Gender and Caste in the Anglophone-Indian Novels of Arundhati Roy and Githa Hariharan: Feminist Issues in Cross-Cultural Perspectives

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This book analyzes the intersections of gender, caste and the (re)telling of history in the narratives by two contemporary South-Asian women writers in English of Malayalam descent, Arundhati Roy and Githa Hariharan. The authors have chosen two novels: The Thousand Faces of Night (1992)– winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book– by Githa Hariharan; and The God of Small Things– winner of the Booker Prize in 1997– by Arundhati Roy. Githa Hariharan represents the reality for a considerable section of Indian womanhood inserted in a brahminical, high class environment, and Arundhati Roy depicts the fatal consequences of the inter-caste sexual relations in a supposedly caste-less Christian and at the same time communist community. The overall purpose of this study is to unravel, expose and analyze how these authors create new possibilities, using two main strategies: first, re-defining female subjectivity in the critical juncture of caste and gender, and second, by reinterpreting history. Telling stories, that is, creating history, is in itself a way of producing new entities, new identities. Consequently, from this angle, plotting family and lineage is very relevant. Roy’s and Hariharan’s stories call for a re-vision and transformation in the three main power structures–State, Religion and Family–subverting, thus, the canon and claiming the subalterns’ space in History.


“The two novelists that Antonia Navarro has chosen to study, Githa Hariharan and Arundathi Roy, represent two of the many faces of the rich and complex life of feminism in India. Though both these authors write in English (which is one of the national languages of India) and address a similar readership at home and abroad, their themes and concerns, are quite distinct as is their exposition of the women’s question… As these writers set up their novelistic problematic and raise women’s questions, their formulations thicken with the many histories and the current complexities of these locations. These are the contexts of Indian feminism and the crucibles of contemporary Indian literature. It is also of particular significance that in Antonia Navarro we have here a Spanish scholar, who studied Indian literature in India, and who has had a direct encounter, over an extended period of time, with contemporary Indian life. India’s interaction with non-English speaking countries has generally been mediated by Britain or the USA. Thus, and thus far, scholars and publishers in the USA or Britain have brokered our understanding of French feminism or Spain’s access to Indian literary or political debates. What is obscured here is the fact that the connections between France and India, or for that matter Spain and India or Iran and India have had altogether different histories and different profiles. It goes without saying that they presage altogether different futures. This book is a sign of things to come, when interaction between Spain and India carries the specific imprint of the specific dialogue between these two cultures." – Susie Tharu, Professor of English Literature, Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad (India)

“Dr. Antonia Navarro-Tejero’s book on the works of Githa Hariharan and Arundhati Roy is a sound theoretical account of an important Indian writer writing in English. The problematization of the simplistic use of feminist theories in the Indian context shows her critical competence to work on an intercultural topic ... The thematic analyses of the works of Githa Hariharan and Arundhati Roy are topical to the issues discussed in the book, to the issues present in Roy’s and Hariharan’s works, and the subject of Indian society in general. The centrality of female subjectivity of discussing contemporary Indian society cannot be overlooked. Similarly, family is central to the discussion of Roy’s and Hariharan’s work. Furthermore, religion and the state provide the book functional configurations and help elaborating on the other topics. Dr. Antonia Navarro Tejero’s work is relevant to the study of Indian English literature. The study will enhance our perceptions of this phenomenon and deepen our understanding of Indian literature in general.” – Dr. Joel Kuortti, Senior Researcher, University of Joensuu

“This book will be a valuable addition to critical studies on women’s English language writing in India as there is a real dearth of analytical work, from a gender perspective, on this genre of writing which has seen a remarkable development in the last two to three decades. There are also few in depth examinations of specific works, dealing with social issues, by women. This study covers important developments in literature, as well as in the social and political arena, in conjunction with the growth of feminist theory and activism in South Asia. It provides us with important insights into the scope and subject matter of women’s writing, and in particular into the work of two writers Githa Haariharan and Arundhati Roy–who have placed the politics of sexuality and caste at the centre of their fiction. This is the first time that a serious book-length enquiry has been attempted on this subject, one that situates the authors and their novels in an ideological, as well as a socio-cultural, context in order to arrive at an analysis that enables us to view literature as an important interventionary medium – an independent meta-narrative which is the creative counterpart of history.”– Rita Menon, Publisher, Kali for Women/Women Unlimited

"Navarro-Tejero is highly successful in analyzing Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things and Githa Hariharan's The Thousand Faces of Night. She diligently refers to Indian theorists and academics, relying primarily on scholarship by anglophone Indians to support her readings and substantiate her thesis. The book provides perhaps the most detailed analysis of the two novels I have yet seen." - SIGNS

Table of Contents

1. A Literary Overview of Women’s Studies in India
2. The Development of the Female Subjectivity
3. The Family: Stories of Discontent
4. Religion: The Manipulation of Knowledge
5. The State: Taming the Subaltern
6. Dissent: Towards Liberation and Independence

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