Mythology and reality in Githa Hariharan's "The thousand faces of night"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2002 18 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Indian Womanist Writing

3. Revisioning Myth and Reality in Three Generations
3.1. Mother – Daughter Relationship
3.2. Grandmother’s Retellings from the Mahabharata 4
3.2.1 Between Myth and Reality
a. The Swayamvara
b. Blind Anger
c. The Snake – Man
d. A Female Revenger
3.3. Mayamma’s Memories

4. The Male Discourse
4.1. Mahesh’s Expectations as a Husband
4.2. Motherhood as a Male Concern
4.3. Manu and Women
4.3.1. Guiding Stories of Baba

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1 Introduction

The Thousand Faces of Night is not just a womanist novel but it is a definite feminist writing in which myths are revisioned, rewrote, and retold from a female point of view. The focus of this novel is on the inner lifes of women, the inner spaces are reflected detaily.

In course of this paper I will set my central focus on the relation between myth or stories and the women in The Thousand Faces of Night. It will be analyzed how the female point of view differs from the male discourse especially by contrasting myths from the Mahabharata with stories from the Sanskrit. A short explanation about Manu is included, as well. Finally, I will mention some metaphors used by Hariharan, but since this should be a subject to a wider analysis, I will keep my ideas very short.

2 Indian Womanist Writing

The 1980‘s were the era of so-called myth-busting. Indian feminists begun to step out of shadows and rewrote mythology, which was written by men. This was and is necessary because male discourse elides women, makes them invisible. Men written myths have the function to infantilize women. As a result women have to write themselves into discourses. A central aspect here is the re-visionist re-making of mythology from a female point of view. If history and politics are male discourses mythology becomes a female domain.

The wave of the Indian feminist agenda has worked with Indian myths as a portrait in epics, which divide into the Ramayana and Mahabharata, in order to re-vision women’s status and role in these traditional tales.

„It is in historicizing this dominant myth of Indian Womanhood that one may hope to understand the multitudinous ways it serves patriarchy in both its local and global manifestations. Caste and class interests are also, of course, serviced by the myth.“[1]

So it gets clear that the men made myths of Indian Womanhood had to be taken out of men’s hand, who had used them as another instrument to support their patriarchal ideals.

The female discourse in the post-80‘s deals especially with „feminist ideology [by issuing] gender injustice and the changing role of women in Indian society.“[2]

As Vijayasree reflects Adrianne Rich’s words revisionist retelling of the past is not just an „act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text

from a new critical direction“[3], no it is more than that, namely „it is an act of

survival“[4] for Indian women. Revisioning myths is a method of emancipation by which tradition gets reinvented and man made laws are subverted.

3 Revisioning Myth and Reality in Three Generations

Devi, the I-narrator, has primary the role of a narratee who retells or rewrites stories she observes or listens to. She belongs to the third generation but is bound with the second through her mother Sita and also with the first generation, to which her grandmother and Mayamma belong to.

The „women Sita, Devi, and Mayamma are separated by the gulf of time and caste but are linked by the shared reductiveness of their gender.“[5] They seem to find themselves within invisible or metaphorical walls „which each tries to tear apart in her own way to create spaces for herself.“[6] In other words Hariharan displays in her novel the „history of gender injustice in community“[7] by linking women’s lives and struggle „across generations and barriers of caste and class.“[8]

In course of the novel stories are „retold in different ways from gynocentric perspectives.“[9] In the way Devi’s grandmother handles old tales „the burden of the tradition is [...] shifted.“[10] So, old stories change whenever they are narrated and passed on from one generation to an other. The „process of net-working among women of different ages and generations“ and castes in the novel is framed by numerous myths and real life stories. Devi rewrites these stories within her own life story, which is the basic frame of the entire plot. She observes and hears strategies of women’s survival, but her strategies later are different since „every woman has to learn for herself, and survival is the highest ideal in the struggle-ridden life of women.“[11] So the women Diva, Sita, and Mayamma have each „to find a way to come to terms with life.“[12]


[1] Bagchi, Jasodhara. Indian Women. Myth and Reality. p. 2.

[2] Bharucha, Nilufer E. The Charting of Cultural Territory. p. 357.

[3] Vijayasree, C. Revisionist Myth Making. p. 176.

[4] Vijayasree, C. Revisionist Myth Making. p. 176.

[5] Bharucha, Nilufer E. Inhabiting Enclousures. p. 101.

[6] Bharucha, Nilufer E. Inhabiting Enclousures. p. 101

[7] Bharucha, Nilufer E. The Chating of Cultural Territory. p. 363.

[8] Bharucha, Nilufer E. The Chating of Cultural Territory. p. 363.

[9] Vijayasree, C. Revisionist Myth Making. p. 176.

[10] Vijayasree, C. Revisionist Myth Making. p. 176.

[11] Vijayasree, C. Revisionist Myth Making. p. 180.

[12] Internet: www.ch.8m.com. p. 3.


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University of Cologne – Anglistik
Mythology Githa Hariharan Myth History Writing Indian Novelists English




Title: Mythology and reality in Githa Hariharan's "The thousand faces of night"