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Fasting, Feasting by Anita Dessai. Description of the main Characters

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Fasting, Feasting Anita Dessai Characters Uma Uma is the main character in the book and the author's symbol for the grossly subservient role of women, especially in Indian society. The portrait painted of Uma is one of a not especially pretty girl who is clumsy, slow, and not academically inclined. Uma has an earnest desire to learn, despite her handicaps, because she seeks stimulation outside the confining world in the home of her parents. Uma's world narrows even more when she is removed from the convent school in order to help care for her newborn brother, Arun. This act will destroy Uma's source of joy and hope. In keeping with Indian customs, girls are raised to be married and boys to be educated, a premise which will ultimately destroy Uma's spirit and opportunities for a fulfilling life. According to Indian tradition, the older daughter in the family must be married before a younger sister can marry. Attempts to arrange marriages for Uma end disastrously, leaving Uma to live the life of a spinster and to step aside so that her younger sister, Aruna, may marry. It is not only society that oppresses Uma, but her own parents as well. Papa has never considered education a necessity for girls. When Uma is of a marriageable age, it is Mama who tries to package Uma more attractively in order to get rid of her. With failed marriage attempts and no hope of outside employment, Uma retreats into her own world of simple pleasures: a Christmas card collection, a book of poems, and sitting on the veranda when Mama and Papa are out for the evening. ...read more.


Arun does come to the realization that women are poorly mistreated in America as well as in his own country. Perhaps Arun will be changed by the experiences and conduct his interactions with women differently from the way they are conducted by Papa and male societies in general. Mrs. Patton Mrs. Patton's character serves as the American counterpart to Uma's character in India. Although the women are vastly different in appearance and cultural backgrounds, there are many similarities that even Arun comes to realize by the end of the story. Mrs. Patton is also starved emotionally and feels powerless to alter her own circumstances. Just like Uma, Mrs. Patton has no career and attempts to vest herself in her family, which has tired of her superficial ministrations. Mrs. Patton is completely dependent upon Mr. Patton's support and acquiesces to his needs, even sublimating her own desire to be a vegetarian in favor of Mr. Patton's carnivorous diet. Mrs. Patton's role in the household has been reduced to shopper and chauffeur. Even these levels, she fails because her husband is never pleased with her food selections and her daughter eats only junk food, which she ultimately binges and purges. Mrs. Patton is not emotionally connected to her insensitive husband or their son, Rod, who is patterning his own behavior after his father. Probably the one who Mrs. Patton fails the most is Melanie, whose needs are overshadowed by the men in the household, and whose visible cries for help are unnoticed by Mrs. ...read more.


Ironically, Melanie's agony is partially illuminated by Arun, a male who understands the threat of being sublimated by a much more powerful and restrictive force. Mother Agnes Mother Agnes is the head administrator of St. Mary's School, the convent attended by Uma and Aruna. Ayah Ayah is a domestic worker who had cared for Uma and Aruna as children and who has come out of retirement and returned to the household to help care for Arun. Ramu Ramu is Uma's mischievous older cousin whose sense of adventure and threat of misbehavior infuriates Mama and Papa. They try to dissuade Uma from any further contact. Mrs. Joshi Mrs. Joshi lives with her husband in the house next to Mama and Papa's. Mrs. Joshi is a delightful, happy person who befriends Uma and adds some joy to Uma's dull existence. Mrs. O'Henry Mrs. O'Henry is the Baptist missionary's wife, who attempts to befriend Uma, but whose overtures are seen as threatening by Mama and Papa who ultimately force Uma to cut off communication. Arvind Arvind is Aruna's husband, a successful businessman in Bombay. Arvind is pleased to have successfully arranged a marriage with someone as lovely as Aruna and acquiesces to Aruna's every whim in a life of privilege and sophistication. Dr. Dutt Dr. Dutt is the female physician in the area who periodically sees Uma's unconscious fits. Perhaps Dr. Dutt senses Uma's deep frustrations. She offers Uma a job as a nurses' dormitory manager; but Mama and Papa do not see the need for their daughter to work outside the home. Uma's hopes are once again squelched. ...read more.

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