An Appraisal of Sonia Faleiro’s The Girl
"You come into the world alone and you go out of the world alone yet it seems to me you are more alone while living than ever going and coming." - Emily Carr
Man has yet to fully comprehend the depths of the human mind. Many mysteries lay hidden beneath the layers of consciousness affecting the character and behaviour of man. The root cause of manifold complexities, prejudices, thoughts and beliefs, human mind is an enigma that has intrigued man for centuries.
In the process of analyzing the human mind, its power and mystery, several behaviourists, psychologists, and experts have delved deep into the subject and paved the way for man to take his faltering step into the realm of the ‘unconscious’, a term attributed to Sigmund Freud. A pioneering name in the field of psychology, Freud revolutionized the whole world with his analysis of the human psyche. He classified the human psyche into ‘id’, ‘ego’ and ‘super-ego’. The play of the ‘unconscious’ that is the ‘id’ and the ‘conscious’ that is the ‘ego’ is controlled by the ‘conscience’ represented by the ‘super-ego’. In this interplay of the three levels of psyche is created the character of man with an equal and perhaps sometimes an even greater influence of society as the ‘repressive agent’. So the power of the unconscious, its role in the life of man, in his character formation and the decisions he takes in life, now had a significant cause in psychological terms.
The theory of Freud generated a lot of interest not only in the medical and scientific circles but also influenced the literary scene as well. Writers like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, etc. utilized the Freudian and Jungian concepts of human psyche in their works. The advent of the psychoanalytical theories proved to be a boon especially for the portrayal of the inner workings of the mind, play of the unconscious, the anguish and the turmoils of the characters. The repressed fears and insecurities that are an integral part of our modern life now found representation in the new literatures of the world.
Psychoanalysis has thus proved to be a useful tool in the hands of the writers and critics who have exploited it fully in their works and theories. Influence of these theories based on psychoanalytical concepts has created an interest in characters that are neurotically dispossessed or have an inclination towards psychosis. In fact:
Neurosis reminds us of the fact that there is a seamy side to our civilization.
Society compels every individual to repress his instinctuality and that way forego the chances of deriving pleasure in the act of living. (Rajeshwar, 1995: 141)
Freud had remarked that there is always a return of the repressed. In society, especially in a patriarchal and tradition bound society like India, an individual has his/her identity in close affinity with the duty ascribed to him/her by society. Alienation is a modern concept for such a close knit society, though gradual disintegration of the family structure, loss of relationships and an ever increasing emphasis on the individual is making the modern Indian more and more alienated.
According to Erich Fromm alienation is, “a mode of experience in which a person experiences himself as an alien.” (Kaufmann, 1970: xxiii) This self-alienation due to the individual’s inability to assimilate oneself with the others or due to the negative influence of certain painful circumstances in one’s life results in the development of psychological disorders like neurosis and psychosis. Mental illness like neurosis, a result of repression of certain desires and emotions that in turn influences the mind degenerates and digresses to psychosis that affects the whole personality of the person.
Sonia Faleiro, a new and upcoming writer in India, has taken her first steps into the genre of psychological fiction with her maiden novel The Girl (2006). A story of a neurotic character, an alienated and sensitive soul who is unable to bear the continuous onslaught of pain and loss finally looses balance, and in a psychotic state of mind accepts death over life.
“There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness or death.” - Fran Lebowitz
The Girl is any girl who is alone, depressed and sad, nervous and tensed in living a lonely life, tries to live a dream of security but ultimately betrayal pushes her over the edge to succumb to a loss of all hope in death.
Faleiro in delineating the character of the Girl has given to her nature shades of neurotic behaviour from an early age itself. Prone to inwardness the Girl is self-alienated and introspective, and inclined towards slight influences of psychotic behaviour. A bit sadistic in her attitude she takes pleasure in hurting herself without any apparent reason. As a child she had once slit her right ankle on a dare and was not in the slightest bit terrified of her act. While her friend screamed and fainted, the Girl merely, “watched and bit her nails.” (104) Again at the age of thirteen she drank the cleaning liquid, which made her very sick and nauseated. No explicit reasons are given by the author for the Girl’s erratic behaviour but glimpses of the pain and isolation can be traced lying hidden beneath the narrative. Though living in a joint family, with her mother, grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousin, yet the Girl appears distant and unattached. Her only attachment in the family is with her mother who dies in a car accident at the beginning of the novel. Alienated and alone by nature, the Girl is totally isolated and lost after her mother’s death.
“Mother is dead. I am dead.” (62) Her mother was her only confidante, companion, and the real family she knew and cared for. With the death of this only link to life and love, the Girl loses herself in a world full of strangers even in the midst of family. In her death, she wishes death for herself but feels helpless and lost, “what kills me now, slowly eating away at my pitiful shoal of joys, is that I will not die.” (60)
After her mother’s death the Girl leaves Rua to live in Azul. The new environment however is unable to relieve the Girl from her pain and sense of loss. Faleiro observes in an interview, “The trauma of losing a loved one is always the same. The intensity never lessens.” (Faleiro, www.soniafaleiro.com/press.htm, 2006) Escape from the place of loss does not necessarily ensure an escape from grief.
Isolated in her grief, the Girl represents the isolation, fear, bewilderment and a sense of loss, which is symbolic of women living in a patriarchal and materialistic society that has no place for such sensitive and emotional souls.
In the rigidly–formed and tradition-bound societies like India the repression one has to put up with is usually very severe and the resultant suffering often assumes pathetic proportions for sensitive individuals. (Rajeswar, 1995:141)
The strength as well as the vulnerability of the Girl is beautifully played out in the pages of the novel wherein she hopes for a life of love and security but losing all hope succumbs finally to a total annihilation of the ‘self’.
Alone in her world, the Girl yearns for companionship and love, a touch of familiarity, a glimpse of recognition from someone. She waits eternally:
…in anticipation of finding someone who looks forward to talking to me. Who will laugh gladly when I pull their arm and distract their eyes away from their work, saying to them with petulance, with a smile: ‘listen to me!’ (72)
The crumbling down of the family structure, loss of love and deprivation of the emotional needs of an individual gradually pushes the individual towards imminent destruction, especially in the case of a woman. “A woman can neither achieve a total relationship nor can she be totally self-sufficient.” (Wattal, 1995: 17) Incapacitated by her lack of family and friends, the Girl is unable to find fulfillment in herself.
Self-identity can never be realized in isolation. An individual’s identity more so in the case of a woman is defined not only by the ‘self’ but also in relation to ‘others’. This presence of ‘others’ in the life of the Girl seems to be missing out completely. Her family disintegrates first with the death of her mother and then her grandmother. Even though she feels bad about her grandfather being sent away, she hardly does anything to help, only to regret her callousness at the end. Her emotional detachment from her own family alienates from her relations as well as from life.
Though she feels, “I give love when I receive it, I am grateful for what I have. I know I will die. And I do not want to die alone.” (83), yet in reality neither does she fully respond to love around her nor is her love reciprocated in full measure when she gives it. Love eludes her leaving her wounded and in pain every time she reaches out in a gesture of hopefulness. She fails to come out of her self-imposed isolation.
The Girl is unable to form a link to life. In her repression is a means to escape or forget her traumatic past, the loss and grief associated with her life. But repression only results in forcing out the memories she wants to forget from her conscious awareness into the realm of her unconscious self only to return later. ‘There is always a return of the repressed’ as Freud had famously remarked, so there is no escape from your past.
The Girl’s alienation becomes so much a part of her psyche that she is unable to relate to anybody or reach out and hold the hand held out in friendship. She completely fails in forming any kind of social relationships having never had the opportunity to do so from her childhood days.
She was home schooled, you know, and hadn’t ever had any friends. Really. Not one. That was part of the reason she seemed awkward and disjointed sometimes, unhappy when forced into small talk, delving into a fit of depression if invited for a meal by one of the church ladies- she felt it the equivalent of inviting strangers to watch her bathe. (123)
Any kind of social contact for the Girl is like an invasion of her privacy; her own private world which she does not want to be exposed to the public. And so she avoids any kind of social relations and interactions.
Loneliness is the malaise affecting the very core of the Girl’s being. Faleiro thus in her novel, “…explores the lonely corners of loneliness. Not an urban loneliness but a more inevitable and universal one that can unsettle anyone, anywhere …” (www.soniafaleiro.com/press.htm)
The Girl is a lonely creature floating aimless, rootless and homeless in a world full of people, yet all alone in the crowd. Displaced from the familiar world of her ancestral home at the Rua, she ponders on her loneliness sinking deeper and deeper into an increasingly unbearable and more depressive and isolated state of mind.
My childhood home on the Rua de Amelia Barreto is no more. Mere wreckage of forgotten lives amidst palm trees and overripe fruit. From where I sit, staring at the emptiness of the sea, there is no one but me. It is unbearable, this utter loneliness. (94)
Aware of her own isolation, the Girl is unable to get out of her pathetic situation. Even when the local boy Simon makes attempts to impress her and befriend her, she is unable to accept his friendship wholeheartedly. Though she tries to help Simon and cheer him up when his business is at its low by buying unnecessary provisions from his store, yet she never breaks the circle of silence surrounding her being. The cocoon of silence and isolation that she has built around her whole persona prevents her from forming any kind of alliances with her surroundings and the people around her. She accepts that, “There is no glory in solitude, no pride in living so very alone…” (94-5), but is unable to breakdown the barriers isolating her from the others, and from life.
When loneliness surrounds oneself from every corner living becomes an ordeal. With each new day the Girl’s neurosis progresses steadily towards psychosis. Fear grips the heart and the person becomes a prisoner of his/her own fears and hallucinations. The Girl also faces this gradual transformation in her psyche. The lack of relations and an emotionally deprived life makes her a nervous wreck. Even the slightest sound startles her and fills her heart with dread and misgivings of danger. Living alone she becomes prone to silent musings, “You ask a lot of questions when you live alone. And the magnitude of the answers only increases with every hour of every day that they are received with silence.” (95) Terror grips her very soul and she becomes a victim of fear psychosis, imagining even friends to be strangers and strangers to be enemies. Her phobias increase so much so that:
As soon as the shadows lengthen, the potential for evil seems to increase. It’s because I live alone that I am so paranoid, scared of things families in Azul would never be intimidated by. (95-6)
The only hope that takes shape in her heart is her love for Luke, an alien like herself, footloose and without any roots. In an otherwise empty life Luke’s love is her only anchor that she has. When you have nothing and suddenly life gives you something precious it’s a natural instinct to hold on to this only link with all your life. The Girl also becomes very possessive of her love and is scared terribly of losing Luke. Even a moment of his absence fills her with all kinds of pessimistic feelings of loss and abandonment.
God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly - Paul Valey
The Girl had always been a victim of solitude but the arrival of Luke and his departure
from her life, only made her acutely aware of her own isolation.
The Girl’s paranoia about Luke’s abandonment of her are not all ill founded, for he does leave her not once but twice. The first time Luke leaves, the Girl sinks into depression but her instinct of survival being stronger at the time she survives from the trauma. But betrayed for a second time, breaks her into pieces. She is, “…left behind to deal with my love, to resent, and finally to get over it the way I had the first time.” (101)
There is a limit to the level of endurance one has, and the Girl’s psyche had crossed over this limit. Dealing with rejection and abandonment not once but throughout one’s life is not so easy. Her family leaves her and the only person she reaches out in love also leaves her to sink deeper and deeper into the depths of complete solitude and isolation.
What does one do when rejected not once but twice by someone who purports love with a pair of kind eyes that you know cannot tell a lie? (102)
The pathetic situation of the Girl’s life traps her into a web of severe depression. Unable to escape from her isolation she starts taking sleeping pills every night in order to at least get some hours of peace and escape from her miseries but even they fail in their purpose. The state of her mind regresses gradually from neurotic state to psychotic. Her hallucinations increase and she starts hearing voices and conversations that worsens her state further.
The Girl is in such a severe state of depression that even the hope of a new life growing inside her fails to enliven her spirits. The illusory nature of hope that had always eluded her throughout her life is not something she wants to hold on to, neither for herself nor for her child. The hope of a better future full of love and security is just a mirage, an illusion she cannot live for.
The past is no longer relevant, at least not in the way it once was. It is the curve ahead she cannot bear. It beckons her malevolently, a haggard hand offering poisoned lollipops to the child within her. (104)
A victim of depression and unstable psychological state, the Girl finally decides the only way out, and that is death. According to Freud it is ‘Eros’ the life instinct that works primarily in man, in creation as well as sustains it. In normal circumstances ‘Eros’ influences and works upon the human psyche but in case of an imbalance like in the Girl’s character it is the death instinct ‘Thanatos’ that promises to provide a release.
In the manner of the neurotic characters of other Indian women novelists like Dimple in Bharati Mukherjee’s Wife or Maya in Anita Desai’s Cry, the Peacock, the Girl also reaches the very edge of life. “From neurosis they have taken a giant leap into psychosis with a final act of violence.” (Rajeshwar, 1995: 144-5) The final act of violence can be directed towards someone else as in the case of Dimple or Maya who kill their husbands in a fit of intense psychotic trauma losing all grips on reality or like the Girl who directs her final act of violence towards herself by committing suicide.
The Girl doesn’t plan her death but decides on an unplanned and spontaneous act of violence by drowning in the sea. Death is an escape for her, an escape from her miserable, lonely life and from the torturous memories of rejection, abandonment and alienation. But even in her death she hardly is able to lose all hopes of love. Clinging on to the last remnants of hope she feels that death is a “beginning” (115), a beginning that life had refused to offer her. Through her death she wants to return to the safety and security of her mother’s love. She is finally ‘Going Home’, the only home she had in her life and that is the love of her mother. Even in death the Girl yearns for remembrance of a loved one; of someone to remember and mourn her when she is no more. “Like most people, I want to be found. And found before I look like someone even I cannot recognize.” (110) She wants to embrace the beginning represented by death but not before she casts “one longing ling’ring look behind” like the rustic in Gray’s ‘Elegy’.
In the last moments before her death, the Girl visualizes and records her death in a step- by-step precision and detail in her diary. Her portrayal of death by drowning in the sea reflects the pleasure that she takes in her final act of violence, and the satisfaction that she derives from it. Though she does not plan when to finally kill herself, yet her diary reveals how she is going to do it that is her plan to drown herself. Reading her words it seems that she is cherishing the final moments of death in her mind, the agony, pain and helplessness that will ultimately free her from the shackles of imprisonment in life, bondage of pain, grief and loneliness. And in a final plea for sympathy she says, “So before you condemn me, think of my fear and then multiply by two.” (115)
Every person has different ways of dealing with life’s problems and difficulties. Some compromise and adjust to situations, some rebel and fight back, while sensitive souls like the Girl succumb in failure. Faleiro commenting on the Girl’s final act of denial of all hope by choosing death over life says:
I think different people deal differently with loss. And ‘The Girl’ is really about loneliness and the extent that some of us will go to overcome it. That’s the purpose for the suicide by the protagonist – the feeling that she could not overcome loss; that she could not be alone again. It’s a feeling that sometimes all of us feel. (Faleiro, www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1012300)
The Girl is thus a sensitive portrayal of an individual’s sense of intense insecurity, loneliness and dissolution. The inability to adjust and compromise to the prevalent situation, and break out of the self-imposed exile pushes the Girl into the doldrums of despair and depression. The ‘self’ always finds identification not in itself alone but in its association to ‘others’. This emotional dependency on pre-established codes of living, of fitting into the mould of roles dictated by society is not fulfilled in the case of the Girl resulting in a sense of total loss and annihilation of the ‘self’. Thus Faleiro creates an intriguing tale of loss and loneliness through her expert and deft handling of the narrative:
…a world of loneliness, rejection and indifference…. We get involved in a grippling story that unfold in bright colours and emotive images that live in the mind… Sometimes unpleasant and often juiced for their vividness and pathos, but always fresh, adventurous, powerful, grippling and reflecting the inner turmoil. (Herald, www.soniafaleiro.com/press.htm)
- Walter Kaufmann, The Inevitability of Alienation in Richard Schacnt Alienation, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1970).
- Sonia Faleiro, The Girl, (New Delhi: Viking, Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 2006). All parenthetical references to the text are to this edition.
- ‘Sonia Faleiro in the Press’, Mumbai Mirror, Aug.5 2006. w.soniafaleiro.com/press.htm.
- M.Rajeshwar, “The Inner World of Indian Women: Neurotic Characters of Women Novelists”, 1995.
- Ameeta Mulla Wattal, “Feminism in Commonwealth Literature: A Difference of View”, Feminism and Literature, ed. Veena Noble Dass, (New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1995).
- “Death and the Maiden”, The Indian Express, Jan.22 2006. www.soniafaleiro.com/press.htm.
- M.Rajeshwar, “The Inner World of Indian Women: Neurotic Characters of Indian Women Novelists”, 1995.
- Sonia Faleiro, “there was a Two-Page Love Scene that I Cut Out”, Farhad J.cDadyburjor,
- Friday, Feb.10 2006. www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1012300.
- Herald, Feb.26 2006. www.soniafaleiro.com/press.htm.