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Nathaniel Hawthorne's Pearl
and Anita Desai's Raka – A Comparison
|by Prof. Shubha Tiwari|
We call children simple but they are not so simple in terms of psychological analysis. To understand a child's psychology is as difficult as it is necessary. There are many types of children - gifted, dull, invulnerable, vulnerable, morally sensitive, thick skinned, contemplative, casual, social, unsocial, wild or subdued. It is difficult to say as to why children differ from each other. Genetic structure and environmental influence are the two major deciding factors. Many psychologists have given their theories regarding the issue.
It goes to the credit of novelists that they have portrayed children and their psychology in such a capable manner. Charles Dickens was indeed a master in portraying a child's view of life. Mark Twain excelled in depicting the child and adolescent mental makeup. R.K. Narayan's Swami is again a realistic picture of childhood, Mulk Raj Anand in his ‘The Untouchable’ has also successfully touched the depths of child psychology. Mannu Bhandari's Bunty also made waves as a realistic child figure.
Two fictitious child characters read at different times and in different contexts have somehow struck me as basically similar. Once the similarity was recognized, the mind went on and on with various comparisons and logical parallels.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's Pearl is a unique child. She is wild. She is a child without any practical or social consideration. She is fanciful. She has drawn her own conclusions about life and her situation in it at quite an early stage. Her intuition is strong. She is not formally educated but she is very sharp and exceptional in certain fields. She does not go to Nature for relief. She belongs to Nature. She is a part and parcel of Nature. For her trees, shrubs, herbs, valleys, crevices, mountains, hill tops are all parts of her being. She lives with these things. She breathes with these things. She is one with Nature. She knows Nature, as only can be known by intuition. Being one with Nature, she is hostile to human beings. She has an aversion for human company. She knows that the human society is against her. She attacks human company instinctively. She has an iron rod within her. She will do what she wants to do. She will definitely do what she is told not to do. For her nothing is forbidden. Loneliness, ghosts, witches, wild enchantment, magical sounds of Nature, animal voices are only too natural and common for Pearl.
Anita Desai's masterpiece ‘Fire on the Mountain’ also has a very special girl, Raka. Her entry in the story and her firm presence throughout the novel bewitch the reader. Her destiny brings her to Carignano in Kasauli. Her quiet house on the ridge of the mountain adopts and accepts her in a totally natural manner. She belongs to this place which is full of wild beauty. Hills, rivers, the peculiar hill top, stony hill side, grass or bushes of Spanish broom, insects, and leaves- all accept her in a unique way. Raka knows the forest. She knows many secret shortcuts within the jungle. She knows the hidden paths. She wants to inhale the grace of the jungle all alone. This is one joy; she cannot share with anyone else. She simply loves solitude. The description is such that one feels that the relationship between Raka and Nature is that of a worshiper and her most private idol. Her grandmother had planned to ignore her, but the way in which Raka ignores her grandmother proves that she is not going through any deliberate course of action. It is her temperament to be alone. For her the forest is more real than human beings. She ignored her so calmly, so totally that it made the grand-mother Nanda Kaul breathless. She eyed the child with apprehension now, wondering at this total rejection, so natural, instinctive and effortless.
These two girls, although different in many ways appear to be akin to me in their basic element. They are made of the same metal. Pearl's hostility towards the human society matches only too well with that of Raka. Pearl is "An object of natural beauty, a flower, a gem instinctively trusted by the wild creatures of the forest". Raka also belongs to this category. It appears that the wind is her breath, the rustling of leaves is her movement and the shake of trees is her running.
Both these children do not seem to have any sense of what is morally correct or incorrect. Although this factor is certainly stronger in Pearl but Raka also corresponds to it. Pearl "seem not to exist on the moral line at all". Raka also is not aware of any responsibility or duty towards her grandmother. She does not care who Nanda Kaul is or what she is doing.
In Pearl's development as a child, her father has no place. She is a child brought up entirely by her mother. The little that we are told about Raka's past shows that her father also did not play an important role in her growth as a child. This factor goes a long way in deciding the behavioral pattern of these two children.
The girls are not obedient. The grip and influence of society is almost negligible on them. They do not know that being girls they should be docile. They are not affected by the social stereotypes.
In the light of psychological theories the mentality of these two girls can be very well explained. The two children are different from normal children. Normal development of a child demands active involvement of both parents. Girls have a very special and unique relationship with their fathers. These girls are defiant and hostile perhaps mainly due to lack of fatherly affection. "What is the effect on a child of living without a father" - Freud thought that the impact could be substantial, even devastating. Mavis Hetherngton and her colleagues (1979) have found that children become less tractable as a result of not receiving due affection from father. In a survey by John Kelly (1980) the most depressed children tended to be those who no longer saw their father or saw them infrequently.
Aggression in children has also been discussed in detail by the psychologists. Out of the two types of aggression (instrumental and hostile) Raka and Pearl show the signs of hostile aggression. Studies by Doolard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer and Sears (1989) show that when children are rejected; they are frustrated. Frustration results in aggression. Hostile aggression is aimed at hurting the other person.
There seems to be a broad consensus among the psychologists regarding the moral development of children. Children learn moral behavior through a role model and secondly through explaining. Many studies show that lack of communication, reasoning, and explaining results in irresponsible behavior.
Overall it can be safely stated that Pearl and Raka are first rejected or ignored by the world. Later they reject and ignore it. First, isolation is brought on them. Later they embrace isolation with full force. Nature with all her mysteries is the soul and spirit of these two wild flowers in the garden of child characters in fiction. They do not have appropriate role models. So they have set their own standards. They are not affected by society. They lack the moral side of personality because morality can be taught only by social interaction and lively involvement of elders of the family in the bringing up of the child. The lives of Pearl and Raka lack the warmth of human interaction. Their lives are rich with the magnificent presence of Nature, solitude and intuition.
The resemblance between these two girls gets more recognition when we go to their words. Words used by respective writers to describe their personalities. While Pearl is called "an infant pestilence" by Hawthore, Desai describes Raka as "an insect". The lonely flights of these two children have a lot in common. Both are shown playing all alone, enjoying themselves fully in their utter solitude. Pearl plays making trees living characters ‘...The pine trees, aged, black and solemn and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children.’ The lonely adventures of Raka have something in common with this description – ‘The chorus singing and singing at the back of a stage, they (the crickets) sang in some difficult tongue she had not met before.’
It must be underlined, however, that Pearl is the birth of a socially tabooed union, there is no such implication with Raka. Pearl is fierce in her approach towards Nature, Raka is peaceful about her. It is only in their loneliness, hostility against society and inadequate parental care that the one reminds the reader of the other.
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