Kiran Desai’s novel The Inheritance of Loss employs the themes of post-colonial self-loathing and arranged marriage to illustrate the actions of her characters over the course of the novel. Judge Jemubhai Patel, one of the central characters, treats his family, and especially the women in his family, terribly throughout the duration of this novel. The judge begins his deplorable treatment of the women in his family by being ashamed of his mother, and continues with the rape, abuse, and murder of his wife, Nimi Patel. Finally, the judge neglects his daughter and does not have any contact with his grandchild until she shows up on his doorstep after the death of her parents. It is through his ...view middle of the document...
However, the judge spent only a month with Nimi before his departure for England, where he spent the next five years.
When the judge’s powder puff is stolen by Nimi, the judge punishes her through rape. This horrible act is a reflection of the judge’s own self-loathing. After a five-year stay in England, where the judge felt dirty and unwelcome, he has returned to a home where he still feels like a foreigner. When his powder puff, a toiletry for which “there was no Gujarati word,” goes missing, he is forced to explain to every member of his family the significance of such an item (Desai 184). Already ashamed and feeling both inadequately English and Indian, this humiliation sends him over the edge when it is revealed that it was his wife—An Indian girl who “could never be as beautiful as an English one”—who had taken the item. She slipped from his grasp and his anger flew. She who had stolen. She who had made them laugh at him. This illiterate village girl” (Desai 185).
The rape that follows is a culmination of such humiliation and rage, reflected even in the way that Desai describes it:
Ghoulishly sugared in sweet candy pigment, he clamped down on her, tussled her to the floor, and as more of that perfect rose complexion, blasted in a million motes, came filtering down, in a dense frustration of lust and fury—penis uncoiling, mottled purple-black as if with rage, blundering, uncovering the chute he had heard rumor of—he stuffed his way ungracefully into her. (Desai 186)
Desai describes the powder as “perfect rose complexion” which reflects the judge’s perceived inadequacy. The powder, purchased in England, is perfect. Judge Jemubhai is imperfect and rageful. The judge feels as though he can never be English—in his mind the ultimate form of perfection—and the fullness of this realization occurs when the powder is spilled as he begins the sexual assault of his wife.
Additionally, the judge’s anger at this perceived inadequacy is reflected in the way that Desai describes the judge’s “mottled purple-black” penis as being itself rageful. The description chosen by Desai is indicative that the judge’s rage is less at his wife for stealing, and more at himself for not being English or Indian enough. The judge takes out this anger and humiliation on his innocent wife in a deplorable act of violence that further contributes to his self-loathing, “turning his civilized stomach.” (Desai 186).
It is this shame that causes the judge to keep his wife under-wraps, and ultimately what leads to her death. Desai demonstrates the uncommon nature of the judge’s choice on page 186, “Nimi did not accompany her husband on tour, unlike the other wives…Nimi was left to sit alone in Bonda; three weeks out of four” (Desai 186). The judge was ashamed of how utterly Indian his wife was, recoiling at both her refusal to learn English and her traditional Indian dress, telling her to “take those absurd trinkets off” and demanding to know why she had to...