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A Psychological Study of Anita Desai's "Cry, the Peacock"

I am D.Phil in English. I like Anita Desai's works very much. She really writes very well.

"Cry, the Peacock" describes a woman's deteriorating mental condition

"Cry, the Peacock" describes a woman's deteriorating mental condition

Anita Desai: One of the Most Famous Indian Novelists

In her first novel, Cry the Peacock (1963), Anita Desai portrays the psychic tumult of a young and sensitive married girl Maya who is haunted by a childhood prophecy of a fatal disaster. She is the daughter of a rich advocate in Lucknow. Being alone in the family, with her mother being dead and her brother having gone to America to carve his own independent destiny, she gets the most of her father’s affection and attention and in her moments of affliction exclaims to herself: “No one, no one else, loves me as my father does”. The excessive love Maya gets from her father makes her have a lop-sided view of life. She feels the world to be a toy made especially for her, painted in her favorite colors and set to move according to her tunes.

Having lived a carefree life under the indulgent attention of her loving father, Maya desires to have similar attention from her husband Gautama, a father surrogate. When Gautama, a busy, prosperous lawyer, too much engrossed in his own vocational affairs, fails to meet her demands, she feels neglected and miserable. Seeing her morbidity, her husband warns her of her turning neurotic and blames her father for spoiling her.

Although the reason for Maya’s neurosis, however, is not her father fixation (though it aids to hasten her tragedy), but persistent obsession with the prediction by the albino astrologer of death either for her or her husband within four years of their marriage. The terrifying words of the prediction, like the drumbeats of the mad demon of Kathakali ballets, ring in her ears and unnerve her. She knows that she is haunted by “a black and evil shadow”- her fate and the time has come: And four years it was now. It was now to be either Gautama or her.

The loving attention of her father makes Maya oblivious of the deadly shadow; but as her husband Gautama fails to satisfy her intense longing for love and life, she is left to the solitude and silence of the house which preys upon her. She muses over her husband’s lack of love for her and once, in a fit of intense despair and agony, tells him straight to his face: “Oh, you know nothing of me and of how can I love. How I want to love. How it is important to me. But you, you’ve never loved. And you don’t love me. . . .” Temperamentally there is no compatibility between Maya and Gautama. Maya has romantic love for the beautiful, the colorful, and the sensuous; Gautama is not romantic and has no use for flowers. Maya is a creature of instincts or a wayward and high-strung child. As symbolized by her name she stands for the world of sensations. Gautama’s name, on the other hand, symbolizes asceticism and detachment from life. He is realistic and rational. He has philosophical detachment towards life as preached in the Bhagwad Gita. Such irreconcilably different temperaments are bound to have marital disharmony.

Had Gautama shown an understanding towards and been attentive to Maya, he would have saved her from the haunting fears of “shadows and drums and drums and shadows.” The gap in communication between them leaves her lonely to brood over the morbid thoughts of the albino astrologer’s prophecy. Her attempts to divert herself by visits to her friend Leila and Pom or Mrs. Lal’s party or the restaurant and the cabaret, prove powerless to dispel the creeping terror. The visit of Gautama’s mother and sister Nila brings a brief respite to her and she enjoys her busy life in their company. But once they are gone, she finds the house empty and herself alone with her horrors and nightmares.

Maya is so much possessed by the vision of an albino astrologer that she recalls his talk about the myth surrounding the peacock’s cry. Listening to the cries of peacocks in the rainy season, she realizes that she should never sleep in peace. She is caught in the net of inescapable. Being intensely in love with life she turns hysteric over the creeping fear of death, “Am I gone insane? Father! Brother! Husband! Who is my savior? I am in a need of one. I am dying, and I am in love with living. I am in Love and I am dying. God let me sleep, forget rest. But no, I’ll never sleep again. There is no rest anymore- only death and waiting.”

Maya suffers from headaches and experiences rages of rebellion and terror. As she moves towards insanity, she sees the visions of rats, snakes, lizards, and iguanas creeping over her, slipping their club-like tongues in and out. Her dark house appears to her like her tomb and she contemplates in it the horror of all that is to come. Then suddenly, during her interval of sanity, an idea hopefully dawns in her mind that since the albino had predicted death to either of them, it may be Gautama and not she whose life is threatened. She thus transfers her death wish to Gautama and thinks that as he is detached and indifferent to life, it will not matter for him if he misses life. In her perversity, she is even haunted by the word ‘murder’. Gautama remains so much lost in his work that Maya finds him even oblivious of the dust storm that has raged earlier in the afternoon. When she asks him to accompany her to the roof of the house to enjoy the cool air, he accompanies her, lost in his own thoughts. Passing out of the room, Maya catches sight of bronze Shiva dancing and prays to the Lord of Dance to protect them. Climbing the stairs she finds her cat suddenly speeding past them in a state of great alarm. They walk towards the terraced end, Maya looking enraptured at the pale hushed glow of the rising moon. As Gautama moves in front of her, hiding the moon from her view, she in a fit of frenzy pushes him over the parapet to “pass through an immensity of air, down to the very bottom”. It remains in the end for Gautama’s mother and sister to take away completely insane Maya from the scene of the tragedy of the house of her father.

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© 2012 Dr Anupma Srivastava


Dr Anupma Srivastava (author) from India on April 08, 2020:

Thanks bhattuc

bhattuc on April 07, 2020:

Nice review of the book. Well presented. Thanks.

Avneeka on April 06, 2020:

I love Anita Desai.

Seyie Nagano on May 09, 2019:

Thanks for updating me with all this great stories by excellent writer.

If they were not the one to write all this novels, stories, poem, dramas, history, comedy, the last will not be known to the 21st century human race.. Hope that this works oases down from generation to generation..

VarshiniRao on February 15, 2019:

I like very much this story...

Mathi on January 20, 2019:

I want this story about in tamil

Deep chadar on December 06, 2018:

It is a great novel . I like Maya character

Karthick on August 26, 2018:

I want this story about in tamil

jj on February 19, 2018:

a paranoid mind is prone to the influence of superstition which precipitates disaster unless altered by powerful intervention.

Dheeraj on July 23, 2017:

I loved the theme. Haven't read yet.

But I have a dissertation over this novel.

Really excited.

swathy pv on March 15, 2017:

very nice and intresting novel

jitesh harmor on March 13, 2016:

Very nice novel written by famous poetess of Anita desai

swathisaradhi on January 01, 2016:

It's very very interesting and one of my favourite novel of Desai ji

Surabhi Kaura on October 21, 2015:

Thanks for sharing this.

athira on August 01, 2014:

Thanks. That was definitely helpful.

advance on July 18, 2014:

indian ladies are very feared by the god not by nature,it is truth. they do not know about nature who have created because supertition is banded him .and indian brahmns are very cruel because brahmns do not want to free life of indian ladies. indian ladies are fool because they easily come in brahmn is very sorrofully . sorry

Kumar Paral from India on December 03, 2013:

Interesting ! Thanks for sharing.

Dr Anupma Srivastava (author) from India on October 05, 2012:

Thanks Integrity.

IntegrityYes on October 05, 2012:

That is so informative and I definitely voted up.