Meena tells many lies throughout Anita and Me. Some of these lies are selfishly meant to conceal misdeeds and avoid punishment. Other lies, however, are intended to protect Meena’s family and keep her loved ones from harm, and as such can be seen as a useful tool to achieve a greater good. Meena thus struggles with the morality of lying throughout the novel, unsure of when it is acceptable to bend the truth. Meena’s honesty is ultimately tested after Tracey accidentally falls into a pond and nearly drowns, and Meena has the opportunity to falsely accuse Sam and Anita—both of whom have wronged her—of pushing Tracey in. Meena chooses to tell the truth, however, and this final act of honesty reveals both her personal growth and newfound awareness of the moral consequences of her actions. The novel thus suggests that lying is not morally reprehensible in all situations, but that it should not be used to harm others; instead, one’s goal should always be to defend justice and fairness.
The novel distinguishes between different types of lies, revealing that not all are equally harmful, and, in fact, can even reveal certain truths about the characters who tell them. Lies can attempt to compensate for something that does not exist. For example, when Anita tells Meena that the man on the poster on Mr. Ormerod’s shop is her father, she is trying to manipulate Meena in order to make the young girl admire her. This is not necessarily a noble goal, but it does not directly cause Meena harm. Rather, it reveals Anita’s own insecurities, showing that Anita lies to hide certain aspects of her dysfunctional and disappointing family life.
In turn, Meena, too, lies to protect her family. When Anita comes over for a meal and is shocked to discover that Meena and her parents eat with their fingers, Meena, who is annoyed by her friend’s rude behavior, tells her that they always eat with their fingers even in the fanciest restaurants. This keeps Anita from making any comment and makes Meena’s parents laugh. For once, Meena realizes, her parents are not dissatisfied by their daughter’s lying, but feel grateful to her for defending them. Lying here is a harmless act meant to protect Meena’s family, further complicating the notion of dishonesty as being inherently bad.
On the other hand, lies told in an effort to avoid punishment are presented as generally immoral, as they usually have a negative effect on other people and stand in the way of justice. At the beginning of the novel, Meena’s lies are often aimed at self-protection and unconcerned with ideals of honesty and justice. The novel opens, for instance, with Meena lying to her Papa about using Mama’s money to buy sweets from Mr. Ormerod’s shop. Confronted with the threat of accompanying her father to ask Mr. Ormerod what truly happened, Meena finally admits that she did indeed take money from her mother. Her decision to lie only lasted insofar as she could avoid her father’s wrath and disapproval. It is only once she saw that she could not avoid punishment and confrontation that she decided to be honest.
An incident with Meena’s cousins Pinky and Baby further highlights the dangers of lying to avoid punishment. When Meena, Anita, and the two cousins go to Mr. Ormerod’s shop, Meena steals a jar full of money. Papa later confronts his daughter about what has happened, but Meena insists that the two cousins are responsible for this misdeed. Pinky and Baby’s shyness, translating as an inability to defend themselves, protects Meena but gets them unfairly punished. Instead of feeling guilty, Meena is relieved not to have been caught. This situation reveals Anita’s negative influence on Meena, as it becomes apparent that Meena has used more vulnerable girls as scapegoats, in the same way that Anita manipulates younger children—including Meena herself—to feel powerful.
Despite Meena’s past behavior, by the end of the novel she realizes that telling the truth is the only valid option when the wellbeing of others is at stake. Meena finds herself deeply affected by people’s racist comments, and she begins to understand the harmful effects that people’s actions can have on others. This causes her to reflect on her own behavior, and she becomes aware that she was wrong in accusing Pinky and Baby of stealing Mr. Ormerod’s money. For the first time in years, she prays to God, asking for forgiveness, thus demonstrating that she still retains a strong moral conscience, despite the bad behavior she might have taken part in in the past.
After Tracey nearly drowns in the pond at the old mine, police officers interrogate Meena about what has happened. Meena has the option of accusing Sam Lowbridge and Anita of pushing Tracey in the water—a version of the story that the police officers are encouraging her to validate. This would allow Meena to take revenge on Sam, who is racist, and on Anita, who has behaved in various harmful ways toward Meena and others. However, Meena decides to tell the truth, admitting that Tracey fell into the pond by accident. This act of moral honesty shows how much Meena has grown since the beginning of the novel. Instead of acting selfishly, she trusts in higher ideals such as truth and justice, understanding that lies have deep consequences on other people’s lives.
The novel thus demonstrates that the value of lying or telling the truth depends partially on its effect on other people. Even though some lies might serve positive roles, lying can also harm others, which makes it reprehensible. Meena’s capacity to understand these distinctions suggests that she has grown into an empathetic individual capable of standing up for greater values beyond narrow self-interest.
Truth vs. Lies ThemeTracker
Truth vs. Lies Quotes in Anita and Me
I do not have many memories of my very early childhood, apart from the obvious ones, of course. You know, my windswept, bewildered parents in their dusty Indian village garb standing in the open doorway of a 747, blinking back tears of gratitude and heartbreak as the fog cleared to reveal the sign they had been waiting for, dreaming of, the sign planted in tarmac and emblazoned in triumphant hues of red, blue and white, the sign that said simply, WELCOME TO BRITAIN.
When I said that we talked, what I mean is that Anita talked and I listened with the appropriate appreciative noises. But I never had to force my admiration, it flowed from every pore because Anita made me laugh like no one else; she gave voice to all the wicked things I had often thought but kept zipped up inside my good girl’s winter coat.
I decided there and then to heal myself, both in body and mind. It was time. I asked mama to bring in all my school books to prepare for the eleven-plus, I would grow my hair long and vaguely feminine, I would be nice to Pinky and Baby and seek out their company willingly, I would write letters to India and
introduce myself properly to that anonymous army of blood relatives, I would learn to knit, probably, and I would always always tell the truth.