The Acceptance of Women in "In Custody," "Once Were Warriors," and "The Remains of the Day"

Phoebe Koch, English 27, Brown University, 1997

In Custody, Once Were Warriors, and The Remains of the Day all argue that only by including women and accepting their strengths can the male protagonist achieve a true sense of strength and power. By excluding the other sex and stifling women's sexuality, characters such as Deven, Jake and Stevens have closed themselves off from the possibility of true enlightenment. Any hope for the improvement in the lives of these men necessitates the sacrifice of a false sense of security and limited definitions of strength. In order to realize the power of women, these men must abandon their feelings of superiority and dominance over the other sex: often the only source of power their lives. Deven, Stevens, and Jake all seem afraid of taking this step -- letting go their fears and opening up to the world around them. Such a release includes embracing the opposite sex and uncovering the strengths of their other halves. For Deven, such a move would involve facing "complexities with which he would not have known how to contend" (71). Deven's insecurity and unwillingness to risk his "grey anonymity" (71) is similar to the fears of Jake and Stevens. After living lives in pursuit of intangible goals, in denial of the present with all its positive and negative aspects, these men have closed themselves off from true happiness and self-actualization.

The positive results of overcoming ones fears and exposing one's self to female compassion are evident in a peculiar episode in In Custody. At one point during his initial visit with Nur, Deven experiences a feeling which stands out in Desai's book for its curious nature. When Deven has the opportunity to recite Nur's verse, his voice takes on a "tender, almost feminine lilt."(44) As he stands swaying by Nur's bedside,

...he began to be overcome by the curious sensation that he was his own mother, rocking back and forth on her heels as if she half-sang, half-recited a story in the night, and that the white bolster-like figure on the bed beside him was a child, his child, whom he was lulling to sleep. He understood completely, in these minutes, how it must feel to be a mother, a woman. He had not known before such intimacy, such intense closeness as existed in that dark and shaded room. (45)

Deven's ephemeral feelings of "closeness" and "intimacy" stand out in a narrative characterized by isolation. Through his connection with the female figure of his mother, Deven experiences a closeness normally so foreign to him. The pleasant sensations that overcome him as he recites Nur's verse, however, are accompanied by "the welling up of a drop of sadness that... trickled through him, moistly." For Deven is aware that "this moment that contained such perfection of feeling, unblemished and immaculate, could not last, must break and disperse" (45). Even in the few euphoric moments of Deven's existence, an inner voice constantly reminds Deven that the moment will be gone and he will be left in despair once again. He realizes he does not have the courage to face these feelings and make the move towards human connection.

In Once Were Warriors, it is only after Beth throws Jake out of the house that he begins to acknowledge his dependence on her. Perhaps this realization, coupled with his desperate homelessness and increasing isolation, leads to Jake's first personal connection in the story: his friendship with the fifteen-year-old Cody McClean. By accepting someone into his personal space Jake finds a renewed sense of peace, evident in his less-violent dreams. Sleeping with the boy in his arms, Jake woke up "amazed each time that his dreams were alright. Not mad violent" (182). Thus only by opening up to another can Jake abandon his preoccupation with hate, anger and violence.

Overview In Custody Remains of the Day Once Were