Fasting, Feasting

Uma Character Analysis

Uma is the novel's spirited, oppressed heroine, the never-married daughter of a middle-class family in rural India. At an early age, Uma disappoints her parents by enthusiastically pursuing school, despite her failing grades, and showing no interest in domestic duties. Against Uma's will, Mama and Papa remove her from the convent school early, forcing her to stay at home and take care of her baby brother, Arun. Uma's parents struggle to find a husband interested in marrying Uma, who isn't pretty, accomplished or flirtatious like her sister Aruna. After several failed marriage attempts, Uma's parents resign their daughter to a life at home taking care of them. Uma's parents neglect her physical and emotional needs, demanding all of her energies and allowing her few freedoms. Yet, she loves people, poetry, and wandering, and is fearless and curious about new people and situations. She has seizures throughout the novel, a characteristic that represents her differentness from her family and society.

Uma Quotes in Fasting, Feasting

The Fasting, Feasting quotes below are all either spoken by Uma or refer to Uma. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Houghton Mifflin edition of Fasting, Feasting published in 2000.
Chapter 3 Quotes

More than ever now, she was Papa’s helpmeet, his consort. He had not only made her his wife, he had made her the mother of his son (…) Was this love? Uma wondered disgustedly, was this romance? Then she sighed, knowing such concepts had never occurred to Mama: she did not read, she did not go to the cinema.

Related Characters: Uma (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Uma, Mama, Mira-Masi
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Uma
Related Symbols: Water / River
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

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?’

Related Characters: Uma (speaker), Mama (speaker), Anamika, Lily Aunty and Bakul Uncle
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

‘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?’

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Uma
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Uma’s ears were already filled to saturation with Mama’s laments, and Aruna’s little yelps of laughter were additional barbs (…) The tightly knit fabric of family that had seemed so stifling and confining now revealed holes and gaps that were frightening—perhaps the fabric would not hold, perhaps it would not protect after all. There was cousin Anamika’s example, the one no one wanted to see: but how could one not?

Related Characters: Uma, Aruna, Mama, Anamika
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Uma
Related Symbols: Water / River
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Uma, Mama
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

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.’

Related Characters: Uma (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Uma, Anamika
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Uma Character Timeline in Fasting, Feasting

The timeline below shows where the character Uma 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
The novel opens in the modern day with Uma, middle-aged and still unmarried, at home in India in the summer, taking orders from Mama... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
Uma remembers the only example of Mama having a separate life from Papa as being when... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Uma recalls that in Papa's younger days when he played tennis, he made a very serious... (full context)
Chapter 2
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...his car driven up to the front of the house. He declares that Mama and Uma need to get some exercise, so he takes them to the park. At the park,... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
The novel flashes back to the past, to Uma's childhood. Uma remembers when Mama became pregnant with Arun, and she recalls this as the... (full context)
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
The novel flashes back a bit further, and shows young Uma going to the catholic convent school. She is interested in everything she studies, but she... (full context)
Chapter 3
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
The chapter opens with a scene in the modern day, in the summer in India. Uma’s mother tells her to pass the fruit bowel to her father, but Papa remains still... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
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... (full context)
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
Uma settles into taking care of baby Arun. Mama and Papa attend nervously to Arun’s care,... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
...a few years, to Arun as a little boy playing in the bushes outside with Uma. She is sneaking unripened fruit and salt to him as a snack, and she reminds... (full context)
Chapter 4
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
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...home to attend a wedding. With few chances to be home alone, the now middle-aged Uma relishes the opportunity. She is in her room, cheerfully going through her jewelry and her... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
The novel flashes back to Uma’s childhood again, to her memories of visits from her distant relative Mira-Masi. To Uma’s great... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...carefully cooks her food separately in her own stone oven outside, and while MamaPapa frown, Uma feels honored if Mira-Masi lets her help in her food preparation. Every evening, Mira-Masi goes... (full context)
Chapter 5
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
In Uma’s middle age, her rebellious cousin Ramu surprises the family with a visit after adventuring at... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
The story flips back to Uma’s young adulthood. Mira-Masi has grown older and weak with fever. She comes to visit the... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
...out to be cousin Ramu and Arun, a young boy at the time. Ramu tells Uma that he has come on Papa and Mama’s instructions to reclaim her, for she has... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
...the local jeweler has come to MamaPapa’s house to show his spread before Mama and Uma, as he does every year. He makes the same joke he has made to her... (full context)
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
During Uma’s teenage years, all the female cousins in her family are nearing marrying age. Everyone’s favorite... (full context)
Chapter 7
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
In the modern day, Uma is visiting the family’s neighbor Mrs. Joshi, who offers Uma homemade ice cream. Uma quickly... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
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Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Right after Anamika’s marriage, Mama is sending pictures of Uma out to relatives and friends, who are all helping to find a marriage for Uma.... (full context)
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Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...more property for their estate—which they promise to share between both families. Eager to marry Uma off, MamaPapa agree, and give the dowry. But a few weeks later, they receive word... (full context)
Chapter 8
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
In the modern day, Mama wakes Uma to tell her that thieves are stealing guavas from their trees. Mama remarks that while... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
MamaPapa make a last effort at marrying Uma off. The old man from the newspaper ad accepts the offer, but when he arrives... (full context)
Chapter 9
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
Uma is at home alone in the modern day, while MamaPapa are out at a bridge... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...During the cocktail party that Aruna arranges for the family and in-laws the night before, Uma has a seizure in front of a group of extended family. That night, Aruna yells... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
...the house, and their manners—calling them “villagers”. During her visits, Aruna takes no pity on Uma, but expects Uma to care for them as the “maiden aunt”. Mama and Uma unite... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...visit home, Aruna brings her in-laws to bathe in the holy river near the house. Uma visits the local optometrist, who says she has a bad condition and must see a... (full context)
Chapter 10
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
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Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
In the modern day, Uma is invited to a coffee party thrown by Mrs. O’Henry, the Baptist missionary she admires.... (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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...to the University of Massachusetts finally arrives, Arun shows no excitement or relief, only exhaustion. Uma packs his bags while his father rests and his mother cries in pride, but even... (full context)
Chapter 11
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Uma is writing to Arun on behalf of MamaPapa, and Papa criticizes Uma for her slow... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...in the modern day, a phone call comes from Mother Agnes at the convent, inviting Uma to come to the Christmas bazaar to help Mrs. Henry run her Christmas booth. Against... (full context)
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
...the story of Mama’s friend and neighbor, Mrs. Joshi—one of few people who Mama allows Uma to visit. Mrs. Joshi arrived to the neighborhood as a bride years before. Unlike most... (full context)
Chapter 12
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
After MamaPapa have Uma write the letter to Arun, they begin ordering Uma to do many chores at once.... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Mira-Masi makes one of her final visits to Uma’s family. Uma asks the now aged Mira-Masi whether she has found her “little lord”, a... (full context)
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
Dr. Dutt comes to visit Uma’s house. Papa disapproves of Dr. Dutt as an unmarried woman with her own career, but... (full context)
Chapter 13
Gender and Social Roles Theme Icon
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon
It is the middle of the night, and the electricity has faltered. Uma fetches Mali, their elderly groundskeeper, who emerges from his small shack and goes into town... (full context)
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Plenty/"Feasting" vs. Want/"Fasting" Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...ashes down the sacred river that runs alongside their town - the very one that Uma herself twice tried to jump into. Lila Aunty and Bakul Uncle do not speak, or... (full context)
Chapter 17
Family Life and Individual Freedom Theme Icon
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...for the summer. Just as he begins to get desperate, he receives Papa’s letter in Uma’s handwriting, informing him that Mrs. Patton has offered her home to him for the summer.... (full context)
Chapter 27
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
Loneliness and Togetherness Theme Icon
...received the box with a brown shawl and a box of tea that his sister Uma prepared and sent to him, but he has no room in his bags for it.... (full context)