The Inheritance of Loss examines the dynamics of two relationships in the colonial and post-colonial world: the judge and Nimi’s, and Sai and Gyan’s. These relationships develop many years apart, but they contain similar patterns. When there is equality between the partners in each relationship, the relationships remain gentle and even loving. However, when the men in these relationships begin to believe themselves superior to their female partners, any challenges to this superiority result in violence. But rather than supporting this violence or viewing the events only through the male lens, Desai focuses on the women in these relationships and paints them in a sympathetic light. The book thus takes a critical attitude of the misogyny often found in Indian culture, and exposes how it reinforces sexist and oppressive attitudes in its men.
Before the judge leaves for university in Britain, he is shy in his new marriage with Nimi, even showing room for love. When he returns from Britain, however, he is armed with a sense of superiority that causes him to criticize Nimi for her cultural background and eventually leads him to physically and emotionally abuse her. Initially, the judge had been hesitant with his new wife: she had been fourteen and he had been twenty when they married. The night of the wedding, she had cried in terror as he tried to have sex with her, and so he restrained himself. Over the ensuing days, the judge’s family mocks him and eventually grows worried upon realizing that they have not had sex, and they tell him to force her. Instead, the judge takes Nimi out for a bike ride—perhaps the single loving experience of their relationship. When the judge goes away to university their marriage is essentially forgotten, but upon his homecoming their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Nimi unthinkingly takes the judge’s powder puff and his family makes fun of him for being so distraught when looking for it. When the judge realizes that Nimi had taken it and embarrassed him, he grows violent, and rapes her in fury. These violent actions are supported by the misogyny in the surrounding society as well: the judge’s family views the girl as “too spirited” and they lock the door to the bedroom to make sure that she cannot escape. His violence continues: when he discovers that she had been squatting on the toilet seat, he pushes her head into the toilet bowl. As a result, Nimi grows dull and invalid from her misery, and her skin breaks out. She stops caring for her appearance, which gives the judge more license to criticize her because her loss of beauty is seen an affront to him. When Nimi unwittingly becomes a part of a welcoming committee for an opposing political party, the judge calls her ignorant, hits her, swings a jug of water into her face, and rains down punches on her. When he sends her back to her family, fearing that he might kill her, she is the one who is criticized for angering her husband. Thus, not only is Nimi the victim of physical and emotional abuse of her husband, but society also sanctions the attitude that this abuse is her own fault.
Sai and Gyan’s relationship begins from a more affectionate place, but eventually Gyan’s own political awakening leads him to view Sai as entitled and childish, and he begins to abuse her as well. At first, the two fall in love innocently when Gyan comes over to tutor Sai in math and science. The tension builds during their lessons until he asks her to kiss him, and she does. They call each other pet names, treat each other as equals, and seem unconcerned with the political rage that is rising around them. They visit various cultural institutes, have tea parties, and take in views of the valleys below. Yet when Gyan begins to see the perspective of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), he starts to feel superior to Sai, who has been sheltered and privileged all her life. Gyan sees a procession of protestors one day and is accidentally caught up in it. He feels comfortable in the masculine atmosphere and is ashamed when he remembers his and Sai’s tea parties, viewing them as adolescent. Armed with this superiority and rage, he begins to be annoyed with Sai and eventually cruel to her. He betrays her by telling the GLNF that there are guns in her house. This leads to the episode in which boys from the GLNF to come to their house and threaten to kill Sai and the judge if they don’t hand over their guns and give them valuables from the house. When Sai goes to confront Gyan for abandoning her and also betraying her to the GNLF, they argue. Though they match each other verbally, eventually Gyan throws Sai into a bush and beats her with a stick in an attempt to prove his dominance. Sai then worries that she will be called a lunatic, and that Gyan will be cheered on for his conquest. Like Nimi, Sai becomes the victim of violence in addition to societal misogyny, which only reinforces men’s abilities to disrespect women.
Though the two primary romantic relationships in the novel begin under very different circumstances, they both end in violence. In both cases, the relationships become more violent as the men become invested in political causes, drawing a link between the absence of women from the political sphere and the abuse of women in the home. When the women attempt to claim equal status to their male partners, this is viewed as an affront, demonstrating that the culture of violently-reinforced patriarchy has remained unchanged across these two time periods. In this way, Desai also suggests that this pattern of violence within supposedly loving relationships is a pervasive one, symptomatic of the culture at large rather than something specific to these individual relationships. Yet by revealing the women’s concerns and portraying their suffering sympathetically, Desai is exposing and critiquing the root of misogyny not only in Indian culture, but in all patriarchal cultures.
Gender and Misogyny ThemeTracker
Gender and Misogyny Quotes in The Inheritance of Loss
The dowry bids poured in and his father began an exhilarated weighing and tallying: ugly face—a little more gold, a pale skin—a little less. A dark and ugly daughter of a rich man seemed their best bet.
It was a masculine atmosphere and Gyan felt a moment of shame remembering his tea parties with Sai on the veranda, the cheese toast, queen cakes from the baker, and even worse, the small warm space they inhabited together, the nursery talk—
It suddenly seemed against the requirements of his adulthood.