Fasting, Feasting


Anita Desai

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Fasting, Feasting, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Theme Icon

Throughout the novel, we see conflict between old ways, or ‘tradition’ running against new ways, or ‘modernity’. Most frequently, tradition is associated with India/Rural/Home/Extended Family/ Poverty/Fasting and modernity is associated with Western/Urban/Individuality/Commercialism/Feasting.

MamaPapa, from rural, humble roots, hold fast to traditional values, placing less value on daughters’ educations and more value on daughters’ obedience and preparation for marriage. The nuns at the convent and the Christian missionaries represent a western perspective in India that challenges MamaPapa’s traditionalism. Uma’s parents see no need for Uma to go into the city with Ramu or to visit Aruna in Bombay, as they also see the urban settings as threatening.

Yet, the ‘Old/India’ and the ‘New/Western’ paradigms are constantly shifting. Mira-masi dedicates her life to traditional Hindu Gods and Goddesses, yet to MamaPapa there is something very dangerous and progressive about Mira-Masi’s free-roaming, unmarried life. Arun’s desire to be a vegetarian appears so old-fashioned to MamaPapa that it is almost defiant.

While western ideas may seem more liberating, its people more liberated, western society and the urban setting do not offer freedom from gender roles or social expectations. Aruna feels so pressured by the ideals of the wealthy urban India that she becomes anxious and obsessed with perfection. Through commercialism, wealth and image have become the new constraint. American society places high expectations on women: while Melanie is not being pressured by her parents to marry as Uma and Aruna were, she is pressured by American ideals of beauty to achieve unhealthy thinness—at whatever cost. Mrs. Patton, trying to be the picture of motherhood, feels she cannot pursue vegetarianism because her husband won’t approve. For the old-fashioned Mr. Patton, vegetarianism represents a threat to the American way.

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Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West appears in each chapter of Fasting, Feasting. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West Quotes in Fasting, Feasting

Below you will find the important quotes in Fasting, Feasting related to the theme of Tradition/India vs. Modernity/West.
Chapter 1 Quotes

One could be forgiven for thinking Papa’s chosen role was scowling, Mama’s scolding. Since every adult had to have a role, and these were their parents’, the children did not question their choices. At least, not during their childhoods.

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

No doors were ever shut in that household: closed doors meant secrets, nasty secrets, impermissible. It meant authority would come stalking in and make a search to seize upon the nastiness, the unclean blot.

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Mama was frantic to have it terminated. She had never been more ill (…) but Papa set his jaws. They had two daughters, yes, quite grown-up as anyone could see, but there was no son. Would any man give up the chance of a son?

Related Characters: Mama, Papa
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Chapter 19 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Arun
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

When she finally brought herself to tell him that Arun was a vegetarian and she herself had decided to give it a try (…) he reacted by not reacting, as if he had simply not heard, or understood. That, too was something Arun knew and had experience of (…)—his father’s very expression, walking off, denying any opposition, any challenge to his authority…

Related Characters: Arun, Papa, Mrs. Patton, Mr. Patton
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 23 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Arun
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

But what is plenty? What is not? Can one tell the difference?

Related Characters: Arun (speaker)
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis: