Access to resources play a large factor in determining the quality of life and opportunity available to individual characters in the novel. Plenty and want are not what they appear to be, and characters who seem to have much are often found wanting; likewise, those who seem to have little are rich in spiritual ways. India is contrasted with America, and Uma’s lower middle class parents are contrasted with wealthier families in India.
Seeking economic plenty is very important to characters in the novel. For example, MamaPapa are deeply interested in increasing their wealth and status by affording good marriages for their daughters, and a good education for their son. Even within the same family, male characters have greater resources and opportunities, particularly in the Indian context. While MamaPapa put a great deal of money, time, and attention into their son Arun’s education and physical care, Uma is not even allowed to finish her basic primary education or receive needed medial care for her painful eyesight.
For women, personal traits like charm, domestic capability and physical attractiveness allow them access to higher-status marriage partners, and therefore greater social status. Aruna, being prettier and more outwardly charming, is assigned a higher social value by her parents and by the community than her sister Uma. Yet, Uma has a different kind of plenty: she has a vast inner world. Her kindness, curiosity, and her desire for freedom and autonomy allow her to engage her mind and her heart. These make her richer, in many ways, than the other characters.
When Arun goes to the United States, he discovers a land of economic ‘plenty’, even excess, which he compares to the modest means of his own family in India. However, lacking the warmth and togetherness of Arun’s family in India, the American family seems hollow to him, having a deeper kind of poverty. This is obvious to Arun than when he witnesses Melanie suffering from hunger and malnourishment due to her eating disorder, while there is a fridge full of food.
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" ThemeTracker
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Quotes in Fasting, Feasting
To Mira-masi, the gods and goddesses she spoke of, whose tales she told, were her family, no matter what Mama might think (…) Uma, with her ears, and even her fingertips tingling, felt that here was someone who could pierce through the dreary outer world to an inner world, tantalizing in its colour and romance. If only it could replace this, Uma thought hungrily.
Only Uma tucked her frock up into her knickers and waded in with such thoughtless abandon (…) It had not occurred to her that she needed to know how to swim, she had been certain the river would sustain her.
Uma said, ‘I hope they will send her back. Then she will be home with Lily Aunty again, and happy.’
‘You are so silly, Uma,’ Mama snapped (…) ‘How can she be happy if she is sent home? What will people say? What will they think?’
‘Didn’t I tell you to go to the kitchen and learn these things? (…) No, you were at the convent, singing those Christian hymns. You were playing games with that Anglo-Indian teacher showing you how to wear skirts and jump around. Play, play, play, that is all you ever did. Will that help you now?’
When it was that she had plunged into the dark water and let it close quickly and tightly over her, the flow of the river, the current, drew her along (…) It was not fear she felt, or danger. Or rather, these were only what edged something much darker, wilder, more thrilling, a kind of exultation—it was exactly what she had always wanted, she realized.
A career. Leaving home. Living alone. These trembling, secret possibilities now entered Uma’s mind—as Mama would have pointed out had she known—whenever Uma was idle. (…) But Uma could not visualize escape in the form of a career. What was a career? She had no idea.
She sloshes some milk into the coffee. ‘Rosebuds. Wild Waltz. Passionately,’ she screams at them silently. She tosses in the sugar. ‘Madly. Vows. Fulfill,’ her silence roars at them. She clatters a spoon around the cup, spilling some milk into the saucer, and thrusts it at Papa. ‘Here,’ her eyes flash through her spectacles, ‘this, this is what I know. And you, you don’t.’
She had been married for twenty-five years, the twenty-five that Uma had not. Now she is dead, a jar of grey ashes. Uma, clasping her knees, can feel that she is still flesh, not ashes. But she feels like ash—cold, colourless, motionless ash.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
But what is plenty? What is not? Can one tell the difference?
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?