Behind the Beautiful Forevers


Katherine Boo

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Themes and Colors
Society, Competition, and Social Division Theme Icon
Opportunity, Corruption, and Inequality Theme Icon
The Local vs. The Global Theme Icon
Permanence, Legacy, and Erasure Theme Icon
Life and Death Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Life and Death Theme Icon

While some people outside of India erroneously assume that the Hindu belief in reincarnation means that Indians do not value life as much as other people (since Hindus trust that they will be born into another life after this one), Boo takes pains to counter this belief and show that life is incredibly precious to the residents of the Annawadi slum. This is apparent in the Annawadians’ struggles to live, despite that fact that those outside of Annawadi—including the government, police, and hospitals—seem determined to make their lives precarious and unimportant. It’s also apparent in the fact that instead of desensitizing the Annawadians to death, the high number of losses in this community make death even harder for the Annawadians to bear. The deaths of their friends affect the children of Annawadi greatly, even if they learn to put up a stoic front so that they are not targeted by others who see displays of emotion as weak. While some residents succumb to the hopelessness of constant death (like Sanjay, who commits suicide after the murder of his friend Kalu), others manage to prevail in impossible circumstances—Manju, for example, must put the suicide of her best friend Meena out of her mind in order to protect her own desire to live. Boo grapples with the many suicides in Annawadi, implying that these suicides testify to the appalling circumstances of the slum, rather than weakness or disregard for life. Boo presents these suicides as lamentable, but understandable, in light of the fact that Annawadians live difficult lives with little chance of improvement, despite their hard work.

Even with all the pain that comes from life in this slum, Boo shows that most of the residents of Annawadi believe that life is valuable and should be lived. Some members of the Annawadian community are optimistic about their futures, thinking that life will get better if they give it a chance to improve. Sunil, one of the garbage scavengers, continues to hope that he will get taller and become more successful if he can just collect more garbage each day. Others are more pragmatic, acknowledging that circumstances in Annawadi are often harsh but that life is still worthwhile on its own merits. Abdul, who faces horrible and unjust legal circumstances in addition to the difficulty of his day-to-day life, thinks that any life would “still be a life,” even if that life were filled with nothing but abuse and beatings. In the end, Boo asserts that life is hard in Annawadi, but it is neither worthless nor futile. Whenever possible, the people of Annawadi keep hope alive that their lives can still improve. Under these conditions, life is meaningful simply because it holds the chance of something good happening.

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Life and Death Quotes in Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Below you will find the important quotes in Behind the Beautiful Forevers related to the theme of Life and Death.
Chapter 2 Quotes

In the West, and among some in the Indian elite, this word, corruption, had purely negative connotations; it was seen as blocking India's modern, global ambitions. But for the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained.

Related Characters: Asha Waghekar
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

In calmer moments, Manju could argue that parents were terrified of losing control of their children in a city where dangers seemed to be multiplying-a city they didn't fully understand. And as much as Manju hated violence of any stripe, the odd thrashing, like the odd axe blow, could be effective in keeping a child close to home.

Related Characters: Manju Waghekar
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

She was less and less sure she wanted to go to Vasai, less and less sure her husband would live to get there. She wanted a more hygienic home here, in the name of her children's vitality… On the floor she wanted ceramic tiles like the ones advertised on the Beautiful Forever wall - tiles that could be scrubbed clean, instead of broken concrete that harbored filth in each striation. With these small improvements, she thought her children might stay as healthy as children in Annawadi could be.

Related Characters: Zehrunisa Husain, Karam
Related Symbols: The Beautiful Forever Wall
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

"All murders we detect, 100 percent success," was how Senior Inspector Patil, who ran the Sahar station, liked to put it. But perhaps there was a trick to this success rate: not detecting the murders of inconsequential people.
Succumbed to an "irrecoverable illness" was the swift conclusion of Maruti Jadhav, the inspector in charge of Kalu's case. At the morgue of Cooper Hospital, the nature of the "irrecoverable illness" was decided. Fifteen-year-old Deepak Rai, known as Kalu, had died of his tuberculosis - the same cause of death tagged to the bleeding scavenger who had slowly expired on the road.

Related Characters: Kalu
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Trying to make sense of the deaths of Kalu and Sanjay, Sunil and Abdul grew closer. Not quite friends-rather, an unnameable, not-entirely-willing category of relationship in which two boys felt themselves bound to two boys who were dead. Sunil and Abdul sat together more often than before, but when they spoke, it was with the curious formality of people who shared the understanding that much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain, Sunil, Kalu, Sanjay
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

…she kept thinking she saw smoke coming out of Meena's mouth and nose-as if the girl had set herself on fire from the inside. No, that was impossible. Rat poison only. Her mind was looping. If she screamed for help, the whole slum would know that Meena had attempted suicide, which would ruin her reputation.

Related Characters: Manju Waghekar, Meena
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

Once my mother was beating me, and that thought came to me. I said, “lf what is happening now, you beating me, is to keep happening for the rest of my life, it would be a bad life, but it would be a life, too.' And my mother was so shocked when I said that. She said, 'Don't confuse yourself by thinking about such terrible lives.' "
Sunil thought that he, too, had a life. A bad life, certainly—the kind that could be ended as Kalu's had been and then forgotten, because it made no difference to the people who lived in the overcity. But something he'd come to realize on the roof, leaning out, thinking about what would happen if he leaned too far, was that a boy’s life could still matter to himself.

Related Characters: Abdul Husain, Sunil
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis: