Manju Kapur’s Difficult Daughters & The Immigrants

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Theme of Alienation and Isolation in Manju Kapur’s “Difficult Daughters” and “The Immigrant”

By – S. Ramya (introduction at the end of the paper), Vol. III, Issue. XXVI, March 2017



          While the beginnings of modem feminism the latter two decades of the twentieth century witnessed the rise “New” Women or the independent woman as complex cultural signifiers. This distinction has become a complex manifestation which creates new levels of tension in post-independence woman writings. Many Indian English woman writers portray the Independent woman who is not in conflict with the male, but accepts responsibility for herself. The term such as stress, feeling of isolation, alienation, identity and psychology has its crucial effect in present life style. Stress has its adverse effect in one’s life which creates problem in long run. Assimilation from social and psychological view point Manju Kapur is one of the best known celebrated post-independence writers exploring Sociological and psychological sensitive issues. Thus conflicting internal and external experiences, pressures and expectation produce anxiety.

“Women are One half of the Sky”, Says a feminist writer and indeed feminist theories cut across a greater cross-section of cultures than any other critical school. Feminist theory begins with the eighteenth century and continues until the present. Most of the feminist theories are adventurous. They try to bring about a revolution between readers and texts and give rise to a new thinking on issues pertaining to the status and role of women.

          The core idea of feminism is that women should have her rights, power and opportunity. Since long back women have actually been struggling to achieve a racial, social and economic equality with men. The term such as stress, feeling of isolation, alienation, identity and psychology has its crucial effect in present lifestyle. Stress has it adverse effect in one’s life which creates problem in long run. The essay is an article to explore the perspective of Alienation, Isolation and Assimilation from Social and Psychological viewpoint.

          In ManjuKapur’s characters with a desire for a life outside faces difficulties in reconciling the devotion to the family expected of middle-class Indian woman. This paper focuses on Manjukapur’s novels “Difficult Daughters” (1998), The Immigrant elaborating the protagonist’s journey in search of her identity, exposing the gendered spaces and hierarchies of power to a stage where liberation, autonomy is gained at the cost of isolation alienation.

          Manju Kapur is an Indian Novelist, born in Amritsar in 1948, graduated from the Miranda House University College for women and went on M.A at Dalhousie University Halifax Novel. In 1999 Manju Kapur’s first novel, ‘Difficult Daughters’, received the commonwealth writers Prize for the best first book in the Eurasian region. Her fourth novel “The Immigrant” was shortlisted for DSC prize for south Asian literature in 2011.

          In her novels, we meet the women of the modern era, her problems and her desire to become independent. She shows a new vision of Indian woman in her fiction. Kapur’s women characters can be categorized into three kinds Conventional Orthodox women, the Emancipated women and the category to which most of her protagonists like Virmati and Nina fall into. The various characters like Kasturi, Shakuntala, Swarnaladha, Mrs.Batra react to various challenges and Predicaments and probe into the self and discover their Strength.

Kapur opines that women’s fiction is often called domestic or family-centered and this label is not critical but condescending. Literature by women, about families, always has larger considerations.

          In her stories, she touches bigger themes like dowry, corruption, religion, immigration and superstitious belief etc. She also argues by discussion in different issues emerging out of the Socio-political in the country. She also deals boldly with taboo issues like female sexuality, masturbation, infertility, sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction and frustrations. More particularly she is concerned with the affects of both men and women in the family.

          For achieving this equality they are stepping out of the rigid sex roles assigned to them traditionally. They are not ready to accept the Tennysonian Separation of roles.

                     “Men for the field and women for the hearth

                     Man for Sword and for the needle she ’’

          Manjukapur has successfully portrayed the conflict of tradition and modernity in her characters. The specialty is that her female characters are only involved in clash against male-dominated traditional world but they have also suffered this conflict in the form of generation gap.

          Manjukapur chooses the urban Indian middle class and represents the majority of the population. They show the identity of joint family structure in her “Difficult Daughters” where we have a prosperous Arya Samaj family of Jewellers in the 20th century.

          The life of women and their struggles for their education in “Difficult Daughters”. Virmati (heroine) has to face different twists and turns to satisfy her desire of higher education. She makes up her mind that, “She had to go to Lahore, even if she had to fight her mother who was so sure that her education was practically over” (D.D.17). And also in “The Immigrant’ Nina (heroine) lost her father suddenly at forty five. The dreamer died leaving his dependents with nothing.

          Kapur also gives an important feature to the mother-daughter relationship which drew in a lot of tension. Her first novel (Difficult Daughters) marks this theme in itself. Then the other (Immigrant) deals with it characteristically. The main reason for this is that the mothers are mostly conventional in nature but the daughters choose to live differently, looking for love, fulfillment and independence.

          The novels of Manju Kapur deals with marriage in society in ‘Difficult Daughters’. There was an endless argument between “Education versus Marriage”. But nobody listens to Virmati. In both novels, they struggle to acquire higher education and self-dependence is gone through it. Then Virmati falls in love with Professor Harish, who is already married and has two children. She had shamed her family, refused marriage and she never meant to marry. But in Indian tradition marriage is important and a part of their life. Like that in “The Immigrant” Nina’s mother has tried to find prospective suitors to marry her. Nina’s mother wants her to settle somewhere in abroad saying, “If you are married an NRI or some foreign services, you could live abroad nicely”

          The theme of marriage is central to these novels. Though they deal with childhood, youth, old age, education, marriage is central. The focus is on the man-woman relationship ie-Virmati-professor Harish, and Nina-Ananda. The story, Difficult Daughter has a love marriage, but “The Immigrant” is an arranged marriage. This reflects the major reality for Indian society. Apart from that love and arranged marriage, Kapur also shows the extra Marital affairs” and “Premarital affairs”. She shows the live-on relationship between Virmati and the professor for a long time before marriage. There have really no issues about which she would not touch in her stories. Kapur Openly discusses the reasons and consequences of deviant social behavior. In case of Virmati, she shows how her need for love was met through sex. The professor’s under love is fulfilled in sudden meetings and love proves to be the most painful thing for her.

Kapur depicts pre-marital relationships of these women protagonists. This relationship also shows the change in social behavior. Nina even had an extra marital relation with Anton. But Kapur has also shown how people enter into it and does not aim to pass any moral judgment. Kapur also shows the problem of sexual dysfunction in Ananda. He was born into a Brahmin family with set notions of morality. When he came to Canada, in his effort to assimilate had broken down many taboos. He involved relations with white women as well. But his first relation proved to be a failure. It was his sense of morality and the newness that affected him and he suffered from the premature ejaculation. Kapur uses this as a reason to break the marriage, because it was not looked at as a problem that needed to be solved but a humiliating issue.

          Both novel portray characters that are realistic on Psychological and physical planes. This novel focuses in both plight of contemporary and liberation from patrilineal social system. Her “The Immigrant” novel shows Nina’s immigration struggles in the airport incident. Nina is confused with her new immigrant status and life as a lonely bride without any family or friends in an unfamiliar setup.

          Life, in complete contrast to Indian ways, began with a sense of freedom, freedom and freedom. “No servants, landlord, Landlady, neighbor or mother was there to see”. (2008 I.113)

Initially, the solitude is pleasing but soon it turns to loneliness with no one stalk to, no one to share with the common everyday pleasures. Home sickness sets in, and she fills with the loneliness. She yearns for a child but is unable to conceive. No persuasion can make her husband to accompany her to a doctor’s clinic. At that time Nina portrays a kind of the search for self-isolation. She cries, “I Miss home- I miss a job-I miss doing things. I feel like a shadow” (237)

          Finally she decided to drive herself to books which she usually borrows from a library. It takes up a job and then goes for a two years course in Library Science. Home bird Nina faces multiple problems in the new environment.

          In (Difficult Daughters) after their marriage, Professor Harish takes her to his home. Virmati’s parents cut off all relation with her. She lives here like a queen because no household works are in her share. Once Virmati gets pregnant and the baby’s miscarriage, Harish wants her to do M.A in philosophy in Lahore. She takes admission but without enthusiasm. Alienation problem can be easily traced in Virmati. When the past of her suicide commitment to feel alienated and isolated from their near and dear ones.

                    Kapur thoroughly is dictated by the patriarchs of Hindu Mythology of Epical Ramayana and indicative of her own classical epic style with which she is deeply and profound. It is an irony that self-reliant, self-controlled, self-dependent women suffer a sense of alienation. So whatever generation be it women emancipation is always at the cost of isolation.

          There is hardly any doubt in the fact that Kapur’s women from Virmati to Nina strive hard to chalk out their own destiny through their independent course of action, Manju Kapur’s Difficult Daughters has control over one’s destiny as the theme.



  1. S.Pathak, Modern Indian Novel in English, New Delhi creative, 1999.
  2. Kapur, Manju“Difficult Daughters” New Delhi: Penguin Books Ltd. 1998.
  3. Show alter Elaine “Feminist criticism in the wilderness’’ Writing and Sexual Differences (Ed) Elizabeth Abel, Sussex: The Harvester press 1982.
  4. Kapur, Manju, The Immigrant. New Delhi: Random House India 2008.


S. Ramya is a an M. Phil scholar and she is interested in writing articles and creative pieces.

Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: