starving. She wants to love a child and it symbolizes that she was prepared to go through the journey of motherhood. When Gautama sends the body of Toto in a municipality van then readers can understand that there is a communication gap between the husband and the wife. Their marriage is a perfect mismatch. The husband is unaware to the feelings of his wife. Their reaction to the death of Toto shows the reaction of two different people towards life and death. The hollowness of the marriage is again reflected in the casual approach of Gautama when he leaves her alone to meet a client. He doesnot utter a single word to her and this silence speaks a lot about their relationship. The warm relationship could have helped her a lot in diving back to life. However readers are left to think about the sense of realism hidden in the works of the author.
1. Freud Sigmund, “Determinism, Belief in chance and superstition-some points of view,” The psychopathology of Everyday Life, tr. Alan Tyson, Penguin,1960,p.232.
4. Freud Sigmund, Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness, tr. James Strachey. Penguin, 1985,p.47.