Safi Aziz Ms. Finnegan World Lit. H 3/15/10 Between the Lines In some literature, upon occasion, the real magic of the message can only be expressed in an abstract, off hand way. In certain pieces, the richness of the idea is often passed between the lines through symbols. A “symbol” is a word, phrase, image, or the like having a complex of associated meanings and perceived as having inherent value separable from that which is symbolized. This is apparent in Jhumpa Lahiri’s, “A Real Darwan”.
Boori Ma is an unofficial, unpaid “Durwan”, or doorman of a lower-middle class apartment building. She is quite elderly, and the word “feeble” can come to mind when talking of Boori Ma. In exchange for her services, the residents allow Boori Ma to live on the roof of the building. As she conducts her duties, she tells stories of an extravagant past: The residents hear continuous contradictions in Boori’s storytelling, but her stories are seductive and compelling, so they let her contradictions rest.The short story itself though straight forward, has many every day concepts in its layers. Instead of saying it in plain text, symbols are used to further represent the ideas of age, social status, and change. It is said, as you get older you become more like a child than an adult in the fact you grow dependent on the youth around you to function.
Boori Ma, standing at sixty-four years old, is not a youth. The story begins with signs of her aging, “Lately Boori Ma had been thinking that the stairs were getting steeper…” (70).Though that is obvious after stating she had constant knee pains, there are points of information of this topic hidden in the text. Later on, the description of the apartment could also very much apply to her, “It was a very old building, the kind with (…) windows without glass, and privy scaffolds made of bricks” (72). “Windows without glass” shows she no longer has anything or anybody to protect her from the outside world. A “privy scaffold made of bricks” giving the impression though she is petite and quite poor, she has an outer shell that is often overlooked based n her status. On the surface, the differentiation between social statuses is one of the more obvious reoccurring themes of this short story.
A shocking example of this is at the rare occurrence of when Boori Ma actually enters the homes of those she is guarding. “Knowing not to sit on the furniture, she crouched, instead, in doorways and hallways and observed gestures and manners in the same way a person tends to watch traffic in a foreign city” (76). This is blatant division based on status.One way to look at it, Boori Ma isn’t human enough to be among the people let alone take part in conversation. In another light, she is tolerated by the tenants for the purpose of having something in their life, a reinforcing symbol of a class/caste system that characterized India for centuries. “Yes, I am low,” says Boori, “but once I was high” (73). Though her repeated contradictions can be blamed on old age, the people adamantly deem her a liar perhaps due to the fear that radical change in social class is possible.
But she doesn’t seem to care about that, over and over through out the story she says, “Believe me or don’t believe me,” (71). Nothing she says is for her benefit. The entire apartment building is a symbol of social division. The Dalal family, the most wealthy, live on the third and top floor, making them the highest. Boori Ma, however, spends most of her time on the roof and is not a part of the system; she does not sit on the furniture but rather takes note of the behavior of those around her. She lives outside the boundaries of the structure and yet is still part of it.The concept of “change” is probably one of the most feared in human history.
It can either make or break an individual. In “A Real Durwan”, the changes can be both. Before the basin was introduced, Boori Ma’s afternoon routine was told. “Boori Ma reknotted her hair, untied the loose end of her sari, and counted out her life savings. ” (76). Though not important at first, the symbolism of this action is manifest. Towards the end of the story, as Boori Ma begins to grow restless of staying on the roof she decides to begin walking around the town.
Thinking neither of her hardships nor of earlier times… she wandered through markets and began spending her life savings on small treats” (80-81). Boori Ma is making a dramatic change. After decades she makes the initiative to get on with her life. The way the story is written hides this, but the symbols bring it all out.The loss of her life savings and skeleton keys at the climax sets up the mood Boori Ma’s life, as she knows it is coming to an end. The depressing ending of her being blamed for the robberies and kicked out of the apartment finishes it. She shook the free end of her sari, but nothing rattled” (82).
In a way, there is a beauty in keeping the story between the lines. It makes the reader, if they pick it up, think. In “A Real Durwan” it is surely clever. The concept of age, the still existing Indian social status system and change, whether for the good or bad can only be truly felt through the abstract method of using symbols. While many authors have attempted it, Jhumpa Lahiri created a whole other way of story telling, with its magic in between the lines.
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