The journey of
R.K.Narayan’s feminism becomes a serious effort with sincere intention of
suggesting reformative attitude to Indian society. Living a long life in Indian
society, he has observed and penned out exactly all upheavals and alterations
in Indian social milieu. In his earlier days of his writing he depicts woman
engaged and pleased in household duties, in fact pressed and bound herself by
innumerable taboos and traditional beliefs still at peace. Savitri in The Dark Room is such an obedient wife
bound strictly to the house and children, more a mother and dutiful housewife
than a self made educated woman. But R.K.Narayan has not this intention to show
Indian woman at peace even if she is slave and many times victim of the whim of
her husband. Therefore Savitri does not remain same as she was shown in the
beginning. Her life is ordered and arranged around her family yet when she
knows that she is no more than a doll in her house and any woman can take her
place in her husband’s life as per him whim and desire, she rebels. She has
been tolerating all her tyranny at home but when the moment of realization of
her state comes, she broods over her state:

impotent she was, she thought; she had not the slightest power to do anything
at home, and that after fifteen years of her married life; she felt she ought
to have asserted herself a little more at the beginning of her married life and
then all would have been well.”

     A stage came when Savitri tried to assert
herself. She opposes her husband’s behaviour and treachery boldly, his affair
with Shantabai. She sands against his dominance and injustice upon her.

     It is the first voice of Narayan’s Malgudi
woman to challenge the mileage and the traditional patriarchal system. This is
the beginning of the search of women for her existence and independent
identity. Inspired by this self esteem she dares to rebuke him on face and
shows courage to walk on his tyranny. She challenges his husbandry supremacy
and dictates him to stop the way he is leading.

     The supremacy of husband vouchsafed by
tradition and socio-economic realities of male dominated society is slapped by
submissive Savitri and the blow of ‘woman lib’ is incurred on society of
Malgudi. Her confining into ‘The Dark Room’, before this, had no effect on her
husband and she comes out from darkness, ready to fight. She gives him
ultimatum-the girl in the office or wife, never both. To her shocking surprise,
he tells her to leave gathering her belonging and she outbursts:

you think that now I will stay in your house, breathe the air of your property,
drink the water here and eat food you buy with your money? No, I’ll starve and
die in the open, under the sky, a roof for which ‘We’ need be obliged to no

     She here says ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ which
implies all the women like her, dependent on husband for food and shelter. She
gives voice thus to the suppressed self of all women declaring the denial of
any man to live independently.

bitterly tells him, when he says to take her things and get out, she says:

I don’t possess anything in this world. What possession can a woman call her
own except her body? Everything else that she has her father’s, her husband’s
or her Son’s… even the children are absolutely yours-you are right, didn’t I
say woman owns nothing.”

     Further, she boldly breaks into pieces the
so called sacred status of a married woman’s role after marriage in such
families, declaring that a woman owns nothing except her body, she asks:

is difference between a prostitute and a married woman? The prostitute changes
her men but a married woman doesn’t; that is all but both earn their food and
shelter in the same manner.”

     She then decides to give her daughters
higher education to stand independently on their own and not depend on husband
for food and shelter.

     But she laughs at herself remembering she
has no right and freedom to decide her daughter’s fortune as their father is to
pay for their education and they belong to him not to hers. But now awakened,
she warns him, “Don’t think you can fondle us when you like and kick us when
you choose.”

     She utterly feels the need of economical
independence with education and freedom from slavery of husband. She
desperately tries to end her life but is saved by a blacksmith and brought to
his house. His wife Ponni gives her courage to life independently seeking some
work somewhere. Ponni is another rebellious but independent woman character
contrasting to Savitri’s earlier submissive nature.

     Savitri is divided between two ‘pulls’,
one empowering her revolt against the tyranny of husband and social system, the
other pulls her to helpless, dependent motherhood where she proves herself
timid and weak. Either she must line within male-dominated society and family
or she must leave it altogether with her inner resources and be ready to accept
any difficulty and dishonour.

     In the end she is defeated and the
rebellious spirit dies, the extraordinary strong side of her character turns
into ordinary powerless and average state. Savitri proves her self-definition
that she has given, “I am like bamboo pole, cannot stand without a wall to
support it”.

Dark Room being Narayan’s early novel, the modernisations were then just
arousing. R.K.Narayan has mirrored the changing world even in the case of
defeated Savitri. Savitri’s return to her husband’s home cannot be called as
submission or surrender; she returns only because of her children. She cannot
suppress her maternal affections and emotion. Her emotional and sentimental
attachment towards her children did not permit herself to keep away from them. She
is not the same woman after returning to her husband’s house. She seeks self-realisation,
cuts herself from her husband and married status, decides to live only for her
children and voices her dignity and identity in appropriate manner. She is now
a changed woman knowing unavoidable predicament and reality of life. The novel
shows her attempt to assert her independent and her awakening to her rights.
Though she loses the battle, she begins a new chapter in her life after all.

     R.K.Narayan has kept the position of
Savitri in two contrasting characters Ponni and Gangu, wife of school master.
Both are independent and bold in creating their dominance and power in family
life. Ponni does not believe that any husband in universe is unmanageable, she
advices Savitri and all the women to keep the man under the rod and they will
be right. Gangu is also able to rule over her husband and third is Shantabai
who has left her tormenting husband’s house for her own independence and earns
her own bread.

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