‘Man’ in Shashi Deshpande’s Dark Holds No Terror – A Study

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‘Man’ in Shashi Deshpande’s The Dark Holds No Terror: a Study

By – Mrs. Sowmya T.G, published in Vol.II, Issue.XXI, October 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Ms. Sowmya T.G. is an MA in English from the Department of P.G Studies and Research in English, Kuvempu University, Shankaraghatta- 577451, Shivamogga, Karnataka. She is pursing 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.



This paper entitled ‘man’ in Shashi Deshpande’s The Dark Holds No Terror deals with the men characters of the novel. Unlike the female characters the male characters too find it difficult to adjust with the modern society. Being an Indian, Deshpande’s characters are also ‘Indian’. The patriarchy, changed modern life style and empowerment of woman made the men character feel inferior to women characters. Sarita, the female protagonist of the novel is seen strong compared to her husband Manu. Her economic independence and her position as well established doctor made her husband feel inferior. Being the head of the family, he wants to have control over his wife, unconsciously develops a strange behavior which leads to sexual sadism. Deshpande’s men characters are weak compared to her female protagonists. She has not sketched her men characters with a pre-occupied notion but the novelist is successful to depict both men and women characters as the victims of society.


            The Dark Holds No Terror is an important novel written by Shashi Deshpande, an Indian women novelist. This novel explores the trauma of a middleclass working women who has become a trap in the male dominated society. Deshpande picturises her men and women characters as the victim of modern society. She has mastery over the depiction of her characters as natural and genuine. In this novel Sarita is the female protagonist who narrates the story. Through her narration we can understand her parents, dead brother Dhruva, her husband Manohar and her old teacher Boozie. Though the female protagonist undergoes certain trauma, dilemma she is strong and she decides not to protest against the oppression openly through breaking her familial life.

            The novel begins with Saru’s return to her maternal home after a long gap of fifteen years and the novel ends with her return to her family with her husband Manu. This novel projects the typical Indian society, Indian men and women. Indian society expects man as the head of the family, who earns more than any other member of the family, who controls the family in every aspect of life. Saru realizes that always wife should be less or she should be a few feet behind her husband to lead a happy life.

            Deshpande’s men characters are not so strong, compared to her women protagonists. The new roles of women as an educated housewife, job holder makes her men characters feel inferior and they find it difficult to the adjust with the changing modes of the family system and society. The novelist has not written her men characters with a pre-occupied notion but she treats both man and women characters equally. Both of them have their own weakness, shortcomings, feelings which the other can’t understand.

            Manohar, Sarita’s husband is purely an ‘Indian man’, who is expected to control the family through providing comfort to his family. When the role of a woman changes from domestic life to a socially established professional, the man or the husband finds it very difficult to cope up with his role. In “The Dark Holds No Terror” the woman protagonist Sarita is a well-known doctor whereas her husband Manohar (Manu) is an underpaid college teacher. In the beginning, their life was normal but when Saru became an established practitioner and when people started to respect her, Manu develops a kind of guilty conscious in him. In one of the interviews, a female journalist asks Manu “How does it feel when your wife earns not only the butter but most of the bread as well?” At that time, he laughed with Saru. But this question underestimates his confidence and he feels inferior to himself. So he lets his wounded male pride manifest itself in the form of sexual sadism. He does it unconsciously, because next morning he will be a normal husband as usual1.

Once, even he asks Saru what happened to her, what are these marks on her body. Manu does it in order to establish a control on her. The traditionally established role of a ‘man’ in India makes him difficult to adjust. As his wife Saru has good earnings than Manu, when the society utters the same in a jovial manner in front of Manu, his male pride gets hurt.

            Once when both Manu and Saru had planned for a trip to Ooty while shopping they met Manu’s colleague and his wife. When Manu revealed their plan, his colleague expresses his inability to afford such things, his wife replies he also could have afforded it if he had married a doctor. At this point he is humiliated. These incidents made Manu so violent; he doesn’t behave like a husband in the privacy of their room at night but as a rapist.

            In this novel women characters dominate the men characters. Saru controls Manu and Booze and her mother establish control on her Baba. But compared to men characters, women characters are strong and dominating. After the death of her mother Saru realizes the strength of her father who was literally dumb when her mother was treating Saru inferior to her son Dhruva. Her father didn’t protest, didn’t comment or didn’t oppose his wife for the same, but he ignored and led a busy life, in which he was busy with his work. Saru’s father was a incapable man when his wife was alive. He never used to oppose her even when she punished Saru for the mistake which was not hers. But later when she returns home she found her father managing everything with ease in the absence of her mother. Now she saw him as a matured, bold man, who listened to her problem patiently.

Sarita through her profession and earnings, made her husband Manohar feel inferior to her. She made Boozie her teacher to help her in order to complete her degree and to be an established practitioner. In order to hide his homo sexuality, he roams and flirts with Saru. So these men characters seem the victims of the conservative society, where they find it difficult to cope with their roles. Apart from pediatrics, she learnt other things from Boozie, he taught her how to speak good English, he has improved her accent, taught her how to enjoy good food, how to read and what to read. She likes his masculinity, attractive laugh etc.

            Later she accepts financial help from him to open her own consulting rooms. She never cares about what people spoke about their relationship. She uses Boozie to advance her career, to achieve her goal of economic independence. After achieving her aim she simply neglects him.

            While she was still studying she considers her dingy room apartment as ‘a heaven on earth’. But later when she had a very good life, comforts, status in the society she is not at all happy. Even though, Manu co-operates with Saru, to improve her status, later he himself develops inferiority about himself and his manly pride gets hurt when people come to know that his wife is earning more than what he earns. This inferiority develops in him and makes a way to sexual sadism2.

            Boozie the men character has been used by Saru, the female protagonist for her happiness. Saru tuned and managed them in such a way that their presence and company satisfied her needs. When she fulfilled her wishes she used to turn her back on them. The best example for this is Boozie, she wanted money and she wanted to be a reputed doctor, so she encouraged Boozie. She tried to please him allowing him to touch, hug her. She didn’t mind what the other people will think about their relationship, after achieving her intention she just neglected him.

            Both Saru and Manu are the victims of patriarchy. To strengthen male characters Deshpande strengthened, and created female characters in such a way that they are bold and supportive to their husband and family. But in this mechanical world, they take opportunity to discuss each other’s problem. So Deshpande tries to bring justice to her male characters through the portrayal of her female characters. Her male characters are the victim of the society, through the helplessness they suffer like women. Even though female characters talk a lot about the suffering, their inner trauma, victim of marital rape, the silence of the male characters conveys about their dilemma, suffering, inferiority, and maladjustment. So Deshpabnde not only projects the female as a victim but also shows how equally men characters too suffer and victimized in the society. But at the end, her men and women characters compromise and accept themselves as they are3.

            Deshpande sketches the role of women and men of middle class family where the female protagonists are highly qualified courageous and strong, they struggle to cope with the existing norms of the society even though the female characters protest against patriarchy. Deshpande makes them to surrender to circumstances through a sensible compromise within the family because Deshpande supports pro-women but not anti-man, she rejects a separatist stance, aware of the fact that breaking of the bonds of family would result in loneliness and disintegration of the larger social setup.

            Deshpande’s men and women characters are caught between traditional upbringings and the longing for freedom in the modern society. Even though the male characters play less important place in narrative, the novelist portrayed them as supportive to female characters.

            Her male characters have been sons, husbands, fathers and the head of the family. These are the roles that demand different kinds of responses from men in the name of honour, dishonours, right, wrong, position, and hegemony, away in the context of patriarchy to find ideal manhood. So these male characters are forced to play the role of a controller who controls his family and fulfill his desires. When he failed to perform the established role he too suffers or fears about the society. As he is a man he should earn more than his wife, he should be in front of his wife because he is a man.

            Sarita protests against the oppression silently but she is not ready to take a bold step like divorce, because of her Indian mind set. So she patches up the relation with Manu. Totally Saru is capable of managing the male characters to satisfy her needs, wishes fulfilled. So Deshpande projects even the men characters are the victims of the society. Totally these men characters are tradition bound and face the problem of adjustment.




  1. Mohan Indira JMJ, Shashi Deshpande: A Critical Spectrum, New Delhi, Aadhayana publish and distributors, 2006.
  1. Sharma Siddhartha, Shashi Deshpande’s Novels: A Feminist study, New Delhi, Atlantic publishers and distributors, 2005.
  1. Singh Jyothi, Indian Women Novelists: Feminist Physiological study, Jaipur, Rawat Publications, 2007.
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