Feminist Outlook in That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande

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Feminist Outlook in That Long Silence of Shashi Deshpande

by – Sowmya T G, published in Vol.II, Issue.XIX, August 2016 of Ashvamegh

Introduction to the Author:

Sowmya T GMs. Sowmya T.G. is MA in English from the Department of P.G Studies and Research in English, Kuvempu University, Shankaraghatta-  577451, Shivamogga, Karnataka.  She is pursuing Ph.D. in English from in the same department. She has been working as Lecturer in English in Government Polytechnic, Vijayapur, Karnataka since 2010.  So far she has published two research articles.




The paper is an attempt to examine the feminist perspective in That Long Silence of Shashi Deshpande. The male superiority signifies the patriarchal culture in the family relationship between Jaya and her husband Mohan.  The result of marriage yield into frustration, discard and disharmony as there was absence of love with only sex. Jaya was compelled to keep silence and surrender and adopt socio-psychic nature.  The traditional, institution of Indian family is dwindling as the familial relationship does not have gender equality. Male member of the family is entitled to all sorts of comforts and excuses whereas female member has to sacrifice her life keeping silence, suppressing emotions and desires. The mechanical and artificial love is significant where gender discrimination exists in family environment. Jaya could break her silence after the support of Kamat but decides to keep silence and surrender. Violence is not the solution to the problems, to bring a change one has to wait and to be optimistic.     

Feminist movement advocates the equal rights and equal opportunities for women.  The true spirit of feminism is into look at women and men as human beings. There should not be a gender bias or discrimination in familial and social life.  Establishing gender justice and gender equity is the key aspects of feminist movement.  In India, women writers have come forward to voice their feminist approach to life and the patriarchal family set up.  They believe that the very concept of gender is not merely biological phenomenon but it has a social construction1.

Shashi Deshpande is a renowned novelist of Indian writing in English. She has the credit of writing well known novels namely; The Dark Holds No Terrors; Roots and Shadows; and That Long Silence.  Her first novel The Dark Holds No Terrors was translated into German and Russain languages. That Long Silence (1988) was her fifth novel which was recognized with ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ in 1990. Her works primarily deals with the problems of women in the present social context.  Deshpande’s quest for identity and freedom has become dominant themes in literature. She unfolds the problems of women in the patriarchal society in a very positive way.  According to her, woman has every right to live her life, to develop her qualities, to take her decisions, to be independent and to take charge of her destiny2.

That Long Silence is one of the unique works of Shashi Deshpande which signifies the pathetic condition of Indian woman. It is a reflection of sufferings of an Indian woman in the dogmatic social milieu i.e., family. It also reflects how woman suffers deeply and end up life silently baring molestations of male.  The sacrifice made by women counterpart is hardly noticed by the male dominated society.  The writer wants such women who suffer to break their silence in the wake of feminist movement. The novel illustrates the image of women in the middle-class family and the way she is sandwiched between the tradition and modernity3.

The title of the novel depicts the intention of the novelist in order to reveal the female psyche during the quest of Jaya, the protagonist, for self. She is the protagonist of That Long Silence who is an intelligent woman with graduation in English, a writer and a columnist had a bright career. Unfortunately, none of these attributes would provide her a respectable position in the eyes of her husband Mohan, who had socialization in a typical traditional environment. He perceived his wife on par with Seeta, Savitri and Draupadi.  His mother and sister Vimala were very much submissive to father.  The decisions relating to familial and financial matters were taken by the male members of the family. So he wanted his wife to be submissive like them as a homemaker.

            In a male-dominated society, a woman has no space to be independent.  She is dependent on men either on father, husband or son.  They are hardly given freedom and independence. Slavery to man makes them suffer from dual roles of child bearing and domestic chores.  She has no freedom regarding the selection of her life partner and marriage.  Marriage becomes their destiny as Jaya thinks;

                        ….As we grew into young women, we realized it was not

love, but marriage that was the destiny waiting for us.

and so, with young man, there was the excitement of

thinking will this man be my husband? ….It had been

our parents who had taken vague desires of ours and

translated them into hard facts.  It was like the game we

had played as children on our buttons tinker, tailor,

soldier, sailor….                     (That Long Silence: 19)


Jaya’s parents and Vanita Mami go on hammering onto her that ‘husband is like a sheltering tree’.  Women should be dependent on the male member of the family in order to be safe and protected.  In other words, a woman is undermined ignoring the fact that she is equal to men in all the spheres of life.  Her abilities and strengths are undermined. However, she is inferior to men in patriarchal society. This is rightly pointed out by Deshpande as;

                        ….A sheltering tree.  Without the tree you’re dangerously

unprotected and vulnerable.  This… followed logically;

and so you have keep the tree alive and flourishing

even if you have to water it with deceit and lies (That Long Silence: 32)


            The author clearly depicts the image of marriage institution and familial relations in India.  Husband and wife hardly speak openly about their sexual life.  It is treated as sinful and immoral.  Jaya had dreamt about her marital life that she would love her husband first and then sex. A mechanical relationship and artificial love were the consequence of her marriage.  It was a total failure. She had lost interest and tired of with the acts of sex.  Unfortunately, with Mohan she had only sex but not love either before or after marriage.  In other words, she hardly enjoyed marital relationship with her husband.  She had no freedom to express or share her desires with Mohan.  Her feelings of love and sex are suppressed as she says;

                        In any case, whatever my feelings had been then, I had

never spoken of them to him.  In fact, we had never

spoken of sex at all.  It had been as if the experience was

erased each time after it happened, it never existed in

words.  The only words between us had been his question,

‘Did I hurt you?’ and my answer, ‘No’ (That Long Silence: 95)

            Jaya was introduced to her neighbor  Kamat who motivate her to think and act independently about her writing by appreciating and admiring.  He inspires and cheers her to get serious, to be real and true to herself.  This made her regain her self-confidence which had been lost.  He further makes her to speak frankly about sex.  What she could not speak with Mohan, was able to speak to Kamat.  It makes her realize her ‘self’.  In this way, Kamat enables her to break ‘long silence’.  Jaya now resolves to assert her individuality by breaking ‘that long silence’, putting down on paper that in her entire seventeen years of silence she had suppressed her desires.

                        This man… it had been a revelation to me that two

people a man and woman could talk this way.  With this

man I had not been a woman.  I had been just myself—

Jaya.  There had been ease in our relationship, I had

never known in any other.  There had been nothing I

could not say to him.              (That Long Silence: 153)


            The companionship of Kamat made Jaya get her identity. However, she was not strong enough to challenge the traditional value system of the society. Though she had lost faith in her husband, she wanted to adjust with her present setup. She was of the opinion that no change comes suddenly, it takes a long time.  Human happiness consists in harmonizing the opposites of life. The husband-wife relationship needs to be built on the values of democracy and socialism. In other words, rebelliousness is not the solution to the problems of life.

At the end of a novel Jaya’s husband loses his confidence, his position as an engineer.  In the urban and global society, her husband becomes the victim of corruption.  During the 17 years of their marriage Mohan never asks her opinion on any matter but when an inquiry has been set up against him, he holds Jaya’s hand and asks her to support the family through her career as a writer. But Jaya remains silent without knowing what to say.  This is a kind of protest against her long silence, which makes her strong at the end of the novel.

Feminist movement has a great deal in this regard.  The feminist writings of Indian literature probe into the pathetic situation of women in the male-dominated society in general and in the institution of family in particular. In order to establish social harmony, the harmony in the family needs to be established.  There has to be an end to the discriminations on women based on the gender. No gender is superior in this world. Gender equity, justice and equality have a bearing on attaining gender development in order to have peace, harmony and love in the family relationships. 


  1. Chhotelal Khatri, Indian Novels in English, Book Enclave Publishers, 2004, p.113.
  1. Vinay Kumar Pandey, Sufferings and Suppressed Desires of Women in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence, in Critical Responses to Feminism edited by Binod Mishra, 2006, p.60.
  1. Siddarama Raju M.V Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence: A Feminist Approach in Quest of New Horizons: Critical Responses to Indian Women Novelists edited by Satyanarayana Reddy and Angadi D T, Kalyan Literary Publishers, 2012, p.160.
  1. Shashi Deshpande, That Long Silence, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1969.


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