The Portrait of a Lady by Khushwant Singh
In The Portrait of a Lady by Khushwant Singh we have the theme of innocence, friendship, love, connection, kindness, selflessness, respect and acceptance. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the story is a memory piece and after reading the story the reader realises that Singh may be exploring the theme of innocence. The narrator finds it hard to imagine that his grandmother may have once been young and pretty. Instead the narrator views his grandmother as always being old. This may be important as it suggests that the narrator looked upon his grandmother with the eyes of an innocent child. Which he was. He does not see it possible that his grandmother could have been a different person as all he has known is for his grandmother to be old. It is also noticeable that the narrator loves his grandmother very much and if anything both have a close and loving friendship. The grandmother at all times when needed is there for the narrator. This too may be important as it not only suggests a strong bond between the narrator and his grandmother but also the fact that they have a strong connection with one another. The grandmother is also patient as one would expect someone who is older to be. She waits for the narrator in the temple while the narrator is in school.
In many ways not only is the grandmother there for the narrator but she has dedicated her life to him when she has needed to. It is also noticeable that the grandmother is dedicated to God. Something that is clearer to the reader by way of the fact that the grandmother is constantly praying. Just as she feels connected to the narrator likewise the grandmother has a connection with God. It might also be significant that the grandmother has a connection with both the village dogs and the sparrows she feeds. In many ways this may place a spotlight on the grandmother’s personality. Suggesting that perhaps the grandmother is somebody who cares for all living creatures. If anything the grandmother may be selfless. She thinks of others (including animals) before she thinks about herself. Where many may wish to be idle or do nothing in their old age this is not the case when it comes to the grandmother. She appears to put others ahead of herself. Particularly when it comes to the narrator.
The fact that the narrator considers his grandmother to be beautiful is also interesting as it is clear that the he is looking further than just an individual’s physical beauty. He is giving depth and affection to his grandmother rather than just viewing her as an old relation who lives with him. In reality the grandmother is an important part of the narrator’s life and not someone who he takes for granted. It might also be symbolically significant that the grandmother is permanently dressed in white as white in literature is often used to signify purity. If anything the narrator may feel as though his grandmother is not only beautiful but that she is also pure. It is also clear to the reader that the narrator respects his grandmother. Throughout the story the narrator never once criticizes his grandmother. He may find it hard to believe that she was once young but he still nonetheless never takes advantage of her kindness nor does he cause any problems for her when his parents are in the city.
The end of the story is also interesting as Singh appears to be exploring the theme of acceptance. There is a sense that the narrator is quick to accept that his grandmother is dead. Something that may have been made easier by the grandmother herself being fully conscious and accepting of the fact that she was about to die. It may also be a case that the narrator does not feel sadness because his grandmother has died. He knows that she has lived a good life even if it is a life that he cannot fully imagine. If anything it is possible that the narrator is left not with sadness but with memories of happiness of the times he spent with his grandmother. The narrator has lived his life going from being dependent on his grandmother to eventually being independent of her. However it is clear to the reader that the narrator will never forget his grandmother. He is grateful to her for everything she has done for him and knows that she has made him into the man that he is today. In reality the narrator’s greatest influence in his life has not been his parents or the things he may have learned in school but rather it is his grandmother’s influence in his life which has shaped the narrator. From a young boy to a grown man she has always been there for him.