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The Issues of Humiliation and Shame in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss

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The Issues of Humiliation and Shame in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss  essay

According to Wikipedia, colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components. It was linked to the spread of tens of millions from Western European states all over the world. Colonization basically leads to a country to impose their own traditions, languages, customs of another country.

British were successful in colonizing India. Colonization was a way to show the racial superiority by the western countries. Although the colonization is over in India, it has left its effect. As Faisal Al Yafai said, the effects of colonialism do not end when the last troops depart. They linger like a disease, festering in the body politic and in the minds of the formerly oppressed. Indeed it is shown perfectly in the novel.

British colonization changed the way Indians behaved and what they believed. It showed them the English way of life, their tastes, the modernity.

The admiration of English lifestyle is actually the consequences of Indians believing that the Western is superior. They believe if they follow the British culture then they’ll be a part of that superiority. Same goes for Indian culture, which some of Indians believe is inferior and should be avoided or forgotten, which Desai shows us through Jemubhai’s character.

One of the major reasons is also the poverty. The poor people in India are somehow treated badly by the people who represent the upper-class. Which push them into believing that they need to be wealthy to earn respect and to be wealthy, they must study or work in Western. The poverty is precisely represented by the character the cook.

In this book, we notice that mostly, rich people follow Western culture. It is because only they can afford to follow that culture, whereas people like the cook can only dream about that, which leads us to say that the admiration of English lifestyle is basically the admiration for the wealth. And it goes on like the circle below.

In the first place, if one has the desire to become wealthy, he’ll probably start working. And as most of Indians think there are less opportunity in India, they mostly go abroad for studies or for works.

Eventually they end up following other cultures and technologies for a better living. Which lead other people to envy and make them crave the similar success.

In the inheritance of loss, Desai explains this through the situation of the cook and the judge.


People who immigrate to other countries for money, opportunities, studies, they end up struggling a lot because of culture shock, loneliness, rejection. In this novel, Desai represents the cultural encounter faced by the characters. Biju who works as an illegal immigrant, doesn’t earn much because he’s treated as a second class citizen. Desai shows through Biju that a culture might be valued, but their people aren’t. For example, Indian cuisine is appreciated by the westerns, but are Indian people appreciated as well?

Biju changes his job one after another mostly because he’s not accepted. Through the whole novel, Biju gets humiliated for being poor or Indian. For example the owner of the restaurant where Biju works, buys him shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and deodorant because according to the owner’s wife Biju stinks. This action demonstrates humiliation towards Biju. Similar happened to Jemubhai when he went to England for his education. He was accused for stinking like curry which is again a humiliation for Jemubhai and his culture, as curry basically represents Indian culture.

Not only that, but also people in England make fun of his accent because it had a rhythm and a form of Gujerati. He becomes isolated because no one respects him because of his Indian-ness. In response to this humiliation he starts to reject his own identity and begins to behave like a western. He begins to acknowledge himself about British culture and British poets. His reaction to the humiliation was a success as he was treated nicely later on.

However it makes him envy westerns and hate Indians. Colonisation pushes people like the judge to idealize another culture where they’re never accepted, where they’ll always be a second class citizen. And on the other hand they refuse their own culture. As a result, nor they belong to the Western culture, neither to the Indian culture, which makes them feel isolated. As we know, the judge mostly lived all his life alone, is a foreigner in his own country. His loneliness is mainly because he belongs to no cultures.

On the other hand, Biju, who is also humiliated in the USA, reacts completely opposite. And he found that he possessed an awe of white people, who arguably had done India great harm. (p77). He basically analyzes people around him, finally he realized how the Indians fascinate the western people, whereas Indians weren’t even wanted by the westerns. As Desai mentions, Saeed applied for the immigration lottery each year, but Indians were not allowed to apply. Bulgarians, Irish, Malagasys– on and on the list went, but no, no Indians. This fact illustrates that there’s recisism in the USA mostly towards Indians. It is also mentioned by Desai. It was horrible what happened to Indians abroad and nobody knew, but other Indians abroad (P138).

Despite the degradation, Biju doesn’t follow the Western culture, but instead he gives priority to his own values and principles of his family and his religion. For example, he quits his job at a restaurant that serves beef, steak, as in Hindu religion cow is sacred. They worship cows, which is why Biju started working in an Indian cafe. But eventually Biju gets tired of being in the shadow class which means being an illegal immigrant in New York. He returns to India. This action shows that unlike Jemubhai, he actually gives up on Western.

Similar to that, Gyan is another character who rejects the Western culture. His broken relation with Sai is also an outcome of his hatred towards Western culture, and towards Indians who follow it, just like Sai who represents the privilege. Gyan begins to criticize Sai for following a culture that is not hers. But actually has been imposed due to colonization. You are like slaves, that’s what you are, running after the West, embarrassing yourself. It’s because of people like you we never get anywhere. It shows his hatred towards Indians who follow Western culture.

Gyan’s behavior towards Sai is similar to Jemu’s behavior towards Nimi but the cultures that they are supporting are different. In Jemubhai’s case it’s British culture and in Gyan’s case it’s Indian culture. Which shows people like Gyan actually contradicts people like Jemubhai.

Gyan also mentions that even if Indians fascinate Westerns, the people from West have a different perspective for Indians Don’t you have pride? Trying to be so Westernized. They don’t want you!!!! Go there and see if they will welcome you with open arms. You will be trying to clean their toilets and even then they won’t want you p(174). Gyan’s thoughts are actually the situation of Biju in USA. No matter what Biju does in USA, he’ll always be a second class citizen to the American. But Gyan’s thoughts also contradict the cook’s perspective. Gyan thinks to have pride means to boycott other culture, whereas, the cook feels pride by following it.

However Gyan’s disgust for Western culture is not only because he dislikes that culture, but also because he can’t afford to follow it, because he actually belongs to the poverty class. He’s actually jealous of the people who are privileged and are able to follow those cultures. For example Sai’s response to Gyan criticize If this is what you’ve been thinking, why didn’t you boycott the cheese instead of gobbling it down? Now you attack it? Hypocrite! But it was very nice to eat the cheese when you got a chance, no? (p259). It proves that Gyan’s attack on the cheese in the first place was only because he can’t afford to eat cheese, but he actually likes them. Accordingly, if he was enough wealthy to follow a western culture, he would most probably follow it. Gyan also speaks English which isn’t his own language. This act also contradicts his loathing towards Sai for following Western culture as he, himself does so.

To conclude, in this book, Desai shows us two kinds of people – the people who are privileged and the people who suffer because of the poverty. Privileged people like Jemu, Sai, Lola, Noni, they accept the Western culture with open hands as they can provide to have a Western lifestyle. On the other hand the poverty class represented by the cook, Biju, Gyan. They fascinate the Western culture and make it their goal, or they hate that culture and want it to be wiped out from their country. The hatred of the poverty class is mostly for the privileged as the privileged class always treats them unfairly. As a result of this jealousy and envy, the poverty class either wants to become like the privileged class or they want the privileged class to be removed.

In this novel, Desai illustrate through certain characters how humiliation and shame give people the desire to change themselves or to make an immense distance from that shame. The authors of Shame and the motivation to change the self said after a grand research on human emotion that there was evidence that shame elicits a combination of motivations to change the self but also to distance oneself from the emotion-eliciting situation. In the inheritance of loss we discover how Biju ends up distancing himself from Western and how Jemubhai ends up changing himself according to the humiliation.

Throughout the whole novel, we realize how consciously or unconsciously Indians fascinate Western cultures and eventually follow them.

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