Realism in The Shadow Lines
Realism in The Shadow Lines
"Stories are all there to live in…it was just a question of which one you chose…" In his novel, The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh chooses to tell the story of a middle class Indian family living in Calcutta, through the eyes of a boy narrator. Though the novel may appear to be telling the narrator's story; because his life is intertwined with other lives, it is the story of many people, each trying to create their own reality. The concept of realism is central to the novel and Ghosh establishes it as a primary feature through the non linear plot, his attention to detail and multi dimensional, complex characters.
The non linear plot is established through the stream of consciousness technique used in the novel which gives us the impression of a flow of imagery comprising both the narrator's present as well as his past. As a result, his past and present- as well as those of the other characters- are interwoven and thus, events are not set in a chronological order. Rather, there is a constant back and forth shift in time and often, the narrator emerges in a jolt, from the past into the present. The novel begins with the narrator talking about a journey his father's aunt, Mayadebi, made with her son Tridib, thirteen years before he was born. There is a constant movement back and forth between the narrator's childhood, his teenage years as well as the year he spends in London. For example, the narrator starts by talking about his uncle, highlighting his memories of Tridib occasionally turning up the narrator's Gol Park neighbourhood to hold court among the local people. He describes an incident where Tridib is telling a disbelieving audience about English family friends of the name Price and slips in his own recollections of May Price- when she came to Calcutta two years after Tridib's tale as well as the next time he saw her, seventeen years later. This sudden yet smooth shift in events seems as if the narrator is revealing his thought process- allowing us glimpses into his memories that naturally, do not follow one another in a fixed chronological process.
This technique also adds layers of sorts to the novel, with one story containing another and that story containing yet another. For example, the narrator as an adult living in London, is spending an evening with his cousin Ila and his uncle Robi. While talking to them, he recalls a time when he and Ila were both ten and she and her family came to Calcutta for a holiday. Suddenly, we are transported nearly two decades back, listening to the author and his family being told a story by Ila's mother. The scene shifts and suddenly we are viewing the very incident she is describing to them- an incident which took place while they were living in Colombo. Then again, we're transported back into the narrator's living room- watching him struggle to come up with a reaction to the...