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Heroism in Anita Rau Badami's novel "The Hero's Walk". An analysis of the female protagonists

Seminararbeit 2004 26 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur



1 Introduction

2 The Hero´s Walk and its female heroes
2.1 'Romance plot'
2.1.1 Theoretical part
2.1.2 Romance in The Hero´s Walk
2.2 Quest plot
2.2.1 Theoretical part Social quest Spiritual quest
2.2.2 Quest in The Hero´s Walk
2.3 Family plot
2.3.1 Theoretical part The generation plot The mother-daughter-plot
2.3.2 Family plot in The Hero´s Walk
2.4 Concepts of characters
2.4.1 Static vs. dynamic characters
2.4.2 Monodimensional vs. multidimensional characters
2.4.3 The female protagonists in The Hero´s Walk Ammayya Putti Nirmala

3 Summary

4 Bibliography
4.1 Primary Literature
4.2 Secondary Literature

I find it touchingly heroic to just see people living from the day they´re born until the day they die, so full of hope. You just wake up every morning and expect the next day to go well. And I find that touching. I wanted to work with that idea: that notion of heroism. And I think that´s basically what the book is about.[1]

1 Introduction

In Badami´s The Hero´s Walk the reader becomes witness to different heroic lives within an Indian family, both female and male characters. This paper will take a closer look at the female protagonists in the novel and will therefore contribute to investigate "die Möglichkeiten und Grenzen weiblichen Heldentums in der Literatur" (Gutenberg 2000, 11). Already in the early seventies, Joanna Russ (1972) asked: "What Can a Heroine Do?" (quoted in Gutenberg 2000, 11). So the criticism of images of women was extended to a certain degree to a criticism of the fictional plot frame for female characters and therefore to a critical consideration of plot patterns.

Novels, especially, depend upon what central action can be determined as being performed by the protagonist (or protagonists) – i.e. what can a central character do in a book? An examination of English literature, or Western literature (or Eastern literature, for that matter) reveals that of all the possible actions people can do in fiction, very few can be done by women. (Russ 1972, 4f.; quoted in: Gutenberg 2000, 11)

In order to raise consciousness for this situation and to show the discrimination against women within a patriarchal society, the women´s movement demanded a more positive female role model in literature, which would allow the female reader to identify herself with the character and would be a more authentic portrayal (Gutenberg 2000, 12).

One of the consequences of now putting more emphasis on female heroism in literature, was the differentiation between the conventional heroine on the one hand and a female hero on the other (Gutenberg, ibd.). Heroine stands for the conventional, more passive woman within a novel, whereas a female hero implies the concept of an active female protagonist who is not exclusively subordinate to a male hero.

In The Hero´s Walk the reader meets several female heroes who are all part of an Indian family. Badami´s first book, Tamarind Men, is also a novel that focuses on its female protagonists. It is about the relationship between a mother, Saroja, and her daughter, Kamini, who have very different perceptions of a past they both shared. Therefore being accused of being a feminist, Anita Rau Badami once said in an interview:

“Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘feminist’. If you mean that being a feminist is that somebody expects both sexes to be equal, so long as you both have equal opportunities and the chance to make a decision about where your life is going and the opportunity to work that decision through, the fair chance to do so, then yes, I´m a feminist. […] Now there is more awareness that women have a right to be treated as equals so perhaps the need has faded a bit. I mean there is still a need to yell and shout and scream a bit.”[2]

This paper will firstly take a closer look at certain plot patterns and will then investigate how these patterns can be applied to the novel. Afterwards, we will deal with different concepts of characters – how they can be categorised and analysed and we will then try to describe some of the female protagonists of The Hero´s Walk.

2 The Hero´s Walk and its female heroes

First of all, the different ways of how plots and literary characters can be analysed or categorised will be taken into consideration. This typology will be followed by the application of this "theoretical equipment" on the female protagonists of the novel by taking a closer look on them.

2.1 'Romance plot'

2.1.1 Theoretical part

Gutenberg (2000, 2) differentiates two prototypical plot patterns: romance and quest. It would probably be an improper simplification to speak of "the" romance in general or of a single prototype because already in medieval literature there were different kinds and mutual influences (Gutenberg 2000, 155).

Nevertheless, there are certain structural characteristics and recurrent motives as well as topics which seem to be typical for the romance. The central topics are love and adventure, a phase of retreat of the hero from the social community, detailed descriptions of everyday as well as unusual events, which are consecutively strung together. The quest-motive implies some kind of circularity within the romance:

Most romances end happily, with a return to the state of identity, and begin with a departure from it. Even in the most realistic stories there is usually some trace of a plunge downward at the beginning and a bounce upward at the end. This means that most romances exhibit a cyclical movement of descent into a night world and a return to the idyllic world, or to some symbol of it. (Frye 1976, 54; quoted in: Gutenberg 2000, 155)

For centuries, the quest and the romance pattern occurred in a gender-specific role allocation. Quest plots traditionally request a male, self-determined subject and are structurally characterised by a continuing, target-oriented search. During this search, obstacles need to be overcome and fights need to be fought. The integration of the hero into the community forms the end of the novel. The romance plot, on the other hand, requires a female protagonist and its objective is marriage. Accordingly, the whole plot is oriented to achieving this goal. Nevertheless, the woman remains a heteronomous object (Gutenberg 2000, 3).

Both of these plot patterns are still relevant for the novel today, but they have undergone significant modifications during the last centuries. These modifications can be explained by a complex combination of specific literary and certain socio-cultural factors. The role of the woman and her recognition within society has certainly changed significantly over the years and these changes also occur in literature. Female characters can, for example, be described as passive in medieval literature. Their function was basically limited to love objects of the acting male protagonist. The 18th century, however, brought along many social - and therefore ideological – changes. Marriage was no longer perceived as a kind of contract between families for financial reasons, but as a concept of free will. Of course, this did not imply equality of the two sexes, but quite the reverse: separate spheres was one of the key words of the time. The woman dominated the domestic sphere whereas her husband fulfilled representative tasks within the public sphere. Nevertheless, passion was now included in marriage and it was therefore not very surprising that love made its way into the novel as one of the central topics (Gutenberg 2000, 155ff.).

There are some subcategories within the romance plot, e.g. the courtship plot, the seduction plot, the Gothic plot (as a subcategory to the seduction plot) and the wedlock plot (Gutenberg 2000, 220f.). Especially the courtship plot and the wedlock plot are of importance with regard to The Hero´s Walk.

The courtship plot often contains certain conflicts and obstacles to which the two lovers are exposed. These hindrances could be, for example, geographical distance/separation, class barriers or parental authority. All of these problems lead to a delay of marriage. The courtship plot could be described as dynamic because it is based on a condition of excitement between frustration and fulfillment:

For only as long as the lovers are kept apart or the desired condition is deferred will the story keep moving forward or the reader continue reading. Once the possibility of a straight line between the romantically attracted protagonists has been established and 'two' become 'one', the plot in effect returns to the one-dimensionality from which it arose. (Boone 1987, 80f.; cited in: Gutenberg 2000, 159)

The wedlock plot can either take a comic course (improvement sequence) or a tragic course (deterioration sequence), depending on the stressed syllable:

If the emphasis is upon 'wed' we have the optimistic or comic form of the wedlock plot. Here the novel literally ends with the wedding of the young couple, and plot complications arise from the obstacles that stand in the way of the desired union. (Hinz 1976, 902; cited in: Gutenberg 2000, 163).

This variant would correspond to the courtship plot. If, on the other hand, the stress is on the second syllable 'lock', marriage does not present the key for solving all kinds of problems. On the contrary: it becomes some kind of prison. The woman could be deceived by her husband or the two worlds of the married couple could just be too far apart.

In the 19th century, values like self-realization and individualism become partially relevant for female protagonists. Nevertheless, the conventional plot pattern structurally remains the same (Gutenberg 2000, 166). Only at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century do we find dissolving of the dichotomic Victorian end of the novel (marriage or death) and for the first time marriage is used as the starting point of a novel.

After World War II, the romance plot split up and fused with other types of plots, leading to a variety of romance plots which are impossible to completely recognize. Since the 1960s, there are no "traditional" romance plots found with the conventional happy-ending[3]. Furthermore, romance and marriage don´t necessarily form an unquestioned unit any longer. Sexual experience outside of marriage now seems to have the greatest attraction.

2.1.2 Romance in The Hero´s Walk

Love is certainly one of the important topics of the novel and marriage plays a central role. The marriage of Nirmala´s and Sripathi´s daughter Maya to the Canadian Alan could partially be characterized as a courtship plot because both of them are confronted with the mentioned obstacles: according to the Indian tradition, the woman´s parents choose her future spouse, more or less ignoring the emotional situation or the passions of their daughter. Maya´s decision of marrying a foreign person and living abroad not only denounces the Indian tradition but also hurts her parents´ feeling and leaves her father especially angry and inconsolable: "Is she mad? Your daughter? Cannot help her feelings, she says. Tell Mr. Bhat – she orders me – she doesn´t want him to get hurt! What about me ? And you ? We aren´t going to be hurt? What am I going to tell people?" (The Hero´s Walk[4], 109). When her father tells Maya that she will have to make a decision between the man she loves and her family, Maya decides for Alan and the romance plot pattern is obvious.

Another romance plot is the marriage of Nirmala and Sripathi, although their relationship can be categorised as a wedlock plot. Love is certainly part of their life and they still feel attracted to each other: "She would lean over the sink in the bathroom […], her body still form and damp, her buttocks outlined heavily against the straight cotton of her petticoat, creating a stir of desire in Sripathi, […]." (THW, 10). Nevertheless, the time of passion and complete happiness somehow seems to have faded:

Was this the same man who had once carried her to bed in jest, his teeth gleaming strong and white in laughter as she shrieked in protest?

"Let´s pretend we are in a movie," he had said, swinging her around, almost losing his balance in the process. "You are Vyjayan-thimala and I am Sunil Dutt!"

So long ago that had been. Everything had turned topsy-turvy since then." (THW, 311)

Every day life has caught up with them and their passionate feelings have been replaced by a mutual respect which can still be described as love: " […] Sripathi watched his wife, admiring the sturdy resilience that allowed her to cut and cook every day, trudge up and down the stairs to oile, bathe, cajole and care for Nandana, […]." (THW, 324). Sripathi brings home flowers for his wife and wants to take her to the cinema which are signs of the romance in their relationship. Furthermore, their marriage survives one of the greatest trials: the loss of their child.

The most obvious sign for a romance plot is Putti´s passionate love for Gopala, Munnuswamy´s son and her next door neighbour. Gopala and his family belong to a lower caste than the Rao family and Putti and Gopala therefore keep their feelings for each other a secret:

"Putti thought guiltily of Gopala´s dark eyes on her face. They made her breathless with excitement. And this morning, when he gave her the can of milk, his hard hands had skimmed over her smooth round ones, […] "Be careful, don´t let it slip, Putti Akka, " he had said gently. The touch of those warm hands had made Putti grow faint with pleasure, […]." (THW, 21)


[1] (6.10.2003)

[2] (06.10.2003)

[3] This type of romance plot can only be found in light fiction.

[4] From now on abbreviated as THW.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
624 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Leipzig – Institute for Anglistics
1,7 (A-)
Heroism Badami´s Hero´s Walk Seminar Novels Indian Diaspora




Titel: Heroism in Anita Rau Badami's novel "The Hero's Walk". An analysis of the female protagonists