Significance of the Title That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande
The title of the novel That Long Silence is highly apt and suggestive. The key word in the title is “Silence”. ‘Silence’ is metaphor in the novel. In fact it is a recurring feature in Deshpande’s novels. The word operates at different levels. Deshpande refers to the silence of several women characters in the novel. In the first place, “Silence” refers to the silence observed by Mohan’s mother. Her silence is trumpeted as courage by her son. But it is not a matter of courage but sheer resignation. The silence of the old woman speaks the meaning of inevitability of passivity on the part of women. It is suggestive of her anger and unhappiness. The silent position of women denies them a valid presence. The first generation women characters like Mohan’s mother find a solution in maintaining silence. This kind of silence could be defiance, anger and helplessness. But certainly it does not mean complacency, contentment and acceptance of male dominance.
The second generation of women like Jaya are empowered with language. They are eloquent not only in their mother-tongue, but in a language of power, that is English too. Modern education has given them access to speaking rights through the value placed on English and the possibilities for female education. These educated women can no longer silently bear the dictates of the male dominant society. They give voice to their defiance and anger. If silence is the language of defiance and anger of the first generation women, breaking the silence is the language of defiance and anger of the second generation women character including Jaya and Sarita.
Jaya belongs to the second generation women characters. In the beginning of her marital life, Jaya too bore male dominance silently. However, when she realizes the agony of silence, Jaya writes her destiny in secret. Jaya uses writing to break the silence imposed on her by social norms. She will not be the same again. It is clear that it is the man in her life who will have to accommodate the changed reality because the woman has now crossed the threshold. She has forever changed the space she inhabits. The silence in the novel is symbolic of the long silence of women. The silence that Jaya herself harbours for much of her married life is partially, broken in That Long Silence. The breaking of the silence is however personal. She breaks the silence by giving her voice a public utterance. Throughout the novel, Jaya makes self- introspection to discover her own self.
She writes, she conducts an intense interior monologue and as her conversation with herself gathers momentum, her communication with her husband practically ceases. At the end of the novel, Mohan enables her to say “All is well” and that they can come out of hiding. Jaya reads different meaning. She is not sure whether Mohan is a changed man. However, she knows it for certain that she is a changed woman, a woman that has broken the long silence forever. The breaking of her silence is two-pronged. She breaks the silence by writing about her experiences and by thrashing out the differences with Mohan. Thus, the breaking of ‘that long silence’ by Jaya is positive and realistic.
The title suggests that women have been suffering in silence. They do not tell even of their physical ailments to anybody. Nobody, not even the husbands and other close relatives care to know about their maladies. Sometimes they conceal their ailments and sometimes they are neglected by all in spite of having the knowledge of their illness. Mohan’s mother died without getting any treatment and so did her daughter Vimla. Kusum was hated and ignored by all, including her husband and children. All these women suffered silently and died silently. Shashi Deshpande is deeply shocked by women’s tendency to suffer silently and die silently. Their silent sacrifice remains unnoticed. The novelist, therefore wants the women to break ‘that long silence’ to get their place in the man-oriented world in India. Women have been under the pressure of circumstances, customs and traditions, all of which put restraints on women.
Jaya’s father was a pragmatic, progressive and radical. He had dreamt that her daughter would go to Oxford for higher studies, win prizes and excel all other girls. But her father died before her dreams could be transformed into reality. After his death, she became Mohan’s wife because her elder brother Dinkar wanted to be free of the responsibility of a younger sister, so that he could go ahead with his plans. Dinkar pleaded on behalf of Mohan that he was an engineer in a steel plant at Lohanagar, quite good looking, hard-working, ambitious and that he had no vices like smoking or eating in hotels.
Mohan re-christened her as Suhasini. He was not satisfied with the salary he was getting in Lohanagar. He resigned the job because of the worker’s strike against him. However the idea of leaving the job was already in his mind. He tried for a more lucrative job in Bombay. In his greed for money, he restored to unfair means as a result of which he was trapped. His co-worker advised him to disappear from the scene for some time to save himself from ignominy and legal action. He shifted from Churchgate to Dadar. Jaya had no choice but go with him and accept his ways. She chose to remain silent even when Mohan was gathering gadgets. She was after all one of the two bullocks yoked together. It was not possible for one of them to go its own way. She was advised to keep silence.
The case of Mohan’s mother was all the more pathetic. Her husband was a pauper, unable to pay his son’s school fee of six rupees. Yet he was head-strong and tortuous. He would throw the plate if the chutney was not freshly prepared. Her eyes had become red owing to the smoke coming from the wood. She was a silent sufferer. Nobody knew about her sufferings, except her daughter who told Jaya about it after making her swear not to divulge the truth to anybody. She suffered and died unheard and unsung and similar was the case of her daughter Vimla, who died of a neglected tumor. Kusum also silently bore the insults. Jaya had love and sympathy for the neglected and destitute Kusum, who had been extremely kind to her in the past.