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Q. The Protagonists inability to communicate in Nirmala and Oedipus Tyrannus.

Communication is a skill through which individuals convey their ideas to others and express their feelings and emotions. This communication could be verbal or non-verbal; it could take place through language and gestures. The person who communicates has to word his message in precise language, if not it results in a communication gap leading to misunderstanding and other complications. These complications sometimes take place inadvertently for the person who communicates, as he is not careful in the choice of his words or sometimes his mental condition interferes with his communication. The mental condition is adversely affected by suspicion, fears, phobias and other agitating factors. In such conditions the quality of message conveyed suffers and creates more problems. A close study proves that it is a lack of communication in Premchands Nirmala originally written in Hindi, and Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus a Greek tragedy that leads to tragic events. The situation in Nirmala is that Nirmala, a young girl of fifteen is married off to an elderly widower named Munshi Totaram and the reason behind such a marriage is insufficient dowry. Her husband is a lawyer with three sons by his first wife. He is old enough to be her father. Nirmala is not comfortable with her husband because of the age difference and the absence of love between them. Due to this, an effective communication does not prevail between them. On the other hand in Oedipus Tyrannus, the city of Thebes is ravaged

by an irascible plague and Oedipus has approached to seek a solution to curtail famine and the miseries of the people, but the Delphi Oracle has proposed that the murderer of King Laius should be expelled from the city. Due to this proposition Oedipus has questioned everyone about the murder but he is not answered by anyone. And thus, lack of communication to help Oedipus unearth the truth prevails between him and others. As one reads these both texts, one can ascertain the lack of communication in the beginning of the texts undeniably, but utterly in different forms. In Nirmala, the young Nirmala is not allowed to express her views on her marriage and without asking her opinion, arrangements for her betrothal are made. Im telling them all right, but whos listening? 1 At this juncture we can clearly identify that Nirmala is not given any opportunities from the beginning to communicate and so her life becomes unbearable due to the loveless union. Similarly when Oedipus Tyrannus opens, the protagonist Oedipus is ignorant in spite of his eagerness to find the culprit. Thus the play begins with questions with no answers, which leads to lack of communication and the downfall of Oedipus. Lack of communication leads to further complications in the plots. Nirmala is never able to love her husband wholeheartedly. She did not think of him in terms of love but as someone deserving of respect.... What she minded was the physical proximity of Totaram. 2 Nirmalas eldest stepson Mansaram is a young boy and she prefers the
1 2

Premchand. Nirmala. Oxford University Press, New Delhi 1999. p.3 ibid., p.39

company of the adolescent Mansaram to that of her husbands. This ability of Nirmala to connect with Mansaram creates a feeling of suspicion in her husbands mind about an illicit relationship between them. He creates a rift between them and sends the boy away to a hostel where the boy gradually becomes physically ill and ultimately dies. Even here Nirmala is unable to prove the misunderstanding wrong and prove herself innocent. She would have liked to explain her own conduct but she could not. If shed said she was only doing what her husband desired, she would be revealing that which should remain private between her and her husband. Normally, she was of a frank and forthright nature, unafraid of speaking the truth, but the delicacy of her present situation forced her to stay quiet. 3 She also cannot scold any one of the sons because she is not the real mother, only a stepmother. Thus there is no effective communication between her and the three sons. Rukmini her husbands widowed sister also creates problems for her. Before Nirmala came, she was in charge of the household affairs so she sees in Nirmala, a rival in power sharing. In another instance, Nirmala though has the feeling that it is Jiyaram, her second son, who has entered her room and stolen her ornament box, she fails to raise an alarm with a fear of creating an unpleasant situation in the family. How could she possibly accuse Jiyaram of theft? After all what else would the world say other than that false accusations were being levelled against a poor motherless child? Im the one whos name will be besmirched, she thought4 Therefore she cannot communicate with any member of the family and she has to suppress her own feelings.
3 4

ibid., p.68 ibid., p.157

Like Nirmalas story, the play Oedipus Tyrannus deals with the theme of unnatural sexual relationship between Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. The tragedy in Oedipus life takes place because of the curse of the Gods. It is so fated that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Hence to avoid his fate, Oedipus runs away from Corinth where he was brought up by his foster-parents whom out of ignorance he treated as his real parents. This is the first instance where out of fear he flees without communicating his problem with his parents. There are several instances in the play where Oedipus cannot communicate effectively due to feelings of fear and suspicion. Oedipus tries to communicate but due to his power no one wants to communicate with him. The citizens of Thebes love Oedipus and do not want his downfall at any cost and probably they want to avoid an invidious situation, as Oedipus is a son and husband of the same woman. Thus lack of communication prevails between Oedipus and others. He suspects Creon, his brother-in-laws, intentions. He also blames the blind prophet Teiresias of joining hands with Creon to dethrone him. Because of his preconceived notion he blames them. Due to Oedipus offensive words, Teiresias avoids telling the truth which results in an ugly confrontation between him and Teiresias. Oedipus like Nirmala is a victim of the circumstances which go against him. On the other hand, as a ruler he desires to end the woes of his subjects suffering from the pestilence by questioning his people. Sophocles describes the woes in the following question of Oedipus: What? You know, and yet you refuse to speak? Would you betray us

and watch our city fall helplessly to her death? 5 He also wants to find out the truth about the slayer of King Laius, his father. In the beginning he suspects both Creon and Teiresias and he asks Teiresias: You will not tell? You monster! You could stir the stones of earth to a burning rage! You will never tell? What will it take? 6 On this question, Teiresias asserts: Know yourself, Oedipus. You denounce me, but you do not yet know yourself.7 But later on Oedipus gradually realizes how the prophecy about him has come true. He is so shocked that he blinds himself. Thus, lack of communication in Oedipus case is partly due to the fear of the prophecy, the lack of cooperation from the bearers of truth, the suspicion about his kith and kin and partly due to his arrogance. Therefore the causes due to which both the protagonists meet their tragic ends can be easily distinguished. Nirmalas downfall is due to her early victimization of the circumstances and her emotional frailty, which prevents her from voicing opinions. She attempts to silently conform to the norms of society. On the other hand, Oedipuss downfall is pre-destined and thus he cannot change his fate. Ultimately, it is Oedipus arrogant attitude and ignorance regarding the truth that leads to his downfall. Though the causes are different, the outcome is homogenous, that is the tragic fall of the protagonists is caused by revelations One can also say that both the protagonists are in touch with their inner voice. This is true because the protagonists in both the texts are not able to communicate or express their feelings to others, they only have one choice
5 6

Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. W.W Norton & Company, Inc, New York 1970. p.9 ibid., p.9 7 ibid., p.9

that is to suppress their feelings within themselves and try to find answers for their own questions. Both these works have the prevalent theme concerning lack of communication but have varying backgrounds, different plots and different character types. These works have similarities and contrasts. The similarity is that the truth is not conveyed among the characters. Nirmala does not want to communicate the truth and she accepts her fate blindly, on the other side Oedipus is ready to communicate with others but others do not wish to communicate with him. Therefore the protagonists of both the literary works meet a tragic end due to the incapability of conveying the truth.

Bibliography and References


Premchand. Nirmala. Oxford University Press, New Delhi 1999. Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. W.W Norton & Company, Inc, New York 1970.