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Concept of Arranged Marriages in Short Story 'The Smell'

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Oppressions in Ginu Kamani`s ‘The Smell’

“The Smell” is a short story that gives the readers the point of view of a young Indian girl, known as Rani, who lives in a household that practices vegetarianism and witnesses a tradition of an arranged marriage that occurs in her family. Ginu Kamani, the author, wrote the story based on her experience living in both Bombay and the States which allow her to explore the differences in cultures and traditions between the two places. This essay will address how different oppressions are being portrayed in “The Smell”.

The first oppression which is shown in the story is the inequality between the characters or more precisely, the grandmother, known in the story as B.A., and the cook. In India, they have a system known as the Caste system which “divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion)” (BBC, 2019). The caste has control over the religious as well as the social views of Hindus in which the people who are in the upper-caste group, known as the Brahmins, are seen to have more authority over the lower-caste people, known as the Dalits (or the outcastes). With this knowledge, we can identify the rank and social status of the family which can be seen through B.A.’s attitude towards the cook and the servants as well. Rani’s whole family can be considered as the upper-caste group (the Brahmins) while the cook is in the lower-caste group (the Dalits).

In paragraph 40, the children were not allowed to “be alone with servants” without any adult supervision of a family member as B.A. does not trust the servants to be with the children. Furthermore, there is a use of simile, ‘like’, in the line “You’ll turn them into useless beggars like yourself!” (paragraph 42) which made a comparison between the cook and those who do not have a job. B.A. is saying that the cook is no different than beggars. The line also seems to imply that the cook acts as an infection towards the children and they might get affected if they were to be in the same vicinity as him. Also, the way B.A. said these lines “Have you no shame? These are children from a good family” (paragraph 42) indicates that the cook came from a bad family which may have resulted in him suffering at that time with his current position and the tone B.A. used in these lines were very much trying to offend and provoke the cook.

The second oppression appearing in “The Smell” is based on the family’s belief in vegetarianism as the idea can be seen being repeatedly mentioned throughout the whole story. Although it is not specified which beliefs the family follows, the lines in paragraph 65 which say “meat is not good for women” and “pollute your unborn son” actually give the readers an idea of what belief the family lives by which is Hinduism. The consumption of animals, in the beliefs of Hinduism, may harm a person either by “causing unnecessary pain and death produces bad karma (ill-effects on oneself as a consequence of ill-treatment of others)” (Lam, Tobiassen, Nayar and Agarwal, n.d.). B.A. holds a strong belief in vegetarianism as she was taught about it at a younger age. The belief is then passed on from generation to generation and it has especially affected the females in the family to keep them “clean”. For example, B.A’s “strict training” (paragraph 57) has changed Sonia’s sense of smell to become more sensitive around strangers which may result in her vomiting if there is a hint of a meat scent around her.

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As vegetarianism is strongly practiced in the household, it was quite a challenge for both Rani and her brother to consume non-vegetarian foods. To eat some, they would have to hide in their servant’s room. In paragraph 37, Rani said “It’s going to be just another morning, and B.A. won’t sniff out the eggs today” this would suggest the idea that it has become a daily routine for them to have their non-vegetarian breakfast without their grandmother’s acknowledgment. Moreover, the difficulty of eating meat freely in the household does not only apply to both Rani and her brother but the difficulty was shared with the servants too. In paragraph 48, although the cook did not eat any kind of meat and cooked for the siblings, the grandmother has a sensitive smell which results in her being able to smell meat around him. Her line in the paragraph “This is how we live in Bombay, suffering the sins of our servants” would indicate how lower-caste people were giving problems and troubles to the upper-caste people. This could also mean that for every sin committed by the lower caste; any punishment that they receive would also affect the people in the upper caste even though they did nothing wrong.

The final oppression which can be seen in the story is within the family. Family relationships are valuable to Indians and most of the connections amongst the members tend to be very close-knit. “In Hinduism, the family is more important than the individual and the individual is nothing unless he or she is part of a family” (Hays, 2008). In the story of “The Smell”, even though there is a lack of evidence and statements showing the closeness of the family members towards each other, there is one apparent clue that may help the readers to know how close the family is and that is through the tradition of an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages are common in India and this tradition is usually affected by caste considerations such as the person’s social status or religion which limits the choices for those who are about to get married either marriage of the same caste rank or marriage of the same religion.

In the case of “The Smell”, the arranged marriage of Sonia, a cousin of Rani’s, is based on their religion. Rani is opposed to the idea of marriage and it can be seen from how she reacts to Sonia’s marriage from paragraph 58 to paragraph 63. When she heard the news about Sonia turning down marriage to a “sinful, polluted, meat-eating man” in paragraph 58, Rani’s tone gives an expression that she was ecstatic. The reason being was not because of the belief they held strongly about eating meat but this will marked as a break of their family tradition. However, Rani’s celebration of Sonia’s freedom from marriage did not last long as Sonia’s future husband was being replaced by someone who was said to be “hundred-percent-vegetarian” (paragraph 61) and she did end up getting married. Upon hearing this, paragraph 63 illustrated Rani’s feeling of betrayal from her cousin, and her tone in one of the lines of the same paragraph “I blamed B.A. for making Sonia a robot” expresses her anger towards her grandmother.

Another piece of evidence that shows that the tradition of arranged marriage was impossible to be avoided in the family was in paragraph 22. In response to Nila’s statement regarding Rani and her family consuming meat, Rani said to her that “girls who don’t eat meat always get married”. The word ‘always’ was italicized in the sentence which tells the readers that she emphasized the word. This meant Nila, who practiced vegetarianism, could not avoid marriage no matter what circumstances as she was still “clean” whereas Rani, who consumed meat, would not have a chance to be married off to someone as she was believed to be “unclean” due to her consumption of meat. With this being in mind, it seems that no one in the family was free from the tradition of arranged marriage unless they were meat-eaters.

In conclusion, the characters in the short story “The Smell” faced oppression in different ways. The first oppression is the social status of the characters in the story which is based on the Caste-system in India. Next is the oppression relating to their religious beliefs which is the practice of vegetarianism and it is highly encouraged for the female family members in the household as this would mean they are “clean”. And the final oppression appearing in the story is within the family in which they must follow the traditions that were made for the family.

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Concept of Arranged Marriages in Short Story ‘The Smell’. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/concept-of-arranged-marriages-in-short-story-the-smell/
“Concept of Arranged Marriages in Short Story ‘The Smell’.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/concept-of-arranged-marriages-in-short-story-the-smell/
Concept of Arranged Marriages in Short Story ‘The Smell’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/concept-of-arranged-marriages-in-short-story-the-smell/> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Concept of Arranged Marriages in Short Story ‘The Smell’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/concept-of-arranged-marriages-in-short-story-the-smell/
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