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  • Published 2.02.07

Writing Resistance: A Comparative Study of the Selected Novels By Women Writers By Usha Bande, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Rs 350

Patriarchy has evolved in myriad forms through the ages. It has manisfested itself in brutal repression, informing hallowed social institutions like marriage, or sought to determine power equations in familial or social relations, as well as seeped into myths and lores.

Feminist resistance against such a force has also been varying. Michelle Perrot in her article, “Women, Power and History”, envisions the feminine power in a new perspective: “Power is, like many other terms, polysemic. In the singular it has a political connotation and tends to suggest the central, cardinal figure of the state, generally accepted as being masculine. In the plural, it breaks down into many fragments, which are equated with diffuse, peripheral influences, of which women have a large share”. The resistance against patriarchy is thus a confrontation between two different kinds of power. What Perrot stops short of saying is, just as the “masculine” state power, the defensive feminine power also has a strong political motivation,

In her study of the feminist resistance to patriarchy, Usha Bande examines the narrative strategies used in nine contemporary novels written in English. The novelists she discusses are Anita Desai, Sashi Deshpande, Githa Hariharan, Manju Kapur, Sobhaa Dé, Arundhati Roy and Bapsi Sidhwa. Bande explores the politics of power in their fictional writing, showing how it reflects the shifting power relations within a socio-political order.

In the introduction, Bande distinguishes “resistance literature” from “literary resistance”. The latter, she points out, is not merely oppositional or protest-oriented as the former, but something which strives “to materially and conceptually change the existing situation to allow for empowerment.”

Bande analyzes the psychodynamics of the “literary resistance” embodied in the nine novels. The discourses and counter-discourses in these works come under her scrutiny. She shows that the resistance to overbearing male dominance can be codified in silences and refusals to act, that, even a grand matriarch can function as an agent of patriarchy and that, in some cases, childhood memories can generate resistance against it. Bande also deals with the “revisionist mythmaking” which studies subversive narrative techniques to counter patriarchal hegemony perpetuated by traditional myths.

“The act of story telling is a reclamatory project,” writes Bande in the section, “Summing up”. For Bande, reclamation implies a return to the past in order to grapple with the present. In the first volume of The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault defines two kinds of power — regulative/restrictive, productive/recommendative. Patriarchy epitomizes both, and the job of “diffusive” feminine power is to dissipate these. Writing, according to Bande, is one way of doing this.

Bande is strongly influenced by, as she admits herself, Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own, and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, both published in the late-Seventies