The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh was born in Kolkata, India to a Bengali Hindu family. His father was an officer in the Indian Army prior to Indian independence. Ghosh attended a boys' school in India and then attended college in both India and England at Delhi University, the Delhi School of Economics, Oxford, and St. Stephen's College. He began to write novels during the 1980s, and his first novel, The Circle of Reason, immediately garnered international acclaim and interest. Several of his novels have won international awards, and he famously withdrew his 2000 novel, The Glass Palace, from the Commonwealth Writer's Prize on the grounds that the English language requirement was unfair. Ghosh has taught literature in the United States at several universities and was named a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow in 2015. He and his wife, fellow author Deborah Baker, have two children and live in New York.
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Historical Context of The Hungry Tide

Although the island of Lusibari is a fictional place, many of the historical events that the novel mentions actually happened. Sir Daniel Hamilton was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1859. He was successful in developing a cooperative estate on the Sundarbans island of Gosaba, though the estate fell apart after Hamilton's death in 1939. The 1979 Morichjhãpi massacre was a consequence of the partition of the colony of British India in 1947. During partition, a number of poor Hindu people attempting to enter India from East Pakistan were settled in a refugee camp in central India, rather than allowed to settle in the Indian state of West Bengal. The refugees attempted to settle in West Bengal in 1978, but the new Left Front government declared that the refugees couldn't be considered citizens of West Bengal. About 40,000 refugees then marched south and settled on the island Morichjhãpi in the Sundarbans, which was protected forestland. After several months of blockades and violent police action, the Indian government began to forcibly evacuate the refugees in May 1979. Though the true death count remains unknown, it's possible that up to a thousand people were killed after being brutalized by the police. As Nirmal and Piya both notice and mention in the novel, the Sundarbans suffer ecologically from farming, overfishing, and poaching of native species. Attempts to curb tiger attacks have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful, and as many as fifty people still die every year. However, the Bengal tigers are a protected species, and there's a total ban on killing or capturing wildlife in the Sundarbans, save for some fish and other invertebrates. Despite these attempts, biodiversity continues to decline. Ghosh himself has also said that while tigers certainly pose a problem for people in the Sundarbans, their true enemy is crushing poverty.

Other Books Related to The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide draws heavily from two literary works: the Bengali folktale The Glory of Bon Bibi, and the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke's 1923 epic poem, The Duino Elegies. The Duino Elegies was and still is extremely influential in the literary world; the British poet W.H. Auden makes references to Rilke and The Duino Elegies in several of his poems, and Thomas Pinchon's 1973 novel, Gravity's Rainbow, also draws imagery from the Elegies. Several other novels by Indian authors take place in the Sundarbans, including Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and short story author Kunal Basu's "The Japanese Wife." The Hungry Tide also mentions the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic and seminal Hindu text. Ghosh has said in interviews that he's especially interested in the area around the Bay of Bengal and as such, many of his novels take place in the region and explore the consequences of England's colonial rule over India. These novels include The Shadow Lines, which explores the events of the partition of India and their consequences, as well as his Ibis trilogy, which explores the earlier colonial history of the area.
Key Facts about The Hungry Tide
  • Full Title: The Hungry Tide
  • When Written: 2002-2004
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: 2004
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Environmental fiction; postcolonial Indian literature
  • Setting: The Sundarbans, 1950 to the early 2000s
  • Climax: The cyclone hits Garjontola and Lusibari, killing Fokir in the process.
  • Antagonist: The Forest Department and Dilip Choudhury ; more broadly, poverty, sexism, the government, and the natural world
  • Point of View: Third person and first person

Extra Credit for The Hungry Tide

Tiny Man-Eaters. Though the Bengal tigers of the Sundarbans are considered to be the same species as the Bengal tigers that populate the rest of India, they tend to be much smaller—while Bengal tigers can weigh upwards of 700 pounds, tigers from the Sundarbans have weighed in at a petite 160-330 pounds. Scientists speculate that their small size has to do with the smaller prey available in the Sundarbans, and might also suggest that they've adapted to the specifics of their mangrove forest habitat.

Symbiotic Relationship. Irrawaddy river dolphins have been known to cooperate with fishermen, driving fish into nets in exchange for some of the fishermen's catch. In some cases, individual dolphins or pods of dolphins work closely with particular fishermen or fishing villages again and again. Legal reports from the late 1800s state that dolphins often jumped ship and helped rival fishermen, leading the dolphin's "regular" fishermen to take their rivals to court in hopes of recovering a share of the fish that "their" dolphin helped to catch.