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Sadaat Hasan Manto was one of the most consequential and controversial writers of his times. He has produced over 20 collections of short stories, a novel and a series of radio plays; despite such prowess, he was severely criticized for his erotic style of writing and was subsequently charged with obscenity six times. Many of his most well known works have portrayed and managed to personify the uncomfortable and unacknowledged dark side of the human psyche. Manto often projects a very basic sense of human impotency and the absolute denial of humanitarian values along with the dwindling concept of “humanity” itself. He wrote dark humorous satires bordering on the offensive and disturbing. Apart from showing the moral afflictions from which humanity suffered, emerging from our internal demons, he also showcased the collective madness pursued by even the simplest of individuals.
No part of human existence was untouched by him. He draws his characters from the margins of the society like prostitutes, pimps, alcoholics, self loathing rapists and wrote in a language that is abusive, scatological but also real. He vehemently attacks the conventional norms of society and propriety. He spoke about topics which the world would even refuse to acknowledge, he provoked thoughts whose existence the common man would deny and made every reader ill at ease with his strikingly honest representation of the dark sinister human mind.
‘Thanda Gosht’ is a perfect example of Manto’s controversial and unconventional subjects coupled with his infamous eroticism oriented writing along with the brutally honest depiction of man’s innate animalistic desires. The story not only depicts the form of violence and the state of victims but he also humanizes the perpetrator. The story begins on a dull yet gripping and a rather suspicious note as Manto sets an atmosphere that makes the reader anticipate something dramatic to come forth. He begins the story “past midnight” in a “strange and mysterious quietness” which sets an eerie background and the symbolic depth of the darkness around gives a sense of speculative and doubtful occurrences in the past.
The air in the room seems to be of the questionable and skeptical kind. The initial uncomfortable silence between the protagonist Esher Singh and his wife Kalwant Kaur – where he is trying a failing attempt in “unraveling his thoughts”- strikes both Kalwant and the reader as peculiar as she tries to gauge his demeanor with her “sharp eyes”. There is a certain vague presence of an overriding sense of guilt on Eshar’s part as he carries his usual dagger with an unusually unstable and “trembling” hand along with the fact that he is evidently “unable to bear” the heat of her “piercing eyes”.
On a closer reading of the text, one can figure that there is definitely something more than what meets the eye as his usual strong front is shaky, he seems nervous and anxious in Kalwant’s presence, he tries to seek shelter in her, he is constantly moving his “tongue over his dry lips” and he seems to be ill for the past several days. Further along the story, we learn that he hasn’t returned home for the past “eight days” and Kalwant had no idea of his whereabouts. She tries coaxing him into blurting the truth out where he attempts to make up convincing stories for her to believe but in vain as she is sure that she smells “a rat”. He obviously seems to be uncomfortable with the questioning and feels as if someone has “assaulted” him. To get her to divert from the topic, he suggests that they “play cards” which can be inferred to be something that they evidently haven’t done in a while, considering Kalwant’s affirmative reaction to the sudden suggestion.
What follows is a series of foreplay-inducing acts which partially satisfies Kalwant and in order to be completely satiated she asks Eshar to “throw the trump card” which he miserably fails in doing, much to Kalwant’s annoyance and agitation. This leads her to believe that her husband has been unfaithful, spending time with a “whore” who, according to her, has “sucked” her husband “dry”. She firmly questions him with “utter determination” and warns him against lying as she threatens to “cut” him “to pieces”. Before he could even sufficiently react to her satisfaction, she picks up his own dagger and stabs him in the throat.
Although a little surprised at the sudden “frenzy” he concludes this fatal act to be “for the better” which is by far the most prominent reference in the story of Eshar losing his will to live. There is a mention of a sense of remorse further in the story as he ironically recollects that he had killed “six people” with the very same dagger. In immense pain, he then goes on to narrate the experience of his own bestiality as he had participated in the loot, arson, and rape, and that he was a perpetrator of violence. As part of the mob that looted a Muslim household, he had killed six members of the family and the seventh individual was spared, as she was an extremely beautiful young girl. He carries her away as he reasons with himself that he “enjoys” Kalwamt Kaur everyday and that he should “taste a different fruit”.
The offensive state and definition of masculinity is projected here through Eshar as women were considered to be nothing but objects meant to be enjoyed and fruits meant to be tasted and rape seen as a tool of showcasing their power. Just as he is throwing his “trump card” he realizes that she is dead, that she is cold meat or “thanda gosht”. The story ends on an ironical note with Eshar breathing his last seeking comfort in the shade of a woman, killed by his own dagger and his body being as “cold” as the girl he imposed himself on. The moral defeat and fragility of the perpetrator of violence redefines the masculine status of Eshar where he loses his idea of machismo identity.
In one part of the story, when Kalwant is probing Eshar to confess, she questions if his act of adultery was with his mother and his response was a weak denial whereas in reality such an accusation should have been dealt with aggressive retaliation considering the macho identity that the likes of Eshar thrive on. The origin of this questionable existence of such an incestuous relationship and also the beastly desire of rape can be traced back to Sigmund Freud’s theory of Psychosexual Stages of Development. His theory mentions that there comes a stage in childhood called the phallic stage when the child develops sexual attraction for the parent of the opposite sex.
Although the child eventually outgrows this fixation, some part of libidinal energy is always carried on in inhibited terms. The young boys go through Oedipus Complex in which they experience infantile sexual passion for their mother and they fear that the punishment they will receive for this is castration and thus experience castration anxiety. Young girls on the other hand go through the same for their fathers but here they experience Electra Complex which stems from the lack of the male organ and thus happen to go through what is called penis envy and consequently start viewing their mothers as their role models.
On a deeper thought and introspection of this theory coupled with the oppressed and objectified status of women – which Manto tactfully tries to counter through the unconventional dominance and a strong sense of self-respect on the part of his female character, Kalwant – in the time this story was written, one can relate the possession of penis to the possession of power and consequently the girl experiencing penis envy having the lack of power and learning to live her life entitled to being powerless like her mother has been. Consequently, man can be seen to feel powerful and dominant for the sole reason that he is a man and in possession of his penis and that rape is almost a way to exert power over the weaker sex. However, contrary to this theory and the time that the story is set in, the female character Kalwant is not shown to be powerless at all.
She literally ends up slitting her husband’s throat for committing adultery. In this sense, Manto does not lag behind in the ideologies of feminism and can be seen to be a tad bit ahead of his times. Another aspect of the story is when Eshar realizes the depth of his bestiality and refuses to acknowledge the act, thinking it will go away if not pondered over. He feels terribly ashamed and is almost in a trance as to how could he indulge in something so ghastly. The explanation of this can be found in Carl Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious and Archetypes. According to the theory there are seven archetypes or universal images of how and in what light people view other individuals around them.
One of the archetypes that he mentions in his theory is the shadow. The shadow represents all the bad that there is in a person, it personifies all that an individual refuses to acknowledge about himself. This contains our repressed thoughts and ideas that we refuse to integrate into our outward persona. The dark subject and the sensitive source of the story can somewhat find a parallel between the story and the implications and significance of Carl Jung’s depiction of the Shadow Archetype.
Although there can be no satisfactory explanation or conclusion of Eshar’s inevitable demise, one can say that the overpowering of his id over his superego coupled with his his internal conflicts led to his eventual fate. In an attempt to conclude this paper, I would use a rather symbolic and metonyic quote that Jung says in his description of the shadow. “Taken in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries.”
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