Desai is a dominant figure in the twentieth century Indian English fiction. She
has given a new direction to Indian English literature. Her novels are
considered to be the great contribution to the Indian English literature. She
started her literary journey with the publication of her first novel Cry, the Peacock in 1963. The 1960
scattered a sense of great dejection and gloom all over India. In 1962 china
obtain a victory over India and this defeat brought a sense of disgrace and
humiliation to the hearts of Indians. During this period of dejection and
humiliation, Anita Desai novel Cry, the
Peacock published. Desai has delineated the
self-alienation, despair, death, desolation and socio-psychic fragmentation of
the protagonist.

Desai’s first novel, Cry, the Peacock is
concerned with its chief protagonist Maya’s psychological problems. Based on
the mythological and archetypal images and symbols, this novel explores the
hidden and dormant impulses of Maya’s psyche. As a young sensitive girl, Maya
desires to love and to live. She marries the friend of her father, Gautama, who
is much older than herself. She belongs to a traditional Brahmin family which
believes in astrology and other prophetic strains of Brahmanical order. On the
other hand, Gautama’s family represents the rational side of life. Thus Maya is
haunted constantly by the rationalistic approach of her husband to the affairs
of life. Maya loves Gautama passionately and desires to be loved in return: but
Gautama’s coldness disappoints her.

fact, the distinction between Maya and Gautama is one of tradition and
modernity, trust and distrust in human relationships, brahmanical and non-
brahmanical order of the society. The root of the entire novel lies in the
prophecy of albino astrologer who creates a fear- psychosis in Maya’s mind:

The astrologer, that creeping sly magician of my
hallucinations- no of course they were not hallucinations, Arjuna had proved
them to me, and yet- could they be real? had never said anything to suggest
that it was I who would die young, unnatural and violently, four years after my
marriage, nothing to suggest that he even thought that.

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astrologer prophecy comes true in the case of Maya’s brother, Arjuna. Gautama,
as a rational egoist, fails to respond to Maya’s emotional intensity. Maya as a
sensitive young lady sees ill- omens in her family even on the death of her
dog, Toto.

a rationalist, Gautama laughs at Maya’s traditional and fatalistic views in
life. He makes Maya understand the unpredictability of life. She develops a
procrastinating nature and suffers from a fear- psychosis. The climax of the
story is reached when she loves the balance of her mind. Thus Anita Desai’s
shows the interior regions of the human psyche through the main characters of
this novel.

Cry, the Peacock,
in three parts deals with the multifarious aspects of Maya’s struggles. Delineating
the death of her dog, Toto, in the first part, the novel reveals the psychic
depth of Maya’s mind in the second part and finally, it narrates the tragic
death of Maya’s husband Gautama. The third part becomes symbolic of Maya’s
loneliness and isolation after the death of her husband. The presence of Maya
in the novel heightens the gloomy and melancholic atmosphere in the structure
of the novel. She is a patient of fear- psychosis stands for the pervading
feeling of isolation, alienation and the strained relations between husband and
wife. Apparently the inner pangs and the turmoil of Maya remain undiagnosed
because of her sensitive and imaginative mind. Sensitive, imaginative, fear-
ridden and neurotic as she is, she falls a prey to the anxieties and never-
ending callousness of her mind. She tackles her inner pangs through the
flashback and is lost in a world of her memories. Here is the prophecy of an
astrologer in which she submerges herself sensitively and sees the impending
perils for Gautama’s life.

to Gautama’s life creates a neurotic feeling in Maya. Maya’s recollection of
the past memories is always linked with the prophecy of the astrologer. The
cremation of her dog, Toto, so pierces the unconscious regions of her mind that
she restrains Gautama from following ” the antediluvian” approach towards life.
The death of the dog signifies an ill-omen and she becomes gloomy about her
future: “I wiped away my quick tears, and wept more, I cried to myself what is
the use? I am alone.”  The death of the
dog makes her suffer from death- mania; she senses everywhere such objects
which are directly or indirectly related to death:

He approached me again, with dancing steps when the
weak flames of the single lamp suddenly guttered and died. We all sprang up, and
the darkness was filled with crowding, pursuing, grasping bodies, moist with
perspiration, reeking with evil, the emanation and apprehension of it.

is hallucinated and disenchanted even by the sight of the cat. Gautama tries to
make her understand about the ineffectiveness of the foretelling of the
astrologer. He reminds her traditional story of Indian mythology and tells her
how Krishna saved Prahalad “countless times, through love and mercy”. Such an
instance relieves her tense mind for the time being. She often becomes
nostalgic and, through her memories, she suggests to readers the strained
relations with her husband: she finds her married life “neither true nor
lasting”; but it exemplifies “a sacred icon”. Her married life does not suggest
the heart-beat of the young couple; it was a forced decision of her father.
Gautama, being a “protégé” to Maya’s father, becomes an example of a courtesy
marriage. Maya being the daughter of a freedom fighter represents the
behaviorism of such a family which allows the freedom of ideas. Her father as a
freedom fighter participated in the freedom struggle of 1942.

various episodes in the novel are combined together for the structural unity.
Maya while staying with her husband recollects the memories of her childhood by
which she links her past with the present. She introduces her brother Arjuna’s
contribution to the freedom struggles of the country to the readers. The
instances of her father and brother unveil her family tradition. In her family,
the freedom of expression and sometimes even critical discussion on any topic
was permissible. Her brother is a good example of ideological differences
between father and son; he even leaves his house because of his differences
with his father; and nobody is sure of his whereabouts.

the other hand, the environment of Gautama’s family stands at the opposite poll
of Maya’s; she has always given the human love in abundance. She after her
marriage craves for human love; she is love-hungry. She sometimes becomes
nostalgic for relieving herself from her tension. Gautama’s family is symbolic
of artificial human behavior of the city- sensibility. Being a lawyer, he is a
man of arguments and ceases entirely to be an emotional man. He is fond of
cabrat dance. Maya does not reconcile herself with the city- sensibility of her
husband; she regards it as a world of degeneration. Her aversion to the
artificial life of the city teases her body and spirit:

It seemed to me that we alone existed upon an island
in a city of dead, and that we too, were gripped by a fatal disease and would
soon, slowly perish since the youngest, freshest generation was touched by it
and had no hope of survival.

 Amidst such psychic fluctuations, Maya as a
sensitive young lady tries to pursue her idealistic objects of life.
Love-hungry, she does not get solace to her burning heart through “unseeing
eyes” of Gautama. She has a wider concern for the new generation; but Gautama’s
disinterestedness in sharing her emotional height disappoints her. Even the
very names Maya (illusion) and Gautama (knowledge) represent two polarities of
plot structure. Maya outlines all that emerges from the heart and Gautama
symbolizes the working on the mental approach of human behavior.

Gautama was not a man to whom confessions of the
heart could easily be made- of the mind, yes, readily, as soon as the idea had
formed, shifted and settled into coherence. But of heart no, it was of no use.

as young lady hopes for the fulfillment of her womanly desires, especially the
fulfillment of the nerve- soothing impulses and instincts, which once she
enjoyed as a girl with her father; but her mind wrestles with the free flow of
her youthful instincts, which once she enjoyed as a girl with her father; but
her mind wrestles with the free flow of her youthful instincs and the fear-
psychosis created by the prophecy of the astrologer. The instinctive cradle” of
Maya with “possessive embrace” is linked with “the speechless need” of Gautama
to Maya for his domestic management. Here the natural inhibitions of a woman in
Maya creates a desire to have a possessive hold on Gautama. The inner eagerness
of Maya as a woman extends the plot. There comes a communication gap between
husband and wife because of their differences in opinions. There is a feigned
drama of relations between them, and Maya feels “shamefulness of this false
love”. She is as stupefied in human relations as she prepares herself “to
listen to the words of those who, too, had been drunk with life as with wine”.
As she fails to have a possessive grasp on her husband, she is hallucinated and
becomes neurotic in her behavior. Maya’s neurotic behavior unites all other
parts of the story into a well-knit plot. As a disinterested onlooker at the
drama of human relations, she longs for her existence.

arrival of Gautama’s sister Nela and his mother during Maya’s illness unfolds
yet another thread of the story. The presence of both the mother and sister
relieves Maya’s nervous breakdown for the time being. Maya follows the mother
and sister to Connaught Circus at Delhi just for purchasing some domestic
articles; but the departure of them leaves her again in her alienation and
isolation from the rest of the world. She again feels miserable: “No, I cried miserable,
what the house empty again, and I alone with my horrors and nightmares”. The
novelist reveals the psychogenic traits of her personality.

and disappointment in human relationship make Maya hallucinated, leading her to
the verge of madness. And in such a rush of negative emotions, she insists upon
Gautama to have a fresh air out of the room. She hears the constant ring of
drum- beating. This drum- beating is nothing but to keep her attention to a
particular object in the psychic depth of her mind. She perceives once again
the prophecy of the astrologer in her mind as “clear as a drum beat on a
waiting night”. The waiting night symbolizes the time of death. The working on
human attachment “hauled her, slowly and steadily, down the dark corridor to
the pit where knowledge lay”. She witnesses a “strange behavior in Gautama and
at the same time she exhibits so many ill-omens. She sees an “absurd image” in
the mirror- only of “cat” and an “antic owl”. She follows Gautama upstairs and
recollects her past memories and finds Gautam like disembodied spirit “clothed
in off- white and a fayed tie”. Seeing a grey shadow in the sky, she throws him
with a jerk and he falls down from the roof and dies.

is the end of the second part of the story. The third part containing a few
pages deals with the sobbing and suffering of Maya. She once again becomes
alienated and isolated from the rest of society. Once again she dwells into her
premonition and thinks that ‘it had to be one of us… and it was so clear that
it was I who was meant to live”. The fear still surrounds her and she comes out
of her room; and she is lost in her fantasy by which she watches a screaming
“white figure”. She meets that figure appallingly and “then both disappeared
into the dark quite. All around the dark was quiet then”.

Cry, the Peacock
is a remarkable novel which reveals skillfully Maya’s search for an individual
identity. As a motherless girl, she engages herself in battle between her
individual self and her social obligations in search of human love. She enjoys
a prosperous and happy childhood with her father; but she always feels a void
and a need for the mother in her life. She dreams of human love and her dreams
link her conscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Her dreams fill her mind
with imagination, fantasy and nostalgia. She asks Gautama, her husband: ”
Gautama, what does it mean when you dream of the dead? I dreamt about my mother
this afternoon … she was all in grey what could it mean?” Gautama is obsessive
of his own existence. He responds to Maya that “dreams mean nothing”. Maya
wants her fulfillment as a woman and as a wife. Gautama again convinces her of
dreams that are distant perceptions of the unreality of life. He suggests Maya
that the dreams materialize an eagerness of the present through imagination.
Maya always hopes for her fulfillment; when she fails to have her instincts
fulfilled, she feels loneliness, isolation and desertion.

loneliness so hallucinates her that she undergoes an idea of “a struggle of
despair that continued beyond the sleep of death”. The hallucination and
disenchantment born in her isolation and loneliness makes her a psychosis
patient. She develops a negative approach towards life and finds its entire
essence as useless and meaningless. She struggles with all her might and seems
on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The disenchantment goes so deep in her
unconsciousness that she loses the equilibrium of her mind. She becomes
expressive of her negative sensibility to all the objects of life. Sometimes
the simple dream of her mind becomes a nightmare; it gives through memories a
bizarre world of her conscious mind. The nightmares haunt her and create
sleepless conditions for her. Being aware of her sad existence, she sees “a
painful smile” on Gautama’s face. The regular process of day-dreaming, fear and
recurrent nightmares give her many sleepless nights. Doctor diagnoses
anxiety-phobia in her mind. She makes an unconsciousness journey through her
dreams to an unknown world. She perceives a bizarre world of different

sensitive nature of Maya becomes apparent in her failure to realize her
identity as a wife. She meets the emotional stimulus response of her husband in
coldness for relationship. The sexual repression makes her nervous system
breakdown. She realizes the physical debility and emotional hallowness in her
husband. When she fails to realize herself, she yields to her past memories for
relieving her tense mind. She recollects “half- forgotten mnemonic words” from
her “childhood”. Whenever Maya is afraid of her horrible dreams and memories,
she always tries to draw Gautama close: “I drew close to him again, impulsively
drew him close to me. No, I did not wish him in a Muslim paradise, no more than
I wished myself in a Christian hell. Ah, the thing to do was not to die,
neither he now I, but to live, and living sleep. I want to sleep”. Her
eagerness to live justifies her natural desire for belongingness. As a married
young lady, she expects her womanly fulfillment. In the company of Gautama her
womanhood remains unfulfilled. She desires to materialize the vision of the
flesh. The novelist reminds the reader about her natural desire to “recreate
the world”. She as a wife, but Gautama fails to fulfil the dream of her
existence in the society. If Gautama observes father- obsession in Maya, she
too realizes the unsentimental behavior of Gautama and the lack of manliness in
him. His unsenti mentality keeps him at a distance from his wife.  

the father- obsession, unfulfilled womanhood, emotional stimuli unrestness,
debilitative husband and the over ridden death- phobia make her neurotic in her
behavior. The often occurring images like “window” and the “mirror” suit the
purpose of the novelist in analyzing the inner psychic turmoil of Maya’s mind.
In her self-analysis, she blames herself for the “attachment” to human
relationships. She thus yields to the reality of life and finds her existence
fulfilled in the total ‘annihilation” of the world. Defeated as an egoist, Maya
analyses the higher motives of life; but her learning to higher consciousness
does not linger long. The image of “window” awakes in her a yearning for
freedom and that of “mirror” for the self-analysis of her psyche. Maya gets the
gist of human relationship and recovers her lost will.

symbol of the Peacock’s cry fits into the negative aspects of albino’s
prophecy. Representing an emotional and ideal love, the peacock is symbolic of
a life-in-death and death-in-life. Anita Desai’s novels
are certainly reflective of socials realities. But she does not dwell like
others on social issues. She delves deep into the forces that condition the growth
of a female in this patriarchal male dominated society. She observes social
realities from a psychological perspective without posing herself as a social
reformer. Her novels are studies of the inner life of characters and her talent
lies in the description of minute things that are usually unnoticed.

would like Gautama to meet her at the level of her inner life, which to him is
a closed book. He knows nothing of the astrologer and she deliberately avoids
any reference to that phase of her childhood in which she had been troubled by
the astrology’s prediction. He is an ignorant about the fact that she has a
brother and is successfully unable to know what is worrying her. From this
arises a conflict of expectations leading to a failure in communication and to
emotional incompatibility. The element of companionship is sadly missing in the
relationship between husband and wife. The devotion in Maya and thoroughly lack
of it in Gautama is the root of the maladjustment that creates the fear complex
in her. Maya feels lonely, companionless, physically and emotionally starved.
She pines for Gautama’s contact, but he cannot spare long hours for his

Desai occupies a very prominent place in Indian novelists in English. She has
portrayal the lively characters from upper class to the middle class of the
society. Through her most of the novels, it is clear that the protagonists are
alienated from the society. In this novel she has explored the theme of husband-wife
alienation. After all, the prediction of an astrologer makes a deep impression
on her, owing to which she is obsessed with the fear of death. In the fit of
insanity, she pushes her husband from the parapet of house and at last, she
commits suicide. This is the tragic end of their married life.


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