Posted by Kathryn Schwartz on December 15, 2013

Pappachi, a stern torch-bearer of patriarchy, is a sadist who often belches out all his anger and frustration at his failure to be recognized as the discoverer of a new species of moth on his wife Mammachi and daughter Ammu. He beats Mammachi regularly every night with a brass flower vase. “The beatings weren’t new. What was new was only the frequency with which they took place. One night Pappachi broke the bow of Mammachi’s violin and threw it in the river”. Mammachi suffers this disgrace and dishonour regularly till one day Chacko stops him by twisting his vase-hand around his back and warned, “‘I never want this to happen again’”. It is a great irony that Mammachi is able to escape from the cruel clutches of her savage husband only to enter into the new trap of her son, another agent of patriarchy who dispossesses her from the right of her own pickle factory and makes her sleeping partner. After that incident even the fragile bond between Mammachi and Pappachi is broken totally. Papachi appears more devastating and revengeful towards Mammachi. He stops to speak with her, but always tries to insult her directly and indirectly, not only within the family, but outside it also. To create an impression of his wife’s negligence and indifference to him, he pretends to stitch the buttons that are not missing on his shirt, sitting on the verandah in front of the visitors. He is a serpent in the grass that appears to be kind, generous and polite elsewhere but rude and tyrannical at home. He buys an old car called Plymouth with an intention to humiliate Mammachi whom he never allows to sit in the car.

In our society the wife who is socially and financially more successful is subjected to constant abuse and harassment by her husband. This happens to Mammachi who becomes the victim of her husband’s jealousy. When Pappachi comes to know that his wife is showing excellence in violin lessons, he stops them. “The lessons were abruptly discontinued when Mammachi’s teacher, Launsky-Tieffenthal, made the mistake of telling Pappachi that his wife was exceptionally talented and, in his opinion, potentially concert class”. Later at Ayemenem he breaks the bow of violin and throws it in the river. His act of jealousy is manifested also in his refusal to help his practically blind wife in her pickle-making job, because he considers it an unsuitable job for a high ranking ex-Government official. Actually it is a matter of fact that “he greatly resented the attention his wife was suddenly getting”. So Mammachi lives a life devoid of love, care, understanding and co-operation.

Till the point when Mammachi is a true sufferer at the hands of her sadist husband, she is able to gain the sympathy of the readers, but her change of mentality and negative attitude towards her own daughter shock the readers. Now she in collaboration with her son Chacko does to Ammu what her husband does to her. She takes the position of a male chauvinist. She perpetually makes Ammu realize that she, being a divorcee, has no right in Ayemenem House. Although both Ammu and Chacko are divorcees, Mammachi treats them differently. Her attitude towards Chacko is submissive and obedient, but towards Ammu she is dictatorial and authoritarian. Mammachi fends for Chacko’s illicit sexual relationship with pretty women working in the factory as “Man’s Needs”. She even makes an arrangement for a separate entrance to Chacko’s room at the eastern end of the house “so that the objects of his ‘Needs’ wouldn’t have to go traipsing through the house”. But her attitude towards Ammu in the similar situation is just the opposite. She brutally punishes Ammu when the latter satisfies ‘women’s needs’. She is tortured both physically and mentally. She is locked up in her bedroom, insulted and at last ostracized from Ayemenem House. Actually because of her frustration in love Mammachi is jealous of Ammu’s happiness in love with Velutha, and she wants to deprive her daughter of what she is deprived of. Her feminine instinct and motherly love and affection are completely eclipsed and she appears to be a brute. At her last visit to Ayemenem with a serious illness with asthma and rattle in her chest, Ammu is treated by her mother as a touchable behaves with an untouchable and she asks her to visit Rahel, her own daughter, as seldom as possible.

Mammachi’s attitude towards Margaret Kochamma shows patriarchal bent of her mind. Even before she has seen her, she condemns her, and it clings to her mind that Margaret is no better than a shopkeeper’s daughter. “It wasn’t just her working-class background Mammachi resented. She hated Margaret Kochamma for being Chacko’s wife. She hated her for leaving him. But would have hated her even more had she stayed”. She takes Margaret not as a woman who comes to meet her ex-husband for a purpose other than sex, but as “just another whore”.

Ammu is essentially a tragic heroine in the novel. Her lone battle with fate and the traditions and laws imposed on women by the male chauvinistic society and the inability to taste the fruit of victory make her the most pathetic character in the novel. “Ammu had been” as Mohit Kumar Ray puts it, “humiliated and cornered by her father, ill-treated and betrayed by her husband, insulted by the police and rendered destitute by her brother”. Not only because of the man in her life, she has to bear the ordeal designed by Mammachi and Baby Kochamma. The cost of living for her is too heavy to bear and ultimately she is compelled to surrender to the patriarchal attitudes of her society.

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