Magazine 2013
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
Marginalisation Of Women Characters In  
Kiran Desai’s “Inheritance Of Loss”  
Trupti Sabharanjak  
Theorist of post colonial discourse like Homi Bhabha promote the idea that post colonial literature  
contribute in highlighting important changes that are occurring in the formation of culture and identity of  
a state or a country. Keeping this perspective in mind, the paper analyses the novel by Kiran Desai, which  
is set in post colonial India and delves into many engaging issues like globalisation, economic inequality,  
immigration, terrorism and nationalism which affect culture and identity of people but the reader is left  
wondering why in a post modern world, the women characters are projected as weak stereotypes who  
loose respect and space in the mind of the readers.  
Keywords - Colonial Discourse, Culture, Identity, Globalisation, Women Characters  
“The postcolonial literatures of the world contribute to important changes that are currently under way in  
the understanding and experience of culture. Instead of the idea of representable, self- contained cultures with  
stable identities, the new emphasis is on the blending, overlapping and displacement of cultures, the refractions  
of identities in a state of an in-between cultural existence” (Bharucha 2007, 40).  
Keeping in mind this new frame of analysis of literary texts, Kiran Desai’s novel can be read as a text  
which Kiran Desai writes about cultural clash, dislocation and displacement. Her characters face migration and  
alienation from the mother country, from each other, from relatives and the focus is more on the differences  
between the genders. The strength of the novel lies in the problems of the dispossessed in the eastern Himalayas,  
the anguish of the illegal immigrants in New York but the novel fails to give a strong picture of women characters  
who despite being educated lack in basic qualities like self esteem, dignity and don’t seem to have thinking  
minds. On one hand the novel focuses on the strong character of grandfather, Justice Jemubhai Patel who is  
more an inheritor of English identity which he tries to reflect through his residence Cho Oyu which is a metaphor  
for the remains of the British Imperial Culture in India and on the other hand her novel introduces us to female  
characters who are trapped in patriarchal stereo type roles. Unfortunately the female protagonists do not seem  
to challenge the pre-established patriarchal roles or to reconstruct their identities.  
The Inheritance of Loss is a multi layered novel examining the different phases of Indian migration to the  
European countries and there is an atmosphere of loss and displacement in the novel. Loss of dream and  
space, faith and relationships and displacement of women and men across generations.  
The present condition of Jemubhai can be related to his migration to Cambridge for education where he  
develops a liking for English people, values, habits and lifestyle and develops bitterness for everything that is  
Indian. Even though he returns to India later he considers himself superior to all other Indians and his hatred for  
Indian culture and people is aggravated when he first sees his wife after wedding and hates her for her un-  
English ways and his cruel treatment of his wife is the beginning of the fall in his character, when he said “an  
Indian girl could never be as beautiful as an English one” (Desai 2006, 168).  
His own solitude crushed him into a mere shadow figure who despite wealth and education played no  
significant role either for his grand daughter or neighbours or Kalimpong.  
The second generation male character, who undergoes, similar experiences of oppression dispossession  
and displacement is the cook’s son Biju who reaches America in search of better future as an illegal migrant  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
worker but is subjected to constant displacement in the foreign country also, as he evades immigration authorities.  
So Biju like grandfather constantly feels alienated being an Indian on a foreign soil and there is a constant effort  
to establish identity but unable to develop affinity to the foreign soil and decides to return home unable to bear  
humiliation, loneliness and loss. When Biju steps out of the airport into Calcutta he, “felt himself slowly shrink  
back to size, the enormous anxiety of being a foreigner ebbing- that unbearable arrogance and shame of the  
immigrant... his vision unblurred and he found that he could see clearly” (Desai 2006, 300).  
When grandfather returns to India he is fortunate enough to have his ancestral house and dog to cling  
and carry forward the western life style. But Biju faces complete loss as he is robbed of all his material possession  
even before he reaches his father’s house and when he reaches the house he is the symbol of dispossessed  
person from money, people and country, “he sat right in the middle of the path- without his baggage, without  
his savings, worst of all without his pride. Back from America with far less than he had ever had” (Desai 2006,  
The other male characters like Gyan and the Gorkha National Front Leaders although are ethnic Nepali  
by nature are alienated from the people they are close to and share the same sentiments as shared by  
grandfather and Biju. The Inheritance and loss of male characters is clearly shown but the female characters  
slowly seem to only loose in the novel their life, relationship and future.  
The most important female character of the novel ‘Sai’ begins her life with a sense of loss when she looses  
both her parents to a fatal accident and against her wishes was sent to a convent school and inherits displacement  
and rootlessness from fate and from parents. Her second displacement occurs when she moves in with her  
maternal grandfather, the Judge, in Kalimpong. Her first experience looking at the house unsettles her as the  
space is too big but the house is too big but the house seems fragile. Her loss is further heightened as her  
grandfather maintains distance from her. The emptiness she experiences with her grandfather in his grand house  
and the silence and boredom that fill her days are temporarily disturbed by the coming of Gyan, who is  
engaged as a tutor for her. Soon love relationship develops between her and Gyan and Desai has given a lot of  
space to this budding relationship which sounds unreal compared to the backdrop of the Gorkha National  
Liberation Front movement which is brewing in the backdrop of the novel and Sai finally realises that Gyan’s  
focus on her was a passing phase in his life and he used the information about her grandfather’s possession of  
some guns in his house and leaks it to the Gorkha Movement people. This makes Sai angry and also the fact  
that reality has different meanings for Gyan and herself. She accuses Gyan of betraying her and Gyan reacts by  
beating up Sai and his own role as an informer destroys the future of the relationship which ends in a tragic loss  
which enters again in Sai’s life, she realises, “she was only the centre to herself, as always, and a small player  
playing her part in someone else’s story” (Desai 2006, 175).  
The political and personal world seems to merge at this point of time in Sai’s life. She undergoes physical  
beating which is a symbol of her lack of respect for self and the weakness in her thoughts or can it be blamed  
on her nubile age 16. Her body just experiences the physical love and admiration of Gyan who hurts the very  
body he loved. The relationship, between Sai and Gyan in a story of rise and fall, gains and loss, love and  
hatred, acceptance and rejection, meeting and separation and building space and lack of space. This incident  
makes Desai’s narrative very loaded and we find that all her women characters are at the receiving end. Before  
Sai it was Nimi, the Judge’s wife who experiences the same loss and almost sets a precedent for women in the  
family. Nimi’s fate and space are sealed the day she marries Jemubhai, a British trained ICS man. In contrast  
Nimi is uneducated and at 14 years lacks confidence when she faces Jemubhai on the first night after wedding.  
All Jemubhai’s attempt to teach Nimi western etiquettes and manners fail and she is sent back to her parents  
house permanently highlighting the incompatibility between the two people.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
The unquestionable acceptance of physical abuse and rejection, the belittling of individual status  
marginalises the women characters and pushes them away from the core of the narrative.  
All said and done Nimi and Sai share a little respectable space in the narrative compared to Nonni and  
Lola who just add to the list of people leading lives full of void and aimlessness when the entire Kalimpong is  
burning under the fire of National Liberation. These women characters are spatially encroached upon insulted  
and displaced by the Gorkha agitators. One morning the sisters found that under the cover of night “a hut had  
come up like a mushroom on a newly cut gash at the bottom of the Mon Ami vegetable patch.... The huts that  
has sprung up overnight were being populated by women, men, children, pigs, goats dogs chicken, cats and  
cows” (Desai 2006, 244).They loose space geographically and become ‘Spaceless’.  
All the women characters etched by Desai in a post modern set up are stereo typical and not perfectly  
realised characters. In comparison the other supporting characters like Biju, Judge’s neighbours, Father Booty,  
the Indian Nepali youth, the Gorkha activist all represent muscles and strength which takes away the space from  
all women characters who neither help in creating space in personal or political world.  
The novel does leave an indelible mark on our psyche as it delves deep into the concept of marginality  
as experienced by the women in the novel. Nimi is marginalised and abused by Jemubhai. Lola and Nonni are  
marginalised and abused by the Gorkha insurgents and Sai is marginalised and abused by Gyan and hence all  
are united and become common inheritors of loss of space.  
We may observe that major part of the narrative in The Inheritance of Loss is occupied with details of the Gorkha  
movement thereby pushing the narrative of women to the periphery or is interspersed and almost lost in terms  
of space in the narration. A lot of space has been given to political upheaval in the state but one wonders why  
Kiran Desai fails to highlight the diminishing spaces of the women characters. Their space in the narrative is  
limited to the love relationships and they seem to be making no contribution in the political crises in the state.  
There is loss of space and voice in the novel or was this a deliberate attempt by Desai to highlight the changing  
cultural situation and the condition of majority of women from smaller regions of India thereby exposing their  
real marginalized existence and position in India.  
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