Thursday, July 03, 2008

Master, Servant, Family

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

While this story is set in India, its underlying themes are much more universal. Obviously, there is some local color, and cultural differences as a result of the country, but for the most part, the novel is about class differences.

Bhima has worked for the Dubash family for years now, and in many ways, knows Sera, her employer, better than anyone else. After all, she is there, day in and day out, and has witnessed many of the family secrets that Sera couldn't share with her friends and family due to her own feelings of shame. Bhima is the only one who knows about the beatings, and how dark her marriage really was while everyone else remembers her deceased husband as an outstanding man. Sera has taken an interest in Bhima's family, and helped her granddaughter get into college. Despite their obvious affection for each other, there is still an obvious distance between them. Sera can't get over certain middle/upper class ideas, and while in comparison to her friends, she is much more liberal, she still lives by certain conventions.

Both women have past loves that went horribly wrong and ended in disappointment, and throughout the novel, the reader gets a glimpse into their lives. Bhima has worked hard all her life, but her plans have often been thwarted by circumstance. Even her granddaughter, her final hope, ends up losing her opportunity to go to college as a result of a pregnancy. The life stories of Sera and Bhima, especially, were so interesting, that like Bhima, I figured it was unimportant who had gotten Maya pregnant, and that it was more important what it meant for them and how it would affect her future. As a result, I was surprised when the father was revealed after all.

At one point, Maya asks her grandmother, "why do you love their family even more than you love your own?" (270) This actually reminded me quite a bit of The Bluest Eye. Pecola's mother pampers and loves her employer's young, blonde, blue-eyed daughter much more than Pecola and, in fact, blames Pecola for her rape later in the novel. While Bhima would never choose the Dubash family over her own, and her love for her family is very clear, she still spends so much more time taking care of the Dubashes that it is not surprising Maya might accuse her of this. Also, in The Street, Lutie had to leave her own son behind in order to make money taking care of another family's child because the white family deemed themselves more important than Lutie's son. Basically, this odd intertwining of lives between servants and employers is a universal theme, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much. It might have an Indian spin to things, but it is still easy to relate to, including things such as the nagging mother-in-law, middle class attitudes towards the working class, etc.

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