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The History Of Myths And Stereotypes English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5514 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, and the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by world.

– Italo Calvino 1

Myths and stereotypes are a legend that may not be true. Both these words are different but implication is same. It is a typical and traditional primitive story which deals with supernatural creatures, heroes or ancestors. There are so many parables which are related to our day to day life without any testimony. Thus, it is a story that has become connected with a person, occurrence, or institution. It can be assert that stereotype is a popular faith about specific social groups or types of individuals. Myths are not always negative sometimes they are positive as well; it means there is no proof or record about their existence. Everyone is familiar with them due to the description provided by his/her ancestor. These are the effects which were started in ancient time and still continue in the present scenario without being questioned. There are no alternates or explanations to prove them as wrong. It is very heart-rending to recognize the actuality behind all of these mythologies.

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These myths are prevalent everywhere such as in society, religion and history. There are so many allegories existing in the society, especially in the midst of women. History is replete with falsehood correlated to women;yet, nobody have the answer for the authenticity of these folk stories. A number of stereotypes can fade away through the help of science or reality. Therefore, these legends are not ever-existing and ever-lasting. It is well said by James Feibleman that,”A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes”2.

These fables are related to magic and dream. Both these are moreover a part of mystery and supernatural element. We cannot explain that from where the dreams come from. May be it is a massage which appears from another hidden world. This same mystification is with magic also. Joseph Campdell presented his view on it,”Myths are public dreams, and dreams are private myths”3.

The main purpose of this chapter is to have a discussion on all those myths and stereotypes which are in some way connected to our life with the special reference of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s works. We will not only talk about them, but also try to illustrate their authenticity. It can be possible to prove them immortal by the means of reality. There are so many false beliefs which do not have any reality or authenticity, but still they are rooted in the society. They have taken place only for the sake of tradition, that’s why we are not able to get rid of it.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, who is an Indian woman writer, has tried to give us an idea about all those typecast which are related to the inferiority of woman. She mostly discusses about the legends which existed in India as well as United States. She is an Indian by birth and currently living in US. She is very much familiar with all the traditions and ancient stories of her birthplace along with her current place. She also talked about the folklores which are particularly related to women. These folklores are not specific to India only; even they are also well rooted in the entire world. From the very beginning women are surrounded with these fables and all these thingshave been happeningfrom the very first day since God created this earth. According to ancient stories, it was believed that,

So, god created man in his own image. And the lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib which the lord God had taken from man, he made a woman, and brought her up to the man. And Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man”.4

All these myths and stereotypes which are related to woman start right from her birth; woman is created out of man, though it is she who gives birth to a baby. God himself is a male, is it the reason that he created man in his own image? It is a point to think, that if God can create man individually, than why not he created woman like the same? Why she is created by the rib of man? Did God also want to show his dominancy? Well, all these questions are still unanswered.

On the basis of this historical aspects, certain false asserts concerning to the social supremacy of the male sex have been disseminated. It is often putforwards as an eternalproverb that men are socially higher because they are naturally superior. Male superiority, according to this metaphor, is not a common fact at a particular phase of history, but a natural law. It is claimed that men are awarded by nature with superior physical and mental qualities.

An equal myth about woman has been circulating to hold up this claim. It is place forward as an equally eternal maxim that women are naturally lesser to men. And,what is the evidence? They are the mothers! Nature, it is asserted, has criticized the female sex to an inferior position. It is moreover believed so as to,

Adam names his wife Eve; God is male (‘created man in his own image’). Man is created first…it is said that those who name the objects, in fact, own them and those who rule the word rule the world.5

In consequence, is it the reason that male is still ruling female? These fables are not only in the creationof world but gender bias is deep rooted in the part of historical and textual tradition also. From the very beginning of this world women are always consider as a weaker or second sex. She is always placed behind the man. Woman’s identity and her place in society are still surrounded with so many myths. History is evidence for the question of woman’s existence in the society.Aristotle declared that,

The female is female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, and added that……we should look upon the female state, as it were, a deformity, one which occurs in the ordinary course of nature. On account of its weakness it quickly approaches its maturity an old age since inferior things all reach their end more quickly.6

In all rituals or traditions women have always been considered below dignity. They are treated as incompetent, unqualified, powerless, and feeble in comparison to man. Women are always irrespective of religion, race, country as well as the period in which they live. These same sensitivity and sex stereotypes have been seen in the reproduction of human being. It was a myth associated with a woman that she could only fertilize or furnish the foetus. It is only man who is an active partner in the reproduction of a baby. In the course of biology, we can find the justification for these kinds of statements. According to the data of biology, males and females are from a same species which are differentiated within two types of individuals. They both work together for the function of reproduction. In the book one “Facts and Myths” of The Second Sex, we can figure out Aristotle’s opinion:

Aristotle fancied that the foetus arose from the union of sperm and menstrual blood, woman furnishing only passive matter while the male principle contributed force, activity, movement, and life.7

All these assertions are interrelated to social myths; it is not nature, but class society, which subordinated women and lifted up men. Men won their social primacy in effort against and subjugation over the women. But, this sexual fight was part and parcel of a great social problem. Women’s weakness is the creation of a social system which created and promoted numerous other inferiorities, prejudices, deprivation, and inequalities. This social history has been covered at the back of the myth that women are naturally weaker to men.

It is a falsehood only that the living seed is created by the father alone and mother only carried and nourished it. The theory of Aristotle stayed alive through the middleAges. After that, there were so many thinkers like Harvey, Hagel, the Danish anatomist Steno, and Dutchman Hartsakar; who gave their individual opinion regarding reproduction system. The well-known philosopher Hagel held that these two sexes were different, the one is active and the other is passive, and of course the female would be the passive one. He said in his Philosophy of Nature, “….Thus man, in consequence of that differentiation, is the active principle while woman is the passive principle because she remains undeveloped in her unity” 8.

Therefore, in the ancient time woman was always regarded as the lower sex. All the way through biology this label was totally clear that man is not the only one who has the superiority for the reproduction. It is male and female both for their similar involvement. They are defined primarily as male and female by the gametes which they produce – sperms and egg respectively. But biology is not enough to give an answer to the question of woman’s identity. Even, not only through biological point of view, but via psychological point of view also a woman is always considered as a weaker sex or other. This society never gave any importance to her decisions. Till the middle age women were not given the freedom to choose their own life. Humanity for women was totally very different. The personality of a woman has been affected throughout the course of history, somehow, that same condition is in present scenario also. There is no true living reality except as marked by the aware individual through activities and in the bosom of a society.

Thus, the entire world is full of myths that men have forged women through all their cosmologies, ideologies, religions, literature, and superstitions. Because of these falsehoods, man endeavoured himself forward as the subject and deemed the woman as an object. Most philosophersagree that Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is a greatest contribution to the philosophy of a woman. She was a writer, feminist, and an existentialist also. Her legendary work The Second Sex is called the myth of the “eternal feminine”. The main theme of this book is turn around the idea that woman has been held in a relationship to long-standing domination to through her demotion to being man’s “other”.

Beauvoir’s book is divided into two major themes. The first book investigates the “Facts and Myths” about women from the multiple perspectives including the biological, historical, scientific, materialistic, literary, psychoanalytic, and anthropological. In the second part, she tried to destroy the essentialism which claims that women are born “feminine”. This section traces about the education of woman from her childhood to her adolescence. It also discussed the different situation of women’s life and struggled to clear the misconceptions. She said on the publication of The Second Sex,

It was true that my study of the myths would be left hanging in mid-air if people didn’t know the reality those myths were intended to mask…..So I had to try to dig for the exact truth beneath the surface of their interpretation.9

One of the prominent features of Capitalism, and of class society in general, is the discrimination of the sexes. It was believed that Men are the masters in political, cultural, economic, and intellectual life; while women play a secondary and even a passive role. Only in current years, she has come out of kitchens to prove her existence. Women are a bit different from the nature of men, they are emotional, polite and soft hearted but it does not mean that they are not as stronger as man. This is only the psychology of male society that, they never understand the place of a woman in world of values. It is very much essential to give her a dimension of liberty. In earlier period, she did not possess the power to choose between the assertion of her transcendence, and she alienation as an object.Donaldson, a historian of women, remarked the definition,

Man is a male human being, woman is a female human being; have been asymmetrically distorted; and it is among the psycho analysts in particular that man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male. 10

It is all about man’s psychology who does not accept the truth that these women can also do all the stuff in better way. For them she is being created only for the household work or to manage things; decision power is not her domain. If male and female both are human beings then why they are considered as male or female individually? Woman’s identity is not defined only by her sexuality; her illustration is also reflected in the organization of the society. However, men deem themselves superior in the human society even though man and woman both should be considered the same. Our history articulates that woman is the source of all follies and mistakes. All these allegories which are correlated with women, are still surviving in the society. Our society is dominated by men from a long past, maybe that’s the reason for the existence of all these folklores. This society does not want to accept the reality even. A lot of legends are still prevailing just because of these entire typical and traditional ancient stories which deal with superstition. Beauvoir has conveyed her opinion on the existence of myths that,

A myth always implies a subject, who projects his hope and his fears towards a sky of transcendence. Women do not set themselves up as subject and hence have erected no virile myth in which their projects are reflected; they have no religion or poetry of their own: they still dream through the dreams of men.11

In our ancient time women did not have any freedom to write or express their views. We believe in all such beliefs for the reason that our ancestors also did the same. Just because of these myths women are suffering from a long time. Through science or realism it is possible to get rid of all these falsehood, which are pointing out a question on women’s identity. These belongings are carried on from our history, and it is not that much easy to change it. Even that is very hard-hitting to change the psychology of the whole community.

This inequality of the sexes has marked class society from its very origin several thousand years ago, and has preserved throughout its main stages: Capitalism, Chattel slavery, and Feudalism. For this basis, class society is appropriately characterized as male-dominated. This supremacy has been upheld and maintained by the form of family, the state, the system of private property, and the church.But class society did not always survive; it is only a few thousand years old. Men were not always the superior sex, for they were not always the business, academic and cultural organizers.

Indian-American author Chitra BanerjeeDivakaruni as well concentrates to destroy myths and stereotypes regardingwomen. In her work, she tries to demonstrate all those false customs which indicate women towards inferiority. Because she was born in India and spent 19 years in that same culture, for this reason, she came to feel all these situations and conditions by her own. Through all her experiences she wants to prove in her writing that, not even in India but in other cultures also the women’s condition is thinkable. She provides evidence that how does a woman get away out of her problems and survives in her life via her characters in the fiction. It is in nature of a woman to continue to exist in each and every circumstance. She involved all these aspects skilfully in her works.

Chitra Banerjee’s writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is often rooted in the intricacies of the home. By pondering her characters on the high-tension wire of family; she is able to travel around the issues that induce her most-identity, loyalty, tradition, and independence. Her study typically takes place within the accused context of the immigrant experience which is created for a writing style both narrow in focus and broad in scope.

As a result our foremost intend in this paper is to destroy once and forever all the myths carried on by class society that the women are naturally or essentially inferior, with the special reference of author’s works.She wants to show the reality at front of her readers for that they can judge what is wrong and what is right. She is not against towards the customs and traditions. She only wants to give idea to her readers about the falsehood in the society and how a woman is able to get rid out of this through her strength; she only wants to reform the society and give forte to the female community. She shows her protagonists independent, full of positive energy or strength, adoptable, sympathetic, good companion,gregarioustowards rituals and traditions, as an image of “shakti”.

Divakaruni has published poems, short-stories, and novels, all of which generally centre on similar themes: the struggle to adapt to new customs of life the when one’s cultural traditions are in variance with new cultural expectations; complexities of love stuck between family members, lovers, and spouses; the position of women in India and America; the struggle and disagreement of women during the arrange marriages; the existence of women in the society. Her works are often considered to be quasi-autobiographical as most of her stories are set on women’s experiences, their inner sentiments, and their great efforts towards their own life. Therefore, being a woman she is writing about herself.

This is not factual that, she has always been interested in women’s issues and condition, and desirous of making changes. When she lived in India, she was totally immersed in the culture and thus totally accepted it. She never thought about women’s rights or their problems. If things were hard for women, she reasoned that, it was just the way of the world. Nevertheless, thesekinds of adjustments are not an easy task. This thing arouses so many questions in her mind that, Why should we isolate women? , Was it same everywhere? , Is it the only life of women? , Do myths and stereotypes are always being a part of her life?

To get the answer of these questions the author studied carefully the lives of other Indian women of her surroundings. She noticed that many of them were still caught in the old system that a man has precedence and command over them. They excuse all their wrongs, and that away from the traditional joint family that kept a watchful eye on things, such women were even more vulnerable. Women have been the subject of intimidation, deprivation, discrimination, and unjust treatment in society throughout history. Women are considered inferior, subjected to various ordeals, given secondary status, subjugated to the male and deprived of the basic right of existence. The difference is only in the forms that differ from society to society and from time to time. They are considered persons whose duty is to act on the advice of males, take care of them, serve them and please.

Thus, women are given such an ideal role as to live at the mercy of the husband and die at his bonfire. The reason behind all these differences is that in the social strand of many societies males are given a privileged position because they feed the family, they are bread winners, and continue the name of the family. Somehow the author also senses the differences between male and female through her experiences and society where she spent her life. She is an independent woman thus she can realise about the woman power and capability.

By using her personal experiences or practises, she tried to uphold the real figure of a woman through her protagonists. She tries to illustrate the reality behind the myths that women are only made to fulfil various duties.

A wild range of her novels are included into this frame like:The Mistress of Spices (1997), Arranged Marriages (1995),Sister of my Heart (1999),Vine of Desire (2002), The Palace of Illusions (2008)and Neela: Victory Song (2002). Her novels and stories have prompted some to accuse Divakaruni of tarnishing the Indian community’s image and reinforcing stereotypes of the “oppressed” Indian woman, but Divakaruni says her aim is to shatter stereotypes:

Some just write about different things, but my approach is to tackle these sensitive topics. I hope people who read my books will not think of the characters as Indians, but feel for them as people.12

Chitra Banerjee thinks about women as a group in her society and her views are different from the view of other members in the society. She believes that woman has a right, or we might even call it a role to play in the society. Their role is to be a significant part of society, different from men, but still play a part.

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All cultures have developed their own mythology. In Hinduism some epics such as the Manuscriptadvocates a restriction of women’s rights. If we go through the contents of the Manuscript, we may realise that it was particularly harsh against women and treated them with disdain and suspicion. We do not have any evidence to believe it still the book was followed by all the sections of the society. It was said in Manuscript – The law of Manu (chapter. X- 1- 10) concerning to woman that,”Her father protects (her) in childhood; her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence” 13.

This statement arouses several questions on the independence of a woman and her self-identity. It means that as a child, a woman should have supposed to remain in the custody and care of her parents. Divakaruni has revealed the same picture of society in her novel Sister of my Heart (1999), in which both these sisters Anju and Sudha are treated the same. They both live in the protection of their three mothers(Pishi, Nalini, Gouri).Sudha had accepted all these boundaries, but on the other side Anju who is rebellious by her nature does not want to accept these limitations. She always puts up her queries,

Why must Ramur Ma go with us every time we leave the house, even to get books from the neighbourhood library? She’d ask. ‘Why can’t we go to Sushmista’s birthday party when all other girls in class are going, instead of sending a gift with Singhji?No wonder everyone thinks we’re stuck up’. She further says that,

I am tired of these old women sari you make us wear. You would think we wear living in the Dark Ages instead of in the Eighties. I bet there isn’t another girl my age in all of Calcutta except Sudha, of-course who is forced to dress like this. Why can’t I wear trousers, or a maxi, or at least some kurtas once in a while? 14

Actually these questions are for those people who are not able to judge woman’s eminence. By her works the author demonstrates the black face of the society and wants to remove myths and stereotypes.

Women do not have any individual rights, Is it because she is a daughter and her happiness doesn’t matter? That same frustration we can feel in the character Neela, the protagonist of the novel Neela: Victory Song (2002). Through her questions,Divakaruni puts a stigma on the society that,

Why does everyone feel they have to control girls – even after they are married? Why are women expected to sit quietly and silently, embroidering and making pickles, while men get to make all the exciting places? Why can’t a girl be a freedom fighter?15

After getting married, a girlturns into a property and responsibility of her husband. It indicates that in her whole life she is treated as a property only and to take care of her is a responsibility of her surroundings. Therefore, her husband is supposed to keep her in custody and take care of her needs or expectations. As a wife she has to perform her duties. When she becomes old, she used to live in the house of her sons and has to spend a very forlorn and solitary life. It was well written in Purana,

“KaryeshuMantri, KaraneshuDaasi,

Kupecha Lakshmi, KshamayaaDharitri,

Bhojyeshu Mata, ShayentuRamdha,

Shat Karma Yukta, Kula Dharma Patni.” (Acharya: 351)

According to our Hindu tradition, it is believed that a married woman should have performed four rules: as her husband’s servant (dasi) in sense of duty; as his minister (mantri) in sense of making decision; as a mother (mata) to his kids; and as a lover (rambha) in his bed. Hence, Dasi, Mantri, Mata, Rambha all are different portrait of woman, which is mentioned in our ancient epics. Our ancestors talked about the duties of woman, but they never talked about what a man has to do. Historically speaking, whether it was in Medieval Indiaor Ancient India, the position of women in the subcontinent was never good.

Divakaruni opposes all these false traditions and myths. She asks over it that, why these rules are only mended for women?, As all these ancient epics have been written by men, is it the reason behind the harsh canon towards women?, Before deciding her life, did anybody asked about her own desires or wishes? Well, the author has presented two different portrayals in her book Sister of my Heart. The one is Sudha, who always acceptedall the rules mend for her and the other is Anju, who always encourage her to fight for her own rights. Anju all the time keep questioning to Sudha,

Why is it you that has to count out the dirty clothes for the dhobi and then count the clean clothes he brings back? Why is it you who has to make up the market list each day and hand out the spices for grinding and cut up the vegetables for lunch and dinner?16

She also encourages her by her harsh comments,

Without a college education, what kind of life are you going to have? You might as well tie a bucket around your neck and jump into a well right now. You might as well but blinkers over your eyes and join the bullocks that go round the mustard mill. That’s all you’re going to be a beast of burden for some man.17

Divakaruni has covered a wide range of issues associated to myths and stereotypes, which are popular among the women of the Indian culture. She strives to put issues in front of the world through her writing. Arrange marriage is the most high-lighted issue in her works. Her short-story collection Arranged Marriage(1995), deals with a variety of issues: including racism, economic disparity, interracial relationships, divorce, and abortion. Her basic interest is to focus on the concept of arrange marriage in the context of Indian culture. The difference between boy and girl, which has been going on from the ancient time,still exists in the society. From the beginning of a girl’s life, it is determined to get her married in an arranged way. It is not she who will decide to whom she is going to be married; even her life’s most important decision is in her family’s hand. She is trained by her surroundings to get expertise in household works. To take care of her family is her foremost duty from the day of her marriage. Divakaruni mentioned,It is assumed in our society that, “a married woman belongs to her husband, her in-laws” 18.

It indicates that a girl does not have any independent life. It is she who is going to be chosen by the opposite side and she would be positive plus overall presentable at the moment of bride viewing ceremony. So many folklores are also associated to this process of her life. If anyone says no to her, it would be considered a bad luck for a girl. She must be prepared enough for bride viewing moment especially on wearing bright and colourful attire; it’s her family’s belief that this will bring her luck. After all this is the most important phase of her life and future. Divakaruni seeks to trace out those moments that what is exactly going-on in the mind of victim. She must be thinking,”…..the man who is coming to our house with his parents today and who will be my husband if I’m lucky enough to be chosen” 19.

Thus, it is a kind of prestige issue for a girl and her family; if things went wrong then people get stuff of gossips. It is considered to be a bad fortune for her if she gets rejected.

These falsehoods are going on from our primitive society, other than this the embarrassing part is that still we are carrying on the same customs. A girl is asked so many questions by her would be mother-in-law. Divakaruni thrashed out such kind of questions in her novel Sisters of my Heart(1999), when Sudha’s mother-in-law asked her,

What was her favourite subject in school (embroidery), what is the proportion of sugar to water in rosogullah syrup (one to two), what does she think should be a woman’s most important duty (taking care of those she loves). 20

Being an Indian, Divakaruni does not oppose the custom of arrange marriage but she condemns the humiliation faced by girls in arrange marriages. She would like to change the system not custom. The author yearns for the answer of these questions that, why the society has not given the similar rights to a boy and girl to choose their life partner? Why it is only she for all the sacrifices and responsibilities? Today’s scenario is little bit changed, but in earlier days a girl could not even talk to her would be husband before marriage. A girl’s psychology is always surrounded by the conflicts that,”I don’t know him at all. What if he doesn’t like me after we’re married? What if none of his family likes me? “21

That same disagreement or clash Divakaruni illustrates in the course of her works as well as in her characters. Apart from the concept of marriage the author further describes various other aspects on the subject of myths and stereotypes among the women. Some of the topics are also related to clothes. Indian culture is known for its colours especially in clothes andDivakaruni has focused a lot on the colours of women’s outfits. In our culture women used to wear colourful saris. Mostly they prefer red, orange, pink, green; which are symbol of brightness and life. The author gave a perfect picture of Indian woman in her novel Sister of my Heart,

They showed a stick figure woman in a traditional red-bordered sari with a big bunch of keys tied to her anchal. She wore a red marriagebindi in the centre of her forehead and stood next to a moustached man carrying a briefcase. Around them were gathered several stick figure children, their sex indicated by boxy shorts or triangular skirts.22

In one of her story “clothes”, Divakaruni centred on the significance of colours. It was believed that the different colour have different meaning. For pink dress it was supposed that, “its body was a pale pink, like the dawn sky over the women’s lake. The colour of transition”23…..and as similar, “a blue one for the journey, because blue is the colour of possibility, the colour of the sky” 24.

Even, at the time of one’s marriage, extra spotlight is given on the colour of bride’s dress. But the fact is that all these colours are a part of her life, till her husband is alive. In traditional families, widows are supposed to wear white sari and to give up all their ornaments including bindi (red mark on forehead). Divakarunifigured out a widow in a story, “The sari, a thick voile that willbounch around the waist when worn, is borrowed. Widow’s color, color of ending” 25.

It is believed that after the death of one’s husband, colours are not a part of her life. Therefore, it was prohibited for her to wear colourful clothes. Ornaments and bindiare also signifies auspiciousness. After that widows are expected to devote their lives to any serious pursuit of religion or to her husband’s family. The author shows it wrong and tries to remove this kind of mentality from the society or religion.

Divakaruni further talked about the conditions of widow in her short-story collection Arranged Marriage that, “all over India, at this very moment, widows in white saris are bowing their veiled head, serving tea to in-laws. Doves with cut-off wings” 26.<


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