Fasting, Feasting

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Arun Character Analysis

Arun is the quiet, introverted baby brother of Uma, and the youngest child of Mama and Papa. From Arun's birth, Mama and Papa proudly invest all of their hopes and dreams into Arun, smothering him with attention and forcing him to study until he has no energy left. To the disappointment of his parents, who value meat-eating and physical strength in males as signs of wealth and progress, Arun is a vegetarian who shows no athletic prowess. Prodded along by his father, Arun lethargically flies off to the University in Massachusetts. At college in America, Arun tries to free himself of his family and any other associations that threaten to entangle him. Arun fears being drawn into the judgment and expectations of others, and seeks personal freedom by withdrawing from social interactions and both Indian and American society.

Arun Quotes in Fasting, Feasting

The Fasting, Feasting quotes below are all either spoken by Arun or refer to Arun. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin edition of Fasting, Feasting published in 2000.
Chapter 16 Quotes

He had at last experienced the total freedom of anonymity, the total absence of relations, of demands, needs, requests, ties, responsibilities, commitments. He was Arun. He had no past, no family, and no country.

Related Characters: Arun
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Arun comes to college in the United States--he's truly a fish out of water. Arun has grown up in India, and in a very repressed and controlling family at that. In college, however, Arun finds himself in an entirely different kind of place. Both because college is more diverse and because American culture (the culture that dominates college life, in spite of its diversity) is more tolerant of independence, Arun feels isolated and lonely.

Arun has "freedom" from his family and his culture for the first time in his life--one would think that his freedom is a blessing (he doesn't have to worry about his parents hounding him to study harder, for example). And yet the passage makes it clear that Arun doesn't necessarily want this much freedom after all. After years of being pressured and bullied by his parents, he's internalized their values. Thus, when he comes to a place where, for once, he can breathe, he just wants to go home--he learns that freedom can also mean anonymity, and a stifling family is still a close family. The paradox of the novel is that Arun finds his own culture  harsh and repressive, but ultimately comes to feel nostalgic for it.

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Chapter 19 Quotes

No, he had not escaped. He had travelled and he had stumbled into what was like a plastic representation of what he had known at home; not the real thing—which was plain, unbeautiful, misshapen, fraught and compromised—but the unreal thing—clean, bright, gleaming, without taste, savour or nourishment.

Related Characters: Arun
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Arun is living in the United States and studying at the University of Massachusetts. He finds his new life in the U.S. unsatisfactory, however. One would think that Arun would embrace his new freedom and independence--for the first time in his life, he doesn't have parents looking over his shoulder, telling him what to do. And yet Arun finds that he's still being supervised by various people, such as Mrs. Patton, the gracious host who invites Arun to stay with her.

The passage shows that Arun thinks of his time in the U.S. as a kind of extravagant but ultimately superficial "echo" of his time in India. In some ways, he prefers his home life with Mama and Papa because his parents seem more "real" than a gracious but somewhat vapid host like Mrs. Patton. His life in India was harder, but richer, while he sees the Patton family's life as easy but ultimately empty.

When she finally brought herself to tell him that Arun was a vegetarian and she herself had decided to give it a try (…) he reacted by not reacting, as if he had simply not heard, or understood. That, too was something Arun knew and had experience of (…)—his father’s very expression, walking off, denying any opposition, any challenge to his authority…

Related Characters: Arun, Papa, Mrs. Patton , Mr. Patton
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

The more things change for Arun, the more they stay the same. Arun is staying with an American woman named Mrs. Patton--a gracious host who makes every effort to make Arun feel comfortable, even buying him vegetarian food. When Mrs. Patton tries to convince Mr. Patton, her husband, to consider vegetarianism, too, Mr. Patton ignores her altogether. Arun is immediately reminded of the way his own father would ignore his mother--many American families, it's implied, are just like their Indian counterparts: the men are harsh and authoritative, and the women are meek and submissive. Thus Desai rebuts kind of racist critique of Indian society as "inferior" by showing how the same sins exist in all cultures--here Mr. Patton finds it inconceivable that someone could decide to not eat meat.

Arun chooses to focus on the similarities between his life in India and his life in America, instead of focusing on the myriad differences (too many to name). While Arun may be correct to notice that Mrs. Patton is timid around the harsh, brusque Mr. Patton, it's indicative of his cynicism and joylessness that he sees only misery in Mr. and Mrs. Patton's relationship.

Chapter 22 Quotes

We don’t sit down to meals like we used to. Everyone eats at different times and wants different meals. We just don’t get to eating together much now that they’re grown. So I just fill the freezer and let them take down what they like, when they like. Keeping the freezer full—that’s my job, Ahroon.

Related Characters: Mrs. Patton (speaker), Arun, Mr. Patton , Melanie , Rod
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

Arun is spending time with the Patton family, an "all-American" clan that celebrates sports, success, and competition. The problem with the Patton family, it's suggested, is that they don't have any real sense of community. Mrs. Patton tells Arun (she can't even pronounce his name right, emphasizing the distance between her culture and his) that her family no longer eats together--a pretty good metaphor for the breakdown of the traditional American family over time. Mrs. Patton is a mother, but she's lost any real connection to her children apart from her literal, material duty to give them things to eat. Once again Desai compares ideas of plenty to scarcity--the Pattons have plenty to eat, but little real connection, and the Patton children have plenty of freedom, but little happiness.

Chapter 23 Quotes

Arun gets out of the way, quickly: one can’t tell what is more dangerous in this country, the pursuit of health or of sickness.

Related Characters: Arun
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

Arun realizes that Melanie, Mr. and Mrs. Patton's child, has bulimia: she eats candy bars and then makes herself throw up so that she doesn't gain any weight. Worse, the Pattons--or at least Rod, who tells Arun about his sister--seem to know full-well that Melanie is bulimic, and not care. Melanie is the dark side of the Patton family's emphasis on deeds, outward appearances, and health (in such a way, Melanie seems to symbolize Desai's critique of superficial American culture itself). She's so obsessed with seeming healthy and attractive that she pursues an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle, in which she's constantly throwing up to avoid gaining the slightest amount of weight.

Arun gets at the contradictions in the Patton's worldview when he notes that he can't tell which is worse, pursuing health or pursuing sickness. Arun's point seems to be that an overzealous pursuit of health is unhealthy: it treats the body as a mere object, to be cynically tuned and distorted in the interest of appearances.

Chapter 25 Quotes

Then Arun does see a resemblance to something he knows: a resemblance to the contorted face of an enraged sister who, failing to express her outrage against neglect, against misunderstanding, against inattention to her unique and singular being and its hungers, merely spits and froths in ineffectual protests.

Related Characters: Uma, Arun
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Arun walks into the Pattons' house to find Melanie eating an entire tub of ice cream when her parents aren't watching. Arun realizes that Melanie and his own sister, Uma, aren't all that different: they're both frustrated, repressed people who feel angry and misunderstood. Uma is repressed by her parents' emphasis on marriage and pleasing men; Melanie is repressed by her parents' emphasis on health and beauty. Both sets of parents, Arun seems to realize, err in focusing too exclusively on outward appearances, thereby neglecting their children's psychological stability and inner peace. (It's also no coincidence that Melanie and Uma are both women: in Indian and American culture, women are more harmed by the overemphasis on superficiality than men are).

But what is plenty? What is not? Can one tell the difference?

Related Characters: Arun (speaker)
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

Arun has just seen Melanie wolfing down a bowl of ice cream in her mother's absence: the sight of Melanie, a well-off child from a good family, abusing her body prompts Arun to realize that the Pattons, much like his own family, are spiritually "starved." Although the Pattons are a prosperous American family, and therefore taken care of in every material way (food, shelter, money, etc.), they lack a certain kind of "plenty."

What does Arun mean by "plenty?" Arun seems to realize that one can be physically nourished and yet starved for any kind of spiritual meaning. The Pattons live sad, meaningless lives, in which their money and social status win them no real pleasure. The Pattons, one could say, are the stereotypical suburban American family with a lot of money but no inner peace. Material possessions, Desai suggests, can't make up for loneliness or self-hatred: in short, man does not live by bread alone.

Chapter 26 Quotes

Now that he is contributing to the din, he begins to feel pleased. Surprisingly, it is due to the water, an element that removes him from his normal self, and opens up another world of possibilities.

Related Characters: Arun
Related Symbols: Water / River
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Arun goes swimming in the ponds near the Patton's house, accompanied by Mrs. Patton and Melanie. Arun savors the feeling of jumping into the water and feeling weightless: he's so used to being bottled up and repressed that the slightest display of fun is a liberation.

There's a deeper meaning to Arun's experience in the passage: he's so used to pleasing other people, and being "swept along" in other people's visions (his parents, the Pattons, etc.) that he treats swimming as a rare case of living "for himself," and himself alone. Notice that the passage is meant to evoke an earlier passage, in which Uma jumps into the river, seemingly because she wants to end her own life. Arum and Uma suffer from a similar sense of overdetermination: they wish they could break free from their parents. Still, we should note that Arun's situation seems a little freer and happier than Uma's. He's depressed and repressed, but he wants to keep living--for him, the water is like a liberating baptism, one that is less desperate than Uma's.

They are not the stuff of dreams or even cinema: he is not the hero, nor she the heroine, and what she is crying for, he cannot tell (…) this is a real pain and a real hunger. But what hunger does a person so sated feel?

Related Characters: Arun, Melanie
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Arun--still by the ponds--finds Melanie in a pool of her own vomit, barely alive. Arun is shocked to see that Melanie continues to be addicted to purging her body in such an unhealthy way: she's so slavishly devoted to the ideal of seeming healthy and attractive that she's willing to cause herself incredible discomfort.

Arun's behavior--or lack of behavior, rather--is very telling. Arun puts his hand on Melanie's shoulder and imagines telling her "the perfect thing," just like in a movie. But Arun himself is so repressed and timid that he can't think of what to tell Melanie: in the grand scheme of things, Arun is just as devoted to his ideals (living for his parents, doing well in school, etc.), as Melanie is: they're in the same boat, really. Arun is insightful enough to understand Melanie's problem: she's spiritually malnourished, and lives in a bland, loveless household. And yet he's not wise enough to solve Melanie's problems for her: if he were, he'd have freed himself from his own sadness by now too. Note also that Desai once again frames personal issues in terms of hunger and "satedness"--Melanie literally has an excess of food available to her, but she still feels a spiritual and psychological "hunger" that, like Uma's similar hunger, is far from being satisfied.

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Arun Character Timeline in Fasting, Feasting

The timeline below shows where the character Arun appears in Fasting, Feasting. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
...how best to instruct Uma to prepare a box of care goods to send to Arun, who is attending University in America. They worry that he has a warm enough sweater,... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...flashes back to the past, to Uma's childhood. Uma remembers when Mama became pregnant with Arun, and she recalls this as the only time she noticed a significant discord between her... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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...seems neither aware nor bothered by this. Her grades are failing worse than ever when Arun is born, and when the nuns start sending notes home describing her bad scores, Mama... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
The novel flashes back to Uma’s teenage years, after her baby brother Arun is born. While everyone else is napping during a hot afternoon, Uma runs away from... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Uma settles into taking care of baby Arun. Mama and Papa attend nervously to Arun’s care, worrying over his diet, his every step,... (full context)
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The story flashes forward briefly a few years, to Arun as a little boy playing in the bushes outside with Uma. She is sneaking unripened... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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...poles, watching Mira-Masi at the temple. One evening, MamaPapa reluctantly allow Mira-Masi to take Uma, Aruna, and Arun with her down to the river for her religious bathing. While MamaPapa have... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...a month at the ashram, two unexpected visitors turn out to be cousin Ramu and Arun, a young boy at the time. Ramu tells Uma that he has come on Papa... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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The novel flashes to an overview of Arun’s childhood, which centers entirely on school. Papa allows him no rest: All year round, Arun... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Uma is writing to Arun on behalf of MamaPapa, and Papa criticizes Uma for her slow writing and her inability... (full context)
Chapter 14
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It is summer in the United States now, and Arun is walking alone along a wooded lane in western Massachusetts. He is noticing the houses,... (full context)
Chapter 15
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...Patton is outside grilling steaks on a barbecue. He calls the family to eat, and Arun goes looking for Melanie, the Patton’s teenaged daughter, who sits sulkily at the bottom of... (full context)
Chapter 16
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The novel rewinds to the months preceding the summer, to Arun’s first days at college. He remembers his college dorm for its striking foreignness—the loud music,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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In the months just before Arun’s first summer in America, he realizes he needs to search for summer housing. Having turned... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Soon after Arun arrives to the Patton house, Mrs. Patton tells Arun that she hears from her sister... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Mrs. Patton excitedly takes Arun to the grocery store to shop for vegetables. Arun marvels at the huge parking lot... (full context)
Chapter 20
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After dinner the same night, Arun is on his way to his room, when he looks into the den to find... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Returning from work at the university library, Arun passes Rod, who handsomely jogs by, inviting Arun to join him. Arun turns him down,... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Arun is at the grocery store once again with Mrs. Patton. She is telling him that... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Arun is jogging for the first time, so exhausted that he feels sick, through the suburbs... (full context)
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That night, Melanie is in the bathtub, water running, with her cassette player. Arun is waiting outside because he needs to take a shower. When she finally comes out,... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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It is August. Arun comes into the kitchen in the morning, to find Melanie sitting sullenly at the kitchen... (full context)
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Mrs. Patton announces to Arun that it is time to go shopping again. Arun remarks that maybe they should finish... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Arun comes home the next morning from a trip to the library, to find Mrs. Patton... (full context)
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...and the television. The kitchen gets emptied, and messy, as everyone forages for what’s left. Arun starts staying longer in town, eating sandwiches on park benches, and even seeing movies by... (full context)
Chapter 26
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On an uncomfortably hot Saturday, Mrs. Patton persuades Arun into coming with her and Melanie to cool off at the swimming pond in the... (full context)
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When Arun emerges from the water, he finds that Melanie is nowhere to be seen, a pile... (full context)
Chapter 27
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It is autumn, and Arun is packing his bags to return to college. The return of students brings life back... (full context)