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Copyright © 2007
M. S. Thirumalai
Marriage and Self in the Selected Works of
S. Ganesan, M.A.,M.Phil., Ph.D. Candidate
Henry James and Jayakanthan
Institution of Marriage and Some Creative Writers
The institution of marriage and ceremonies related to it have been commented upon and criticized by several women writers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - Simone de Beauvoir's The Mandarins and Les Belles Image, Nayantra Sahgal's Storm in Chandigarh and The Day in the Shadow, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Emma are a few examples.
These novelists, who handle 'Marriage' as a recurring motif, have emphasized the importance of personal choice and freedom of will in shaping an individual's decision and approach towards Marriage. Freedom for equality, the need for individuality and the insistence on the retention of individual identity are also stressed by such novelists. Their primary aim seems to re-define and oppose the patriarchal version of Marriage. Their general claim has been that intellectual and sexual freedom (for women) is necessary and essential; lacking this freedom may result in the failure of marriages. Simone De Beauvoir's comments are worth considering here:
Marriage has always been a very different thing for man and for woman. The two sexes are necessary for each other, but this necessity has never brought about a condition of reciprocity between them. (Beauvoir 1960: 300)
It is also very interesting to see that men writers also have handled the motif - Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, George Meredith's The Amazing Marriage, Nawthaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in English fiction and the works of Jayakanthan in Tamil fiction are a few examples to suggest here.
The Focus of This Paper
In this paper, five novels by Henry James (1842-1916) and Jayakanthan (1934 - ) are chosen and analysed to examine the treatment of marriage, love, and family life, focusing from the perspective of their women characters. Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl, The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove and The Europeans and Jayakanthan's Vaazhkai Azhaikiratu (Life Beckons) Gangai Engey Pogiral? (Where Does Ganga Go?) Oru Natikai Natakam Parkiral, (An Actress witnessing a Play) Cuntarakandam (Life of Sita) and Katru Veliviniley (The Windy Moor) are chosen for the present study.
Henry James and Love Between Man and Woman
Henry James belongs to the liberal Protestant tradition shared by such writers like John Milton, William Blake, Emerson, Hawthorne and Henry James, Sr. James believes in the implication of the ethical attitude and shares Emerson's view of the importance of self-reliance and of the Socratic prerequisite of self-knowledge. James cherishes the value of individual human integrity and sees the development of each individual's potential as the greatest good. James is aware that traditions, conventions and manners are necessary for the smooth functioning of a civilized society. In many of his works, the theme of Love, Marriage and Marital Life are important focal points of depiction. Most of James' stories are, of course, stories about love between man and woman.
He is likewise an apostle of love, for love and freedom go hand in hand; many of his stories consequently are love stories…How can it be said that James is opposed to the "drop out"... in every case, it is merely material advantage that he renounced; it is James' way of cautioning against putting faith in the perishable, in those goods that fade and ultimately fail to satisfy. (Owers 1970:6)
Portrayal of Social Conditions - Reasons for Unhappy Marriages
James' works promise to comment meaningfully upon the social conditions of his day. He deals with the clashes between European and American cultures, and deals with how conflict originates within the individual consciousness as the result of shifting social ideals and domestic themes like marriage, family life, etc.
In all his works, short stories and novels, marriage is a prominent plot. In fact, to unveil the labyrinth of James' world, it is indispensable to go deeper into his projection of Marriage in his works. James' main contention for the failure of marriage and marital life is the lack of mutual understanding. He suggests that the conflict between husband and wife, and between people in all the relationships lie in what one has withheld from others. Lack of mutual love, trust and understanding are the root causes for the failure of marriage in James' world.
Leon Edel, one of the most famous biographers of Henry James comments that the works of Henry James are based on " ... the theme of unhappy and uncompleted marriages - marriages avoided, abortive marriages, misalliances and marriages cursed" (Edel 1950: 25).
Henry James' social concerns are greatly reflected through his works such as The Princess Casamassima, The Ivory Tower and In the Cage. Sexual scenes are pictured in a more subdued manner as in The Ambassadors.
James is frequently commented upon and criticized as a homosexual.
Jayakanthan's Delicate Handling of Women
It is also widely recognized and accepted by many critics and feminists that Jayakanthan has very deeply portrayed the self and consciousness of women through his creations as in the case of Kalyani in Oru Nadigai Naadagam Paarkiral (An Artist Witnessing a Play) and Ganga in Gangai Engey Pogiral? (Where Does Ganga Go?). Besides, in almost all the works of the American novelist Henry James, Love, Marriage and Marital Life are dominant.
Jayakanthan's Ideas of Life
On similar grounds, Tamil novelist Jayakanthan has delicately dealt with the theme of marriage. Jayakanthan opines that the function of Literature is to reflect the greatness and progress of human beings. This approach forms the firm foundation of Jayakanthan's works. In one of his interviews, Jayakanthan comments "I am a part of society and through my writings and works, I attempt to refine myself first and then the society" (Jayakanthan 2006: 14).
Similar to Henry James, Jayakanthan also acknowledges the close relation between Literature and Society. Literature projects and reflects the greatness and progress of society and sometimes stresses the negative issues only to improve the society.
In Jayakanthan's works, when marriage and the institution of marriage is pictured in the negative light, it is only to perfect the flawed institution. The union of man and woman from different castes and different economic strata of society through "love marriage" is projected in Jayakanthan's works; inter-caste marriages and the bridging of rich and the poor through "love marriage" is very common in his works. On his creation of characters, Jayakanthan comments that he takes themes from real life and not characters from it; he creates characters to suit the themes and not the other way round.
Jayakanthan has never created works of art to please the society. He comments on the act of writing as a commitment to the society and the resultant effect of the work of art is dependent on the individual. In all his writings, Jayakanthan reveals an amazing familiarity with the inner landscapes of the human mind from the various strata of the society. Jayakanthan is an original thinker par excellence and he expresses his ideas frankly and openly without any fear and greatly practices artistic autonomy and freedom. He touches several issues where others feared to raise and evokes intellectual freedom through his well-chiseled characters, in most of the cases, through the central woman character.
Jayakanthan greatly believes in the goodness of women and comments that he believes in women and not men.Women are spoiled by men and women are innately pure. "The Friction of Love is in the cupboard of every home and Jealousy is the other side of Love; the development of Love is Possession, carefulness, vigilance and protection" (Jayakanthan 2006: 47).
Jayakanthan is a staunch supporter of Feminism and comments that "Feminism is a branch of radical thinking and principle; it is not against Men and understanding Feminism and approaching it as against Men is very much against Feminism itself" (Jayakanthan 2006: 44).
Jayakanthan also instructs that men must not approach women as the storehouse of Beauty and the source of fulfilling desires; society and women must shed away such notions in them. Freedom of women is not concerned with women alone, but it is an issue concerned with the development and progress of society. Men and women are not rivals or enemies; freedom for women is possible only in an unexploited society wherein equality of sexes is viable. Jayakanthan opines that Religion is operated by Society and Modern Women are those who are able to evade religious and caste pressures and such influences on them. The responsibility and efforts of the individual woman is highly mandatory to achieve freedom and to enjoy Individuality and Identity in the society.
Jayakanthan believes that Freedom is indispensable to everyone including the ruler and the ruled. Jayakanthan presents this concept more as a highly a mythical and religious word. Man must free himself from his desires, ignorance, and bad characters including dominating and enslaving others. Enslaving others is a primitive behaviour and custom and cultured people must be against it. He adds further:
Legally, ethically and culturally man and woman are accepted as equals; in all respects we have accepted this; but in following and implementing the same we find deviations and difficulties… Life without control may not be a life of Freedom; the other side of the concept of Freedom is control; without self control there cannot be freedom; women by nature with more self control deserve to be free individuals more than men himself…Men must learn discipline from women as they are the origin of Discipline… (Jayakanthan 2003: 195)
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Language Shift Among Singaporean Malayalee Families | A Comparative Study of Gojri Double Verb Constructions | Trade in the Madras Presidency, 1941 - 1947 A Doctoral Dissertation | Conceptualization of Nationalism through Language - An Analysis of Malaysian Situation | Status of Urdu and Efforts and Strategies for Its Inclusion in the Mainstream of Indian Life | Language Learning Strategies - An Evaluation of Compensatory Strategies | Marriage and Self in the Selected Works of Henry James and Jayakanthan | King Richard II -
Analyzing the Political Discourse of Power | Engaging Autobiography as an Expression of Self - Maya Angelou's Autobiographies and Her Black Self | Onomatopoeic Words in Manipuri | Historical Growth of Short Stories in Tamil and Telugu - A Comparison | The Gujral Committee Report on Urdu | HOME PAGE of January 2009 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
S. Ganesan, M.A.,M.Phil., Ph.D. Candidate
Perunthalaivar Kamarajar Institute of Engineering and Technology
Union Territory of Puducherry
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