Explore the theme of death in any two stories you have studied in your selection (‘Games at Twilight’ by Anita Desai and ‘Journey’ by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim).

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‘Games at Twilight’ is a renowned short story written by Anita Desai, which has an integral setting in India. In her short story, Desai relates the symbol of a regular wooden shed as an extended metaphor to represent a grave, and once the protagonist, Ravi, enters the ‘grave’, the remaining characters forget that he exists. This is expressed through a variety of devices, including tone, sentence structure and concrete language. ‘Journey’ by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim is a short story exploring the character development of the protagonist, who is a growing woman and ultimately assumes the responsibilities of the quintessential traditional female ascribed roles in society upon the death of her mother, and therefore Lim, through the practicality of death, portrays the passing of familial responsibilities to future generations.

Desai, in her story, uses idiosyncratic diction in order to show Ravi’s range of emotions throughout the third-person narrative short story as the plot mainly focuses on Ravi’s ultimate ‘…insignificance’, which could be related to death all the while. Ravi plays ‘hide and seek’ with his siblings and relatives, and he learns the game too well and ultimately finds such a hiding place that no one finds him. The tale is warped into when Ravi realises that the others have forgotten about him and have move onto other games and activities. This is seen through the line ‘…felt his heart go heavy and ache inside him unbearably’ upon acknowledging this occurrence. It was almost like an epiphany – where Ravi realises his insignificance. This is related to the theme of death of multiple levels. Firstly, it could be seen as a metaphor to when an individual dies, ultimately, they are forgotten and ‘life goes on’ for the remaining living people. Ravi, in a way, symbolises the reaction of the deceased had they be able to acknowledge how people eventually ‘forget’ them. This, therefore, ultimately explores death and where ‘twilight’ descends this also denotes the passage of time to a larger degree. The idea of Ravi’s heart ‘aching’ is almost abstract, where he feels so emotional that it can be related or categorised in relation to one of his humanely organs. This is interesting because it shows the level of emotion such a young boy feels, and ultimately experiences, where he understands that he isn’t all too special in the world and, more importantly, amongst his familial members. Through emotional diction, alternatively, Desai helps the reader to understand Ravi’s rollercoaster feelings and emotions and therefore the reader sympathises with Ravi for experiencing such a practical concept at such a young age. In addition, we see the chain of events from Ravi’s perspective; despite the story being this person limited. We can relate and somewhat empathise with Ravi in this respect. The line ‘No life stirred at this arid time of day…’ further negotiates the idea of death lurking in the world, and how at any given time, a person may depart from this world. This, alternatively, causes the reader to ponder over mortality and existentialism.

Geok-Lin Lim, in her story, uses a catalogue of words abstract in nature, for instance ‘labyrinths’, ‘…thick-brown claustrophobia’, and ‘…blacker than the dream twilight’, which creates a certain gory atmosphere during her exploration of death in her short story. This, alternatively, shows the state of mind of the protagonist, as if nature was colluding to accurately portray her state of mind and melancholy. Concrete language emerges when defining her mother with ‘…shining scales’ and ‘…predatory jaws’, as if the mother has grown certain physical characteristics to denote her emotional and physiological strength as a care-taker and unpaid domestic labourer. Lim’s diction is ominous in nature, and thus building up the tension of the melancholic situation of the protagonist — repetition continues in the last paragraph of ’s’ sounding terms and thus creates an acoustic impact on the reader. The way her mother is defined ‘…strong, big-boned mother’ is interesting because this conflicts with the traditional flimsy and feeble physical characteristics of women. Lim, in her story, paints the mother as a strong character physically, which is meant to symbolise the abstract nature of how strong she is mentally — that it is reflected in her body and physical state. This is related to death as the passage of roles is continuous and arguably indispensable in such culturally highlighted familial settings such as the one portrayed by Lim in her story.

Desai uses the shed as a pivotal symbol in the story, where it is ‘…dark, spooky’ and thus the reader feels discomfort and almost worry for Ravi. The story goes on where ‘…such a dark and depressing mortuary of defunct goods’, highlighting that as much as Ravi wants to be noticed, he only finds comfort in a shed full of forgotten furniture, which has been forgotten just like himself. The furniture could go on to symbolise the other individuals who have passed and now forgotten, and thus Ravi now finds himself sharing such an atmosphere. A hiding place which is labelled a ‘mortuary’ which has a ‘muffled smell’ as of ‘graves’ along with the repetition of ‘dead’ in the children’s chant all reinforce the idea that death is never far away. This, alternatively, reinforces the indispensable nature of death in society because it is something that we all must experience eventually and therefore arouses thought in readers. The catalogue of words relating to death and existentialism highlights the approval of the metaphor that the shed is acting like a grave in this story. The ‘…ignominy of being forgotten’ that Ravi experiences is similar to that of deceased people, as other individuals and relatives ultimately move on with other life experiences whereas the deceased merely retain their positions, dead, in their graves. This also evokes sympathy for all those who have passed in history and ultimately overshadowed by the current generation of living people.

Lim’s use of euphemism is thought provoking in terms of how she subtly introduces the idea of death in her story, for instance the line ‘…lay asleep’ when describing the protagonist’s mother. Lim uses repetition and imagery in the lines ‘…cold air’ and ‘…cold water’, which is crucial nearing the end of her story as this is to further enhance the eventual climax and feeling of melancholy experienced by the protagonist upon her mother’s death. This also symbolises the cold nature of life and the limitations of mortality, and thus the passing on of roles in a household which is a central idea highlighted throughout Lim’s story with the protagonist’s ‘…mother’s instructions’. Lim’s constant use of caesura through the final paragraph increases the flow of the tension and suspense, leading to the eventual climax of the protagonist letting out her built-up melancholy, depression and general emotion with ‘…the girl cried’, which evokes sympathy from readers and they may be able to relate. The simplistic tone of the final sentence is arousing as Lim uses complex diction and a variety of abstract and concrete language throughout her story, however, ultimately, such complex ideas are ultimately rendered into simple concepts upon facing certain humanely occurrences, such as death.

Between the two stories, both Desai and Lim utilises the third person narrative sequence, however allows most of the focus of their stories onto the protagonist. In addition, both stories deal with the concept of death and existentialism, although in very different ways. In contrast, where Desai sees death as ultimately being forgotten by those living around you, Lim sees the concept as the very nature humans have been built in through passing down roles in a household, for instance from the mother to the protagonist. In addition, where Desai uses symbols to denote abstract ideas, Lim uses no such symbols but instead deals with it on a more abstract level and through the usage of language achieves her aim of highlighting the brutality of the finality of life. As a result, both stories become characteristically thought provoking and ultimately share the same creed of existentialism and mortality.

Furthermore, in essence, Desai uses a range of symbols, most importantly the shed in her story, in order to denote and introduce strong and important concepts to the reader. Lim does this more subtly, through the use of euphemism and sees death as important in terms of a familial engagement in the household. Lim also explores the troubles of an individual, in which a death further aggravates it, however Desai explores death on the basis of ultimately being forgotten, evoking sympathy from her living readers, which has made all the difference between the two spellbinding short stories.

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