The Domestic Maid a Post-Colonial Feminist Analysis

Article Posted in: Research Articles

The Domestic Maid a Post-Colonial Feminist Analysis

by – Roohi Rachel D’cruze, Vol.II, Issue.XXIII, December 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Roohi Rachel D’cruze is an ardent student currently pursuing her Masters in English from Christ University, Bangalore, Roohi has a passion towards Gender Debates in the Indian context. She wants to pursue a PhD in the field of Gender and Masculinities.


The paper considers Spivak’s idea of epistemic violence to read Anita Desai’s The Domestic Maid to study how the short story represents the identity of the Indian subaltern woman is completely vanquished in the face of class struggle in a third world country. The paper refers to various articles on the construction of hegemony and its eventual effects on the subaltern to expose the mistreatment meted out to a section of the community by another.


The Domestic Maid a Post-Colonial Feminist Analysis


The Domestic Maid is a short story written by Anita Desai, a story that narrates a day in the life of a domestic worker. The protagonist in the story is Geeta who works at the household of a Ms. Asha whom she calls ‘Asha didi’, in one of the posh residential apartments. Geeta is disturbed and morose as she enters the complex on the morning of the day. This does not go unnoticed by her co-workers as they try to cheer her up. Soon as she enters the household she gets shouted at by her employer for showing up late. She gets hurled at all day with piercing abuses until she leaves the house. On her way out she meets Chaaya her neighbour, while discussing the events of the day and more they head back home.

The story although lucid and simple at the outset provokes several arguments about the status of women in the post-colonial India. On the one hand, there is Asha an upper-class married woman, working as well as managing the household, on the other hand, there is Geeta, her maid who struggles every day to make ends meet, needless to say, she jostles with limited choices in life. The lack of agency in Geeta is attributed to the class she belongs to, that restricts her from speaking her mind and asserting what she wants.

This story destabilizes the popular feminist notion that, ‘only a woman understands the pains and suffering of another.’ Desai through her story marks this statement as an illusion of sorts. When Geeta recollects while she is sulking about the way Asha treated her that day, she recollects the time when ‘Asha didi’ had been favourable enough to give her a loan when she needed it. In the course of the story it is made clear that this assertion of Geeta was to pacify her own instincts because Asha is actually not really tolerant towards her. ‘Asha didi would not understand. No one did’, this statement made by Geeta later in the story clearly negates the former stance she tries to take for her employer.

The identities of the women as portrayed in the story are representative of the subaltern women. It is further accentuated by the class distinction made apparent in the story. The Identity cards handed to the domestic workers becomes a symbol of class distinction. Along with identifying them as employed women and promising safety, it poses restrictions on their expression and denies them agency. Their identity is absolved as a domestic maid working for an employer who hurls abuses at them by right. They are treated as low individuals (as the ‘other’), denied all rights to the favourable things in life, and are expected to survive on the leftovers of the supposed high class with absolutely no hope of improvement.

The author attributes an identity even to the upper-class women, that of the ‘memsaab’. ‘Memsaab’ because they are women of better means, living in a respectable household, working in offices and are not being ‘beaten black and blue’ by their husbands. However, on a closer reading one finds this apparently privileged position exceedingly delusional and subject to the same subaltern angst as the lower class women. Hurling abuses at the maid is way of venting out, pent up frustration that they perhaps are unable to, in their otherwise respectable households, in front of their supposed sophisticated family. The mental frustration of managing household, workplace and living up to expectations of the respectable family is far greater than the physical torment borne by the maid.

The story throws light on also how the domestic space is seen as the woman’s only domain, even though both the protagonist Geeta and Asha are working women. There is no way of getting out of domesticity or sharing the kitchen with the male counterpart. It proves to be a quintessential subaltern phenomenon that dominates the Indian frame of mind.

The story prompts many such questions about class, gender, and femininity; overthrowing popular notions and illusions about feminism as a movement. One such illusion is mentioned in the paper, of women being the sole pacifiers of women, however, the belief could be reframed as: women are the pacifiers of women belonging to their own class.




Barry. Peter. Beginning Theory, Manchester UK. Viva Books. Print. 2010.

Juneja, Renu. “Identity and Femininity in Anita Desai’s Fiction.” Journal of South Asian Literature Vol. 22 No. 2 (1987): 77-86. JSTOR. Web. 10 February 2016.

Sengupta, Ashish. “Anita Desai’s ‘Voices in the City’: Reconstructing Indian Female Identity.” Indian Literature Vol. 48, No. 6 (224) (Nov-Dec 2004): 181- 193. JSTOR. Web. 10 February 2016.

Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: