Fasting, Feasting

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Melanie Character Analysis

Melanie is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Patton, and the sister of Rod. Struggling with bulimia and anorexia that go unnoticed by her parents, Melanie is frequently bitter, angry, and difficult to talk to. Arun becomes preoccupied with Melanie's bad nutrition and defensive attitude, seeing a similarity between her bitterness and that of his own neglected sister, Uma. Melanie's eating disorder isn't treated until her mother and Arun catch her nearly unconscious, writhing in the forest.

Melanie Quotes in Fasting, Feasting

The Fasting, Feasting quotes below are all either spoken by Melanie or refer to Melanie . 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 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.

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Chapter 23 Quotes

Mr. Patton ignores her. He is getting a can of beer out of the refrigerator. Opening it with a shark jerk of his thumb, he demands, ‘Where are the kids? Are they going to be in for dinner tonight? What have they been doing all day? Are they doing any work around here?’

Related Characters: Mrs. Patton , Mr. Patton , Melanie , Rod
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Patton is a gruff, action-focused husband--a parody of the American masculine ideal. He's not a particularly considerate or kind man, either. When he returns from work, he doesn't seem to show any affection or love for his wife; he just asks her where his children are. By the same token. Mr. Patton doesn't really ask about how his children are doing; he just asks about what they've done all day (how many chores, etc.).

Mr. Patton is an unusually bullish, stern man, and yet Arun (who's witnessed the entire scene) seems to take him as a representative American husband. Based on Arun's earlier observations, it would seem, Arun thinks of Mr. Patton and Papa as similar kinds of people--basically dismissive of others' needs (particularly women), and too focused on actions. Arun notices that Mr. Patton ignores his family's feelings, and starts to dislike him for doing so.

Chapter 24 Quotes

Why don’t you ask me what I want? Why can’t you make me what I want? What do you think we all are—garbage bags you keep stuffing and stuffing?

Related Characters: Melanie (speaker), Mrs. Patton
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chilling passage, Melanie has a fight with her mother, Mrs. Patton. Mrs. Patton sees Melanie walking into the kitchen, with her face looking oddly swollen (by this point in the novel, we know that Melanie is bulimic, and regularly makes herself throw up). Mrs. Patton gives Melanie some eggs and encourages her to eat them, prompting Melanie to yell at her mother for treating her like a "garbage bag."

Melanie's point, it would seem, is that in focusing so exclusively on health and outward appearances, Mrs. Patton (and, for that matter, American culture as a whole) neglects her loved ones' feelings and spiritual lives. One could say that Mrs. Patton treats her daughter like a mere object that Mrs. Patton must keep looking pretty and healthy at all times. She never asks Melanie what she feels like eating; instead, she gives Melanie food. Melanie has become obsessed with her own health because Mrs. Patton is, too.

Chapter 26 Quotes

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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Melanie Character Timeline in Fasting, Feasting

The timeline below shows where the character Melanie appears in Fasting, Feasting. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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
...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 the stairs, eating a... (full context)
Chapter 20
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...is on his way to his room, when he looks into the den to find Melanie sitting on the sofa, watching TV—commercials, dramatically and enthusiastically advertising everything from car insurance to... (full context)
Chapter 21
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
...how to cook, he begins to mix together all the Indian-aisle ingredients Mrs. Patton bought. Melanie comes in and says that the food looks gross, and Arun agrees. He eats it... (full context)
Chapter 22
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...want when they want it. Arun thinks of telling Mrs. Patton about his concerns about Melanie’s eating habits, but he is afraid to show too much interest in her. Mrs. Patton... (full context)
Chapter 23
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
...“Doing work,” and when Mrs. Patton says that Rod is working out, he responds, “And Melanie...What’s she in training for, Huh?” He is angry that Rod works out all day, but... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
That night, Melanie is in the bathtub, water running, with her cassette player. Arun is waiting outside because... (full context)
Chapter 24
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
It is August. Arun comes into the kitchen in the morning, to find Melanie sitting sullenly at the kitchen table while Mrs. Patton scrambles eggs. Mrs. Patton tells Melanie... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
...cart. Arun feels sickened by the excess, and he wonders if that is what bothers Melanie. He tries to put back a tub of ice cream, but Mrs. Patton playfully tells... (full context)
Chapter 25
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...scandalized. Avoiding her invitations to sunbathe with him, Arun runs into the house, to find Melanie at the kitchen table, scarfing down the tub of ice cream that her mother had... (full context)
Chapter 26
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
On an uncomfortably hot Saturday, Mrs. Patton persuades Arun into coming with her and Melanie to cool off at the swimming pond in the woods near their home. When they... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
When Arun emerges from the water, he finds that Melanie is nowhere to be seen, a pile of candy wrappers left in her absence. He... (full context)
Chapter 27
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...empty for the summer, and Arun enjoys the return to normalcy. At the Patton’s house, Melanie has left to receive treatment at a temporary recovery home in the Berkshires, for teen... (full context)