Voices In the City

Voices In the City By Anita Desai | Voices In The City Critical Analysis

Voices In the City
Voices In the City


            Voices in the city is the second novel written by Indian woman writer Anita Desai. It is a type of pessimistic novel cry, peacock. It has been first published in 1965 and won Sahitya Akademi Award. The story of this novel moves around the life of the white-collar class-educated people of Calcutta. From multiple points of view, the story of this novel mirrors the Indian social moves. It is a story of a Bohemian brother and his two sisters caught in the crosscurrents of changing social values.

            Voices in the city, as the little one suggests, deals with the voice of anger and the vision of fear in the city of Calcutta.

Present novel voices in the city are based on the times Desai spent in Calcutta in the early 1960s, and is a chronicle of the social changes in a modernizing India, exploring what happens when traditional, Indian ways of Life come into conflict with new ideas and the effect has on young people. Through this novel Desai presents the negative side of living in Calcutta, emphasizing the crowds, noisiness, frenzied, pace, and lack of places to think and reflect.

            The city is also presented as a place where young people are unable to find happiness in their lives or jobs due to constant pressure

About the Author

            The author of this novel Anita Desai is a great Indian novelist. Her published works included adult novels, children’s books, and short stories. During her literary career. She wrote approximately 16 novels. Some of the world-famous are – Fasting Feasting, The Village by the Sea, In Custody, Clear Light of Day, Bye Bye Blackbird, Fire on the mountains, and Where shall we go this Summar?” As a writer, she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times. She receive a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978 for her novel Fire on the Mountain.  She also won the British Guardian Prize for The Villages By the Sea.

Summary of Voices Novel

            The story starts with three siblings, Monisha, Nirode, and Amla. Monisha, the oldest is neurotic, sensitive, and prone to overthinking situations. She has married into a very traditional family, where she outwardly plays the role of a dutiful and devoted wife. However, internally, she is in deep turmoil due to the ugliness of her surrounding. She is unable to bear a child, one of her primary duties as a wife, which she interprets as an unwillingness to bring another life into a world that seems to her ugly and meaningless. At the end of the novel, Monisha commits suicide by burning herself alive in the bathroom.

            Though her sibling at first does not understand her seemingly out-of-character action, they soon find a diary that details her inner thoughts.

            Monisha’s younger brother Nirode also has trouble adjusting to life in Calcutta. At the beginning of the novel, he has a good job at a newspaper, which he soon quits because he cannot find the meaning of a made-for self, expression in work. Though his mother wealthy widow who lived in the countryside, offers to help him find a new job, Nirode rejects her aid, preferring to fail on his own.

            Nirode attempts several business, ventures including starting a magazine of his own and writing a play. However, all his attempts fail as his magazine folds and his play is rejected by theatre groups. He begins to equate the city of Calcutta with the goddess kali, a deity of destruction that kills creativity and self-expression.

Nirode attempts to model his existence after a painter named Dharama who seems to be at peace with his life in Calcutta. However, Dharma is a mysterious figure and Nirode is ultimately unable to understand his motivations. A visit from his mother finally resolves his conflict when Nirode dreams of his mother as Kali and realis that the goddess, with destructive powers, also has the power to preserve what is important.

            Amla the youngest daughter, struggles with many of the same issues as her sibling but is still relatively naïve and hopeful at the beginning of the novel. She also encounters Dharma, and he has a greater effect on her. Dharma considers Amla the ideal model for his painting drawing her into his circle of literate, cosmopolitan friends. At first, Amla is excited, but she soon grows tired of the cynical artists, as well as disillusioned when she finds out that Dharma is a philanderer who treats his daughter poorly.

            However, the experience also gives her a new perspective on her life, allowing her to come to terms with a dull job and boredom living in Calcutta. The death of her sister serves as a secondary shock that further motivates her to make changes in her attitude. Though her boring job at an advertising agency does not satisfy her, she finds something that does, making illustrations for a translation of the Panchatantra. This piece of ancient Indian Political philosophy appeals to her because she finds its message meaningful and its way of being conveyed, through fables about animals, to be interesting and creative.


            Thus, this novel explores the ways people try to find meaning in their lives. Sometimes, her character succeeds, as Amla does and sometimes they fail, like Monisha. So voices in the city is a brilliant novel, full of light and darkness, life and death.

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