The Parrot in the Cage by Mulk Raj Anand
In The Parrot in the Cage by Mulk Raj Anand we have the theme of conflict, desperation, loneliness, hopelessness and struggle. Taken from his Selected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Anand may be exploring the theme of conflict. Rukmaniai is suffering from the conflict that came with the partitioning of India. She is an old woman who is not able for the type of change that came with the partitioning. If anything she is left in a desperate state and is reliant on others to help her. Some who do and others who chose not to. There is also a sense that Rukmaniai is miserable. She knows that she is not self-sufficient and is relying not only on others but on the Deputy Commissioner who appears not to be too concerned about the plight of Rukmaniai or those who have incurred difficultly with the partitioning of India. The only sense of hope in Rukmaniai’s life is the parrot in the cage. Yet she does not have the energy to talk to him for sections of the story.
However it is interesting that despite the struggles that Rukmaniai faces she does when she is a little stronger think about the parrot’s well-being. Even if it is only at the end that the street vendor agrees to give the parrot a gram. The fact that Rukmaniai is elderly might also be significant as Anand may be using an elderly character to highlight that some of the most vulnerable were part of those who incurred difficulty during the partitioning. They had no place to live and their livelihoods were taken away from them. Something that was not appreciated by those with a responsibility for the partitioning. Those with a responsibility (Deputy Commissioner) most likely thought more about their own lives then they did the citizens in which they had a responsibility to. There is also a sense of hopelessness in the story. Rukmaniai not only has nobody that she can rely on but she has no idea what will happen to her either. She may have had peace of mind before the partitioning. This is no longer the case. With each new day bringing more troubles on Rukmaniai.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. In many ways the parrot (in the cage) mirrors Rukmaniai. She too like the parrot is trapped with no place to go or without any alternatives that might improve her life. The fact that the parrot calls out one of Rukmaniai’s friends phrases and Rukmaniai doesn’t answer could suggest that though Rukmaniai might have once had friends. This is no longer the case. They too in all likelihood have been effected by the partitioning. If anything Rukmaniai has no control over her destiny. She has little or no money. Her friends are not there to help her and she is relying on a man (Deputy Commissioner) who appears to be more concerned about himself. In reality Rukmaniai is in a lonely and hopeless place. With very little if any light shining on Rukmaniai’s future. If anything Rukmaniai is a victim of the partitioning and her only companion is her parrot and a reliance on the goodwill of others.
The end of the story is also interesting as Anand does shine some positivity on Rukmaniai’s life through the act of goodwill of the street vendor. However this act of charity may only be fleeting and may not last long. With the reader suspecting that life will only get harder for Rukmaniai. She does not have the tools needed to survive what has happened nor does she have the resources needed to start her life afresh. It might also be important that Rukmaniai lies unconscious after trying to see the Deputy Commissioner as symbolically this could suggest that Rukmaniai has been defeated by the last piece of hope she had. Symbolically she has been killed by the lack of action from the Deputy Commissioner and the desperation of others to try and talk to the Deputy Commissioner. Helping to knock Rukmaniai off her feet. If anything there is no system in place to help people like Rukmaniai. They will be left to fend for themselves. Which again suggests to the reader that Rukmaniai has a very bleak future ahead of her. Not only is there an external conflict (partitioning) but there is also an internal conflict within Rukmaniai. She has to learn to survive on her own without the assistance of others. Something that may prove difficult for an elderly woman. The decisions of others have had a drastic and dramatic effect on Rukmaniai’s life.