The Storm: An Inner Reflection
Memories are all we have sometimes, but what if memories bring out unwelcome feelings? In Romesh Gunesekera's short story "Ranvali," a young lady goes back to her father's old holiday bungalow and begins to discover new feelings toward her beloved Communist father. The story is set in an idyllic bungalow in Ranvali, by the coast of India. Theorists such as Roland Barthes would argue that setting in modern narratives "no longer need meaning: they simply are: that is their meaning." (qtd in Chatman 145). However, in "Ranvali," the storm that besieges the bungalow while the young lady is there clearly mimics her thoughts and gives the reader a greater sense of the inner turmoil that she must be going through. It can thus be shown that the storm is an essential part of the setting that Gunesekera uses to evoke certain feelings in the readers of "Ranvali."
In the story, the storm mimics the narrator's inner turmoil at discovering new feelings about her father. But is the storm part of setting? Chatman makes a distinction between existents - characters and setting. For Chatman, "setting 'sets the character off'; it is the place and collection of objects 'against which' his actions and passions appropriately emerge" (Chatman 134). The storm is part of the description of the 'place' where the story unfolds. The memories of the narrator's father, which may be considered the 'actions and passions' within the story, emerge before and after the occurrence of the storm. The storm is thus part of the background to which the events in "Ranvali" occur. Chatman also gives three criteria for being a character - presence, being named and importance (Chatman 139). The storm in "Ranvali" is clearly not explicitly named as a character like intangible items sometimes are in fairytales. The storm is also not critical to the story; the absence of the storm would not change the plot of the story significantly. It is an existent however, as it is still part of the narrative. Only the narrator and her memories of her father may be considered characters. The bungalow and the storm serve as backdrops to her ruminations on her father. However, the question remains as to whether the storm does in fact reflect what the narrator might be thinking.
Throughout the short story, the author paints a scene that always closely resembles the state of mind of the narrator. Gunesekera uses setting as a powerful device to invoke certain feelings in the reader. At the start of the story, the young lady drives back to the holiday bungalow amid a scene that is painted beautifully, full of colour and life. As her "speeding heart sang", she describes "the slim whitish trunks of the palm trees flashing by and the blue blur of the sea foaming; going like the wind" (89). The narrator is clearly happy to be going back to Ranvali, and this is reflected in the colour and beauty of the scene that Gunesekera uses to describe Ranvali. The narrator describes how...