Cat's Eye and Such a Long Journey

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Kris Mahendrarajah

Mr Persaud  


June 14th 2007

Growth and Development of Characters: Gustad Noble and Elaine Risley

In order to adapt in an ever-changing society, teeming with benevolence and intrigue, an individual must be able to adapt to differentiating surroundings. The human mind and body must grapple with disturbing memories or enthralling dramas of life. These thoughts are channelled through various emotions. Emotions are physical or mental expressions, often involuntary, related to feelings, perceptions or beliefs about elements, objects or relations between them, in reality or in the imagination. The growth and transformation of any entity cannot be justly physical, but also mental strength and wisdom. Past experience of any manner colours the human being for future of constant change. Gustad Noble of Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey and Elaine Risley of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye demonstrate the pattern of the “circle of life”: karma, religion, family and friends. The readers can visualize modest lifestyles maturing in the wake of sudden changes. These modifications have the characters questioning their moral heart as their life charts towards uncharted waters. The authors’ interpretations of these realistic situations construct a model for the readers to judge their lifestyles by. Mistry and Atwood use literary devices, diction, and clever wordplay to enhance the reading experience for the audience. The readers witness the protagonists becoming better individuals through adversity, as they overcome unforeseen challenges. Eastern and Western societies are so different in so many ways, and yet there are some elements that are universal: betrayal, love, compassion, family, and friendship. The emphasis of Elaine and Gustad’s struggles creates an illusion that their tragedies are the readers’ tragedies as well. The central theme of both novels is the need to embrace emotions, especially sadness, and not to run from them and also their different perspectives of change and isolation. It depicts that life has its fair share of bumps in the road, but with persistence and determination, they can be overcome.

In the storylines of both novels, friendship and betrayal become quite evident and explicit. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine Risley allows her body and mind to be abused by her so-called “friends” and to question her sense of identity. This teasing by the girls, Cordelia, Grace, and Carol, shatters Risley’s self-esteem and leads her to adopt disturbed habits, such as peeling her skin, biting her nails, and chewing her hair. In the aftermath of the bridge incident, Elaine stands up for herself and takes a step forward for freedom the girls’ torment and torture. Realization comes crashing down on her, of how she had fallen for the illusion of false friendship. Her childhood was scarred from all the emotional pain she endured.  Similarly, in Such A Long Journey, Gustad Noble had also believed he had been betrayed by his closest friend, Major Jimmy Bilimoria. The Major had sent him a large sum of money to be deposited in the bank, however it was money supposedly to be used to aid rebels in East Pakistan in its war effort. Gustad first thought it would be a heroic mission, aiding the army, but he soon realizes the danger he is bringing to his family and career. Unlike Elaine, who was emotionally attached to her “best friends”, Bilimoria’s actions came as a sudden shock. Jimmy was like family to the Nobles, the children respected and loved him, and provided so much enjoyment to all. First, he departed without a goodbye and then left the Noble family into a trap of deception. Gaustad has his suspicions, but sees this as a test of loyalty to his old friend. His entire family was against it, and for the most part, so was he. However, Gustad would not let his friend’s call go unanswered, but needed a little persuasion. In both situations, the readers want to reach out and help, and make the ordeal seem less complicated, but both characters are emotionally attached to their friends. When it comes to whether friendship was of importance, Elaine and Gustad stand on opposite sides. Gustad was the more open-minded of the two, even showing respect to the mentally unstable Tehmul, while Elaine shunned Cordelia physical, but was still shaken by her past traumas. Gustad does not prefer change as his life in the past is described as paradise to him. It is with change, comes problems. He blames the theme of change of causing his son not to go to IIT, as his son has changed into a different person from before who does not respect him. He also blames the theme of change on Jimmy’s betrayal as Jimmy in the past was seen as the “loving brother” but now, he focuses on deceiving Gustad to gain his own selfish goals. Gustad’s reluctance to change is further emphasized by the black wall which represents his life in the past during the war, and by leaving those on his windows he emphasizes that he wants things to be just as how they were back then. The black wall is another symbolist element used to represent change, although Gustad is disgusted by its pungent odour, he doesn’t want the wall to be demolished as it is the source of his isolation and separates himself from the rest of the world. On the contrary, with Elaine, change is almost constant throughout the novel. Her suffering in the hands of Cordelia, Grace, and Carol have left her scrambling for answers and questioning her sense of identity. As she matures into an adult, her haunting memories of her childhood continue to stay with her. Constant flashbacks remind her of the past, and how she overcame it. The marble of the cat’s eye is used to represent change, as it was like a talisman that protected Elaine from her past hardships. Before, it was Cordelia who held the upper hand in their relationship, but as they became adults, Elaine realized how both their lives ended in completely contradictory paths. Since everything did not go her way in her past, everything must be perfect in the future, and thus constant change. Both Elaine and Gustad explore the nature of memory and identity, and how experience of the present is coloured by past events.

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Spirituality and religion also impact the growth and development, as it plays a crucial theme in the lives of Elaine and Gustad. As the world seemed to crash down on him, such as Roshan’s illness, Sohab’s attitude towards going to IIT, Major Jimmy’s issue and his quarrel with a neighbour, Gustad would always turn to his prayers to solve these problems. In Hinduism and Christianity/Catholicism, a person of pure heart is always commended with good fortune, and this was displayed with both Gustad and Elaine. Elaine can be depicted as an immigrant from the start of her arrival in ...

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