Bharati Mukherjee’s “The Management of Grief”

Please address one or more of the following questions in your response.  Remember to keep these brief–about a paragraph or so in length.

1) How does Mukherjee reveal the enormity of the narrator’s loss over the first page and a half?

2) Is the tone consistent throughout this story?  How so (or how not), and why (or why not)?

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18 responses to “Bharati Mukherjee’s “The Management of Grief”

  1. 1) I think to me what reveals her sadness the most is her avoidance of the situation. I feel like she’s narrating as if she’s stepping back and looking into some one else’s life, she’s detached. She’s not directly telling us what’s happened, but rather is describing other things (as if to distract herself).
    Also, towards the end of the second page we start getting the story when she says she can hear her boys and Vikram cry.

    2)I think that the tone was consistent through out the story. It starts as calm and stays that way through out the whole story. The narrator heals slowly and calmly; all the events just seem to flow and I feel that the pace of the story doesn’t change for the most part. Even when she hears about the sharks or sees the illusion of her husband, she stays calm.

    • Thanks, Amina. The narrator does seem to be calm and detached–it might be interesting to think about how Mukherjee deals with the “first person problem” here, and hints to the reader that Shaila’s own perceptions might not be strictly accurate.

  2. Ryan MacGillivray

    1. I would agree with Amina in that the narrator reveals the story in a roundabout way. She is clearly dethatched from the situation due to grief and also the valium. For the first page and a half you don’t really get a sense of how great a loss she has suffered because there are no descriptions of overwhelming grief and I think that is due to her mental state.
    2. I think the tone is consistent throughout the story, she is clearly in an odd state of mind, she is distracted and not really concentrating on one thing, her mind seems to jump around.

  3. The author reveals the narrator’s loss by the subtle actions of other characters in the story. For example, Mukherjee describes Dr. Sharma pulling the narrator, Shaila, aside and asking her if she is worried about money. Immediately there is some reference to trouble in the narrator’s current situation. Also, on the following page, Shaila claims that her prescription pills do in fact calm her down but in a peaceful way rather a “deadening quiet” (418). Although the loss has not yet been specifically identified within the first two pages, Mukherjee uses the characters and other elements to show that Shaila is in a current state of loss, which is a great way to slowly unravel the problem.

    Is the tone consistent throughout this story? How so (or how not), and why (or why not)? I would say the tone somewhat varies throughout the story. There is an overall sense of sadness and mourning, but as the plot unravels the tone shifts to more of an exploratory/courageous tone, beginning with the identification of Shaila’s boys. Also, when Kusum and Shaila are trying to get through customs with the coffins the tone of the story really becomes bold when Shaila is screaming at a man in uniform. She claims, “Once upon a time we were well-brought-up women; we were dutiful wives who kept our heads veiled, our voices shy and sweet” (424). This reveals that the heavy loss really made an impact in these women’s lives, which goes back to the underlying tone of grief. At the end of the story, the tone becomes more optimistic and mysterious as Shaila has accepted her fate. She hears the voices of her family that tell her, “Your time has come. Go be brave” (430).

  4. 1) I think the first page and a half capture the enormity of Shaila’s loss in the description of the overwhelming busyness of the scene. I agree that it is somewhat detached from Shaila herself, from her emotional state, and that the loss is mostly shown through the actions of the other characters, but I also think it is the house filled with people and noises that sets the scene for how great a loss it was. And I think this is true to the beginning stage of loss – that at first, those who have lost are surrounded by attempts to comfort, by people who tell stories and make tea and try to find explanations and ways to help, that try to distract through “mundane details.” The depths of grief tend to reveal themselves later, when these distractions have ended, when the overwhelming busyness has subsided. The pills, of course, also add to this idea of managing grief, as Paul pointed out. I thought the lines “I was always controlled, but never repressed. Sound can reach me, but my body is tensed, ready to scream” really captured the enormity of her loss. I thought that was the pivotal moment when the reader first feels her grief, beyond the knowledge of loss.

    2) I do agree that Shaila is a very calm narrator, but I think the tone of the story overall does not remain constant. I felt that the story moved in stages, like grief itself, and that Shaila becomes this really multifaceted character throughout her learning to manage her grief. I thought the line “I am trapped between two modes of knowledge…I flutter between two worlds” really summed up the inconsistent nature of the story (in a good way), that questioning of what is the best way to approach loss – knowledge versus ignorance, “acceptance” versus holding on, moving on versus remembering, science versus religion. I thought it was a smart choice to have her encounter so many others who experienced the same kind of loss because it brought in all of these different perspectives on it, and allowed her to consider each of these ideas. “We must all grieve in our way” was a really interesting, and I would argue successful, approach to this story. Overall, of course, there is sadness in this story, but it is also a story about hope, and about moving on, and about exactly what that means. And it means different things for different individuals, and I think that’s why the story isn’t always constant. It is a reminder of how wavering and uncertain life and death can be.

  5. I agree with Frankie. The author displays the loss as extreme through the other characters. Shaila is in a state of denial and it is seen when she is describing the other characters. She describes the other characters emotional state as “grieving”. Yet she describes herself as calm and in control. She using these “pills” as a way to hide from reality. The author’s tone varied as the character went through the stages of denial. At the beginning it was really calm but as you go toward the end you get a sense of sadness. I think she finally comes to accept her boys may in fact be dead when she is speaking with the other couple who refuse to get help.

    • Thanks, Deborah. I think you’re on to something, and I’d be interested in seeing different points in the story where you (or a classmate!) can point to the tone shifting from calm to sadness.

  6. 1.) That “There are a lot of women I don’t know in my kitchen…” would give a hint that this is a huge tragedy. When an event that effects a specific community occurs, I would expect that there would be a communal response. But there is no such thing as a communal response that is specific to the personal grief that would happen because your husband and children died. Though the narrative voice is calm, we are also given the information that there is a doctor (Dr. Sharma) there to help Help meaning medicating Shaila. Her reaction is modified by the mood-modifying drugs that she is given but the grief is still intact.

    2.) I think that there is a change in the tone of the story once Shaila has had vision of her husband and he tells her to “You must finish alone what we started together.” There is an urgency to make a change. Shaila has actually been given some freedom because the men in her life have died. I know that sounds terrible. I just think that, to a certain extent, it’ s the intent of the author to tell us that.

  7. 1. Over the first page and a half we learn about Shaila’s loss as she describes what’s happening in her house and her own feelings throughout that scene. We realize something has happened from the start of the story, but we don’t realize the enormity of it until the end of the second paragraph when someone says: “…they’re saying it could be an accident or a terrorist bomb.” The characters are listening to radios and watching TV, which tells us that whatever happened was enough to get media attention. So as the narrator, Shaila, reveals the terrible tragedy that has befallen her, and as her house is full of the hustle and bustle of other people making tea, talking, watching TV, etc., she narrates it all with a surprising amount of calmness. This calm, though we are told she has taken some pills, seems to reflect her complete shock and disbelief of the loss of her family.

    2. I agree that the tone is consistent throughout the story–calm and composed–because the narrator remains so. Mukherjee is able to maintain Shaila calm by allowing her secondary characters to transmit fear, anger, and speak in exclamatory sentences; like Kusum who went “stumbling and screaming across her lawn” with the terrible news of the plane crash. In the scene at the bay in Ireland, Shaila says: “I could die here, too, and be content,” while Kusum ends up sobbing. When Shaila has to go and identify her son, Vinod, from a series of pictures, she calmly responds: “It’s not him. I’m his mother. I’d know.” And at the end of the story that same calm is present in her simple, matter-of-fact language.

    • Thanks, Julia–good point that Shaila narrates not only the actions of the people at her house on the morning of the tragedy, but also the emotional reactions of the other relatives. It would be interesting to consider how it was useful for Mukherjee to give this calm, somewhat distant perspective to her central character.

  8. 1. I agree with almost everyone above. The author reveals the enormity of the narrator’s loss in the beginning by using the actions of the other characters. It shows that it is such an enormity because it has affected so many people. Almost everyone lives are disrupted. The reader gets a feeling that things in the story are not right at all from the very beginning. The author displays a sense of avoidance of the main issue but also displays a sense of urgency at the same time. I think that the third paragraph on page 418 that begins with “the phone rings and ring” displays so my tension and urgency among the situation and in the household and the intensity of it.

    2. I did not feel that the tone was consistent throughout the story. I think that the in the beginning it was a surreal tone. It was as if the narrator herself was moving in slow motion, with all of the action going on around her. This was most likely due to the fact that she was on those pills. Then, later in the story she is in denial and moves into a sense of anger. On page 424 she screams at the security at customs in the airport. The changes in tone and mood(as many have already said) represent the grieving process and the emotions that correspond with it.

  9. I think the first page and a half revealed a lot about the enormity of the loss. Everyone’s actions seemed a bit hectic which you would expect in learning (and experiencing) a tragedy. People are moving around, no one is really staying in one place, all the characters are trying to keep busy and stay distracted. Julia pointed out that everyone was watching the TV and listening to the radio so we learn that whatever happened attracted media attention. From this you get a sense that something big occurred. Shaila’s calmness somewhat polarizes the other’s actions. As Frankie and Paul said, you still realize that something is wrong because she needs to take pills to manage her feelings.

    Shaila’s mind does tend to jump around, but I do think the tone of the story was consistent throughout. You would expect her not to be in a stable state of mind, but Shaila manages to stay clam. As several people mentioned, she along with the other characters are going through the grieving (and denial) process. This does change the mood and the emotions of the characters, but I don’t think it changed Shaila’s tone. She is very matter-of-fact even in her emotional breaks.

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