[(essay date 2007) In the following essay, Barley examines literal and metaphoric meanings of "home" in Desai's Fire on the Mountain and Raj Khamal Jha's The Blue Bedspread, asserting that the protagonists of both novels are frustrated in their attempts to escape the past through the creation of a spatial "Other" as refuge.]
This article explores the idea of home as a space of sanctuary and retreat from the problems of domestic life through the two contemporary Indian novels: Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai (1977) and The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha (1999). Using these novels as personal and social narratives,1 I examine how these novels destabilise discourses of gender, home and family. Both novels demonstrate the relationship between narrative and power by showing how the protagonists are able to overcome their relative powerlessness through thoughts and actions that destabilise idealised concepts of culturally imposed gender roles within the family. Through the interior narratives of the middle class protagonists, these novels demonstrate the tensions between the competing desires and wants of the individual and those of communal sources of identity based around the family. Fire on the Mountain is concerned with explicitly feminist themes and does this through the representation of home and family as a source of oppression and exploitation of women. The Blue Bedspread focuses on the patriarchal dominance of the father and a climate of fear and oppression within the family and the formation of inappropriate relations between family members.
The ways in which the novels represent these discourses illustrate how the power of narrative is rooted in imperial and nationalist ideologies, showing how "the hierarchies, inclusions and exclusions of the 'small world' of the text can be linked to larger power relations under imperialism and beyond" (Morey, 2000, p. 2). These realities are powerfully emphasised in Lisa Lau's and Jennifer Terry's articles in this issue, in their discussions of South Asian writing in English, and the work of Toni Morrison respectively. Novels allow for lives to be fleshed out and characters created to provide the narrative with its human interest. However, novels are more than just fictional self-contained worlds; Edward Said's concept of 'worldliness,' is useful here in showing that texts both reflect and help to constitute the political realities of the society from which they emerge. As Said (1983) says, "texts have ways of existing that even in their most rarefied form they are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society--in short, they are in the world, and hence worldly" (p. 35). Thus the worldliness of these novels is revealed through the presence of narratives of self-discovery, motherhood/parenthood, family and home that destabilise dominant discourses from within the home.
The home is an important site for the construction of narratives, particularly in the form of novels; domestic spaces provide not only content and settings, but also the material conditions for both reading and writing (Blunt & Dowling, 2006). This article focuses on how these two novels embody domestic,...