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Divakaruni's Narrative Techniques

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5282 words Published: 18th May 2017

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Narrative is a telling of some invented and true events or linked series of events, described by a narrator (even though may be more than one of each). Narratives are to be identified from descriptions of situation, state, or qualities, and also from theatrical performance of events even if a theatrical work may also comprise narrative speeches. A narrative will reside on a set of actions recounted in a procedure of discourse or narration, in which the events are arranged and selected in a particular order as a plot. As Abbott defined it, “Narrative is the representation of events, consisting of story and narrative discourse, story is an event or sequence of events (the action), and narrative discourse is those events as represented”1. The category of narratives contains both the shortest descriptions of events and the longest biographical or historical works plus travelogues, diaries in addition to short stories, ballads, novels, epics, and other fictional forms. In the study of fiction, it is normal to divide the short stories and novels into third person narratives and first person narratives. Thus,

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Rather than focusing on general, abstract situations or trends, stories are accounts of what happened to particular people – and of what it was like for them to experience what happened – in particular circumstances and with specific consequence. Narrative, in other words, is a basic human strategy for coming to terms with time, process, and change – a strategy that contrasts with, but is in no way inferior to, “scientific” modes of explanation that characterize phenomena as instances of general covering laws. 2

As an adjective, ‘narrative’ stands for characterized by or concerning to storytelling. Therefore, narrative technique is the way of telling stories, and narrative poetry is the group of poems including verse romances, ballads, and epic that tells stories, as different from lyric and dramatic poetry. But, to be categorized as a narrative, an event – sequence must therefore involve some kind of noteworthy disruption of an initial state of equilibrium by an unanticipated and often untoward event or chain of events 3.

Factually speaking, narrative is a story and it can be expressed all the way through poetry, pictures, speech, songs, non-fiction, and fiction as well. When in the writing form, its telling is demoted to a special person; it becomes a method used by that person. This person who is assigned the task of narration is the narrator and his observant serves as a figure or gem through which ideas are passed on to the readers. Narrative technique is very much an artistic venture. Thus,

The narrative is about conflict.

The narrative is about the temporality of existence.

The narrative is about problem solving.

The narrative is about human experience.

The narrative is about interpersonal relations.

A narrator holds the present, detains past and gets ready the reader for future. Usually, these techniques are explained by the points of view in the novel. There are three points to present a narrative: the narrator takes part in the action and also comments on the incidents, third person viewpoint when the narrator narrates the story in an objective way, and omniscient viewpoint where the narrator is like God and can also make his existence felt with authorial interruptions. A narrator has a surfeit of options to describe events. He can base his narrative on causality and temporality or he can narrate all the way through vocalization. Vocalization alters the path of the narrative as the reader gets images of character by the impression of the narrator. It employs three dimensional approach: one who sees, his understanding of events, and the voice of one who narrates.

An exceptional feature of prose fiction uses narration and explanation as the manners of the story presented. By applying the device of narration, a prose fiction writer tells her tales by assembling actions in her tine sequence. This method of narration may turn the story understandable and bring it lively to the reader’s imagination. On the other hand, the explanation of the prose can be both psychological and physical so that it brings feelings and scene to the thoughts of the readers. As a result, through the description and the narration used, the readers of a prose fiction will be competent to understand the story well.

Moreover, according to Abrams, the novel is also defined as “an extended narrative covering a wide range of characters and experience” (1958). Furthermore, “the novel opens up wider possibilities for the direct communication of experiences as there is the more private relationship between reader and writer” (Shipley, 1962). So, both the writer and the reader can share the everyday experience, because “most novels concerned with ordinary people and their problems in the societies in which they find themselves” (Peck and Coley, 1984).

This chapter seeks to provide an accessible introduction to key ideas about narrative technique with the special reference of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and an overview of the major approaches to narrative inquiry. It will also register multiple perspectives on the study of Divakaruni’s novels. It will furnish a synoptic account of this area of investigation. So, narrative technique is an approach in which stories can be viewed as supporting many communicative and cognitive activities. Divakaruni writes about the real mirror image of cultural evils or problems. Besides, she also reflects herself as an immigrant in the U.S.A. She is an Indian immigrant who group up in America; it makes her a specialist in blending two cultures, both Indian and American.

The major hypothesis behind the study is that narrative discourse or dialogue is created out of the interaction of the cultural reunions as they are coded in reader’s activity and the languages in discussing the meanings generated by the text. The helpful method is not personal in that it does not depend on the personal feelings of reader and writer; nor impersonal in that human are being essentially involved. The present study focuses on this inter-subjective sphere continued with a whole set of narrative actions that are of great implication in the fiction writer’s craft.

It is believed that the texts by women writers reproduce an extensive range of specific appropriation of the style and language they use on a daily basis and that the feminist novel completes its picture of the world as it is seen by women. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (1979) have traced out that there are assiduous images in women’s writings which points out that women writers try to express their restrictions and their confinement, by they cannot express their themes and images in their usual language; for that reason their language is a “double-voiced discourse”. Therefore, a portrayal of the double-voiced discussion will always be a multifaceted and miscellaneous undertaking because the feminist critic – almost contradictory must make an effort to look for meaning there. The hunt for specifically female images and themes is a frequently critic work out. Myth criticism has also proved to be rewarding for a study of women’s fiction, and more studies depend on structuralism and deconstructive process.

Writers use different styles and techniques in order to explain their experiences or practices. As Jasbir Jain remarks while discussing this in her article Gender and Narrative Strategy:

Women writers while evolving narrative strategies are faced with double problem: how to step out of the frame-work defined by men and patriarchal values; and how to identify and create a tradition of their own.4

Women writers are faced with a dual mind state when writing out their stories – the fact is that they are the writers who are writing about unique feeling and experiences dissimilar from that of ordinary men, as well as the reality that they are women. When they seek to do well in their writing, they have to increase above their feeling of gender unfairness or inequality. This is more appropriate for a feminist writer who tries to give air to the strong feelings of fury and bigotry against the oppression and injustice of women she sees around her. In order to make such observations genuinely the woman writer resorts to a variety of narrative strategies. Jasbir Jain continues,

When the experience which is being narrated moves against the current, is unconventional or unusual, is radical in its standpoint, or display a strength which may be best muted for the time being, strategy is resorted to. There is no hesitation in laying a false trail or employing subterfuge. Moreover, it is never the same, for them it would become a theory. It may be imaged, or landscape, or scriptural references, or characters, or subplot, or structure which is being used for this purpose – and waiting to be decoded. 5

Thus, the women writers use lots of techniques in order to build spaces for themselves at different levels. How far they are at variance from the writing of men is a question that is not easy to answer. But Jasbir Jain further says that,

It is not a difference of form – one cannot say that men write about external facts and women about internal life; one cannot also say that men write about thickly inhabited worlds and women do write about the responses of women of the shadows which they alone can see and the anguish they alone can feel. It is a difference of perspective. 6

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has struggled with contemporary subjects and a range of themes- marginalization, marriage, motherhood, conflicts, mothering, class, individuation, woman as mother, wife, sister and lastly yet considerable woman as a human being not just as a second sex or sex object. She seeks cynical about customs and tradition, yet she finds out in their heritage the keys for the longings and needs of women in current time. She is “modernist” writer since her writing highlights the idea of the trivial woman with an endocentric set up, widespread in the “non first world” and the “first world”. In her works, insights take preference over the compulsion of technique. She recognizes the paradoxes in a given area and also pays an ideological, cultural, philosophical, artistic struggle. In this sense, the author hypothesizes the sign of modernism, ego, freedom, love, sex as challenging through her modern emotional responses.

Divakaruni writes a lot of narration speakers to have “A clear window” in the characters, which is shown by the narration of “Indian culture value voices” as an Indian person in the adopted land, who engages in the cultural conflicts. Like Charles said in the San Jose Mercury news,

Divakaruni’s narrative in Vine of Desire is as gracefully structured as a piece of chamber music, with its interplay of themes and voices, ensemble and solo, working their way toward a final resolving chord. If you find yourself counting the pages left in the book, it’s likely to be because you wish there were many, many more. 7

“A clear window” seems to be like the tools of communication between the reader and the writer. Another quality which makes Divakaruni becomes one of the best writers is she offers her readers a window into the multicultural world of her characters. She said, “I have no particular reader in my mind but a passionate desire to tell an honest moving story”. She adds, “If it is good literature, I know as all sensitive writers know, the reader and the writer will connect”8.

In The Vine of Desire (2002), Divakaruni writes about the mirror image of Indian immigrant in the U.S.A., which is in contrast with the culture of the adopted land. Here in this novel through Sudha and Anju, she exemplifies a contrasting perspective between the unselfishness required of women in India and the occasional freedom offered in their adopted land. The portrayal of the character’s outer and inner worlds bring a rich emotional to the story about two women who learn to build peace with the complicated choices which circumstances forced upon them. There are some other novels also with this same concept such as Mistress of Spices (1997) and Queen of Dream (2004), where the protagonist gone through the sense of rootlessness.

Divakaruni’s originality and talent lie in her technique of narration. She has used various techniques in writing such as alternative narrative, first and third person narrative, stream of consciousness, letter and diary writing, myth and magic realism particularly to express disordered and tragic condition of Indian immigrants while establishing themselves to the new civilization.

As magic and myth have been a perpetual source of themes for literary writers all over the world since times immemorial. Therefore, magic realism is an artistic genre or style of fiction in which magical essentials combines with the real world. In this technique the story explains these magical elements as real episodes presented in a direct way places fantastic and the real in the similar stream of thought, it is originated in the German art criticism of painting of Weimer Republic and invented by Franz Roh. Hypothetically, the term was born in the twentieth century linking it to post modernism and for this reason it is used in modern fiction to blend fantastic and fabulous events in a narrative to uphold reliable tone of objective genuine report. It ascribes a novel the characteristics like fable, folktale, legend, myth, fantasy, romance, dream, meta narration, mysticism, especially related to the culture. In Brenda Cooper’s words,

Magical realism attempts to capture reality by way of a depiction of life’s many dimensions, seen and unseen, visible and invisible, rational and the process, such writers walk a political tightrope between capturing this reality and providing precisely the exotic escape by some of their western readership. 9

Divakaruni’s magical realism is to bridge the gap between present and past state of affairs and its prolific entreaty for Indian immigrants who suffers from miscellaneous kinds of tensions is actually a phenomenon. She successfully used magic realism in her first novel, The Mistress of Spices (1997). She reveals characteristics like self-presentation, visions, eclecticism, mythology, folktales, discontinuity, saying, multiplicity, fables, Bengali culture and tradition to assert appropriating her identity all over the world.

The central character in the present novel Tilo has a magic power that becomes the owner of spice shop where she is a master of all spices and speaks to them as characters to resolve the troubles of people in the real world with the assist of magic. She creatively applied magic on Indian immigrants particularly to impart them their heart desires and to overcome their suffering. Spices, legends and myth are beautifully put together by her for the relaxation of people and their psychological, mental, physical problems.

So, In order to portray magic realism Divakaruni formed such a character like Tilo who is born in India. She defeats the pirate captain to become a pirate queen and after that she lives on the spice island where she is educated in the art of controlling and listening to the spices. This remote island is a place of protection for these women, who call themselves the “Mistresses of Spices” and are beneath the concern of the First Mother, the wisest and the eldest teacher. After received skills of the art, she is sent to Oakland, California, to a small Indian spice shop “Spice Bazaar” where she must begin her tasks of curing the masses. The first rule is that to survive a life of bachelor and never to yield carnal desires; secondly not to leave her place; thirdly, if she doesn’t pursue these rules, there is no outcome of spices on people. So, she is warned by her mother not to fall in love with anyone. She should be a virtuous, sincere, and pure while applying the magic of spices and otherwise she will lose her power over all spices. Old One says,

But let me ask you certain you wish to become mistress? It is not to let to choose an easier life. Are you ready to give up your Young body, to take and age and ugliness and unending service? Ready never to step out of the places where you are set down, store or school or healing house? Are you ready never to love any but the spices again? 10

As per as the above illustration in concerned we can understand that spices play a very important role in the novel. India is the land of various spices as Chilly, Sesame, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Asafetida, Tulsi, Fenugreek, Brahmi, etc.; for Tilo these are nothing but characters similar to other human beings who speak to her. Thus, here the use of legendary stories juxtaposing with spices relates to different cultural stories.

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The author strikes a fragile balance between fantasy and realism in her other novels also. In all her books like Sister of My Heart (1999), Queen of Dream (2004), and Palace of Illusion (2008) there is a mixture of fantasy and realism. Sister of My Heart has numerous reference of Bidhata Purush, whom the mother visits frequently to get knowledge about the future. “The old tales say this also: In the wake of Bidhata Purush come the demons, for this is the world’s nature, good and evil mingled. That is why they leave an oil lamp burning”11. The incident of fathers’ death in the caves of Sunderban, where a million rubies grew up and the caves protected by demons are all essentials of fantasy. All these are elements of fantasy which are intermingled with the story. But they are very well appended in the text. Even in Queen of Dreams also Rakhi’s mother can forecast people’s future with her dreams and assist them to get out of the nastiest situations. While describing the common experiences of the Indian diasporic society, Queen of Dreams creates an Indian-American experience with magic realism. The narrative of this novel presents the connection between the subconscious and wakefulness. The author has whirled a delightful story of a second generation immigrant Rakhi who is trying to discover her identity, with her dream-interpreting mother contributing to the mystery and magic. Her mother Mrs. Gupta interprets dreams – the other people’s lives depend on her, used to warn them and aid them because of her, “a dream is a telegram from the hidden world”12. The essence of the whole novel rests on the words of Mrs. Gupta as she explains the dream and construes the meaning of it. Thus, this novel portrays an amusing typical tale of self-discovery which is full of supernatural elements, mystery, suspense, and real experiences of an immigrant.

In this novel, Mrs. Gupta’s profound past and her secret working of the present is brought to light through her dream journals posthumously. Her dream journals are only her longing memories of her past life in the caves with the elder which actually ascertains her cultural identity. In her journal she describes herself as an essential part of the group. The author used the first person singular narrative to describe her inner feeling,

The dream comes heralding joy.

I welcome the dream

The dream comes heralding sorrow.

I welcome the dream.

The dream is a mirror showing me my beauty.

I bless the dream.

My life is nothing but a dream.

From which I will wake into death,

Which is nothing but a dream of life. 13

Divakaruni is stylistically different; she uses the combination of first person and third person narrative joined with flashback devices to provide realism and force in the novel. The writer used the flashback in time using a type of methods such as retelling of memories and dream sequences. Flashback breaks in a narrative’s linear time flow. She deals with the heroine’s self-analysis and also tries to include several other themes. To gain the interest of the reader, sometime she evades the simple technique of straight forward narration and takes up the flashback method. Divakaruni’s novels begin in the present but for a while move back and onward in time. As we know how much important characters are in a story and Chitra Banerjee usually portrays women characters as a protagonist. Her story focuses on the life of a woman specially an immigrant. Through them she tries to depict their inner feeling and experiences. Though we know the characters and their dialogues play a very important role to narrate a story. Characters can be approached from a lot of theoretical points of view, each yielding a different theory and conception of the characters. In widest sense,

“Character” designates any entity, individual or collective – normally human or human-like – introduced in a work of narrative fiction. Characters thus exist within storyworlds, and play a role, no matter how minor, in one more of the states of affairs or events told about in the narrative. Character can be succinctly defined as storyworld participant.14

Not only the characters but their dialogues also play an important role regarding to the narrative technique. On behalf of the voices of characters in a story is an effectual way of stimulating a narrative. An essential aspect of how we memorize and grow close to fictional characters is the way they speak. Chitra Banerjee tries to take her readers into the mind of the protagonist who put some light on her condition and all loose strings are tied at the end. The first person narration also permits the author to investigate deep into the mind of the protagonist, exposing her frustrations and fear. First-person narration is a style where a tale is narrated by one character at a time, talking for and about them. First-person narrative may be plural, singular or several as well as being a reliable, authoritative or illusory voice. This allows the audience or reader to see the point of view including thoughts, feeling, and opinions only of the narrator. Divakaruni, in the Author’s note, says that,

I was left unsatisfied by the portrayals of the women…….they remain shadowy figures, their thoughts and motives mysterious, their emotions portrayed only when they affected the lives of the male heroes, their roles ultimately subservient to those of their fathers or husband, brothers and sons. If I ever wrote a book…….I would place the women in the forefront of the action. I would uncover the story that lay invisible between the lines of the men’s exploits. 15

Draupadi, in Divakaruni’s The Palaces of Illusions (2008), voyages from being a woman frequently made the issue of narration by patriarchal narratives of becoming a woman who personally narrates itself, in the process, conquering the narratives that have created her womanhood through the countries. By becoming both the agent of the action and narrator, Draupadi picked up the voice of womanhood. This novel generates an impression that among all accounts of the Draupadi’s story, this one is the most genuine because Draupadi herself enacts and narrates the story of her life apparently without an authorial interruption. Draupadi wants to liberally sing the song of her own life which is multivalent, colourful, and complex. She says,

I’d played a crucial role in bringing them to their destiny. I’d shared their hardship in Khandav. I’d helped them design this unique palace which so many longed to see. If they were pearls, I was the gold wire on which they were strung. Alone, they would have scattered, each to his dusty corner.16

Hence, the life of Draupadi, a renowned woman character of ancient India, comes in close proximity to the modern times. It is the energy and fire in Draupadi plus the strength to fight for discrimination. Her multifaceted quality makes her the most majestic and mysterious women for all ages. The novel begins with her fanatical interest of life. Once she said,

Through the long, lonely years of childhood, when my father’s place seemed to tighten its grip around me until I couldn’t breathe, I would go to my nurse and ask for a story. And though she knew many wondrous and edifying tales, the one I made her tell me over and over was the story of my birth. I think I liked it so much because it made me feel special, and in those days there was little else in my life that did. 17

Such manifold narration of her own life’s story offers Draupadi with a critical insight into her story. She not only acts in response to the events narrated but also critical views other people’s responses to the actions or events of her life. As a result, Divakaruni used this technique very well by narrating the story of her protagonists through their own words. We can usually find a first person narrative in her works where the protagonist tells us about her own life, inner feeling, experiences, etc. The author has created wonderful female characters. She always gave focus on her female figures like Anju, Sudha, Tilo, Rakhi, Mrs. Gupta, and so on.

Even in her novel The Mistress of Spices, Chitra Banerjee quotes by her heroine about who is she and what her significance as a mistress of spices in the opening of her novel. She narrates such as,

I am a mistress of spices. I can work the others too. Mineral, metal, earth and sand and stone. The gems with their cold clear light. The liquids that burn their hues into your eyes till you see nothing else. I learned them all on the island. But the spices are my love…….In a whisper they yield up to me their hidden properties, their magic powers. 18

Thus, her novels are usually written in first person and thoroughly hold the reader. The chapters in Divakaruni’s novels are named after the central characters. In Sister of My Heart and Vine of Desire the chapters are alternatively named after Anju and Sudha. This is a very exclusive pattern of writing which evidently brings out the internal feelings of the protagonists. Even in Queen of Dreams the chapters are separated between the ‘Form the Dream journals’-the diary of Rakhi’s mother and Rakhi. The journals are read by Rakhi and her father. These dream journals are the disclosure of Ms. Gupta’s life as a dream teller. Further in her novel Mistress of Spices she has chosen yet another different way. She has named the chapters of the novel on the names of spices. It is written with a fusion of poetry and prose. This book is very spiritual in its features and as Divakaruni says, “I wrote in a spirit of play, collapsing the divisions between the realistic world of twentieth century America and the timeless one of myth and magic in my attempt to create a modern fable”19. Except all this she also used techniques of letter, diary, and storytelling to enrich her work and make it interesting for the readers.

It is noticed that Chitra Banerjee makes a careful use of satire, irony or yet humour, which are the features of remarkable works of art. Blazes of irony are apparent in one or two episodes in a couple of novels but they do not seem to be integrated deliberately by the writers. The ironical circumstances in the lives of the protagonists are scattered here and there in approximately all her novels.

In Divakaruni’s novels satire is more apparent. Her female protagonists who are trying to understand their country of acceptance face ironical situation. In Sister of Heart Sudha comes to America with the purpose that she would be having an innate capacity to bring up her daughter Dayita better life but she has no idea that this would mess up her bond with her sister of heart Anju. Further, In Queen of Dreams the main protagonist Rakhi and her friends are second age group Indians, they think that America is the only country that they fit in. But their individuality is also questioned during the attacks of September 11. Irony is enormously well-known in the works of Divakaruni. The writer makes use of myths to improve the imaginative consequence of the novel. Indian writers in English have derived encouragement from the wealth of matter available in the appearance of stories from the Mahabharata, the Ramanaya, and the Puranas plus local folklore and legends. The most regularly used figures from Indian legends is of course Sita, who is well thought-out as the model woman.

In Divakaruni’s novels, there are no straightforward allegories made but one can depict equivalent with the mythological and legendary women in her works. In Sister of my Heart Sunil’s father enjoys by proclaiming offensive passages about women from the Hindu scriptures. In India her protagonists are anticipated to go behind the footsteps of the legendary women figures. Divakaruni’s latest novel Palace of Illusions is also predicated on the mythological figure Draupadi. In this novel Divakaruni has illustrated The Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view.

Amusingly, even though education and the power of the feminist movement, many prejudices opposite of women still persevere. For the contemporary human being, the past becomes obsolete or if it subsists, it no longer exhibits itself as it was. For this reason, the past must be defined again according to the understanding of each human being. Chtira Banerjee endeavors to come to stipulations with the past in the Ecoian way: “The past since it cannot really be destroyed…must be revisited; but with irony, not innocently”. (Umberto Eco p, 67) Thus, the novelist cross-examines the practice of mind emblazoned by the past.

It is quite clear here that the protagonists of the novelist like Tilo, Sudha, Anju, Panchali, Rakhi all get free of modesty or humility so as to act in agreement with their “inner voice”. They are all in fact directed by the spirit while with an ironic equilibrium between faith and disbelief. To them, unfathomable feeling comes out as a later day psychology where Moksha is classified again in relation to the discovery of the “Atman” (here “self”, not soul) and the real magic is marked by a novel the sense of life’s path. Chitra Banerjee has nothing to do with the reality that life is not a sequence of show lamps. By the primary use of ‘HOPE’ chiefly in the conclusion of her novels to pass on a wider human point of view i.e. life is totally changeable and has to be lived through “hope” as Frye suggests:

Irony presents a human conflict which unlike a comedy, a romance or even a tragedy, is unsatisfactory and incomplete unless we see in it significance beyond itself. Something, typical of the human situation as a whole. 20

Divakaruni is a talented writer who uses sensual language to make the novel exciting, besides she is also dramatic and lyrical imaginative writer.


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