1-A critic has said that one important measure of a superior work of literature is its ability to produce in the reader a healthy confusion of pleasure and disquietude. What are some of the sources of the "pleasure and disquietude" in Shiva’s Arms?
There are lots of sources of pleasure: sensory details, such as food, used to reveal national character, is one. Disquietude is shown in the culture clash itself, and all its sub-clashes, as when Amma ‘accidentally’ breaks Alice’s dishes and sends her running for the refuge of the art museum. And, of course, we feel disquietude when Alice breaks down.
2-Many plays and novels use contrasting places to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. In Shiva’s Arms, how do the two contrasting places differ in what each place represents?
America, as represented by Alice, is shown to be open-hearted and hospitable, willing to be changed by new elements. India, as embodied by Amma, wants to keep the ancient traditions intact at all costs. Ramesh has a foot in both worlds and represents both the success and failures in assimilation. Sam’s presence in the book demonstrates the push-back from his father’s choices. He allies himself with his grandmother’s heritage – a dramatization of the reactionary vs. the modern. Nela is perhaps a wild card. Her desire to live an authentic life prevents her from being as subversive, or submissive, as another daughter might have been. She chooses to live in exile.
3-One definition of madness is "mental delusion or the eccentric behavior arising from it." But Emily Dickinson wrote
Much madness is divinest Sense-
To a discerning Eye-
Novelists and playwrights have often seen madness with a "discerning Eye." What does Alice’s eccentric behavior consist of and how might it be judged reasonable?
Between “in-law invasions,” Alice feels free in her house. An insomniac, she roams from room to room at night, watching her many VCRs, or going into the kitchen to make fudge. She knows that once Amma arrives, she will have to accommodate her, and her nocturnal habits could be seen as a way of reminding herself that her home actually belongs to her. Another behavior that seems eccentric but has its own inner logic is the fact that when the ongoing animosities with Amma flare up, Alice seeks help from the ostracized Nela, hatching schemes to right the balance of power. She sees Nela as a kindred spirit and an ally against the woman who has rejected them both. A woman with no chemical imbalance might resort to a little one-upmanship with an over-bearing MIL , but Alice can only fight back in a subversive, unclear way that reflects her thinking disorder. Her behavior is reasonable if one considers the underlying disease. The way she finally steps back from her feelings about Amma and enlists Nela’s assistance in order to give the old woman the help she needs is a rational and altruistic act.
4-Morally ambiguous characters -- characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good -- are at the heart of many works of literature. Can Amma be viewed as morally ambiguous and why is her moral ambiguity significant to the work as a whole?
Amma’s behavior and beliefs reflect the divided loyalties inherent in a collision of cultures. She believes fiercely that her protectiveness toward her heritage is necessary and admirable. The fact that she hurts her beloved son by rejecting his wife is a price she is willing to pay to uphold an ideal of cultural purity. She educates her grandson in the old ways, also, not just to pass on that ideal, but to redeem her son’s sin. The fact that she drums her daughter out of the family for a romantic infraction, burns evidence of her existence, and demands that her family consider her dead, is a defensible stance in her mind, for the same reasons. And, of course, there is the ambiguity of Lord Shiva himself, Amma’s namesake, and the household god of both Creation and Destruction.
5-Often in literature, a character's success in achieving goals depends on keeping a secret and divulging it only at the right moment, if at all. In Shiva’s Arms, the family keeps a secret from Sam. How does the secret affect the plot?
The plot turns on it. Alice’s muddled revenge – evidence that she, at least, does not obey Amma – is
pre-empted by Nigel’s revelation that Nela is not only alive, but flourishing in a romantic relationship with him. Amma’s cruelty and the family’s collusion horrify Sam, whose reaction sets the climax in motion.
6- Nela becomes cut off from “home” and her experience is both alienating and enriching. How does this ambiguity illuminate the meaning of the novel as a whole?
It has been said that you can leave home all you want, but the idea of home stays with you. It colors your new beginnings. It’s wrenching, to decide what part of a divided heart goes, and what stays. The physical dislocation Nela experiences reflects the modern phenomenon of spiritual dislocation. For VS Naipaul, "finding the centre" was paramount. For Nela, it’s the threshold that holds the most fascination. The complexity at the heart of the momentous act of immigration becomes a theme in her life, positioned as she is in the archway - a good place from which to observe and to have a conversation with one’s own divided heart.
7-The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy endings. "The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from their readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events -- a marriage or a last minute rescue from death -- but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death." How is the "spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation" evident in the ending of the book significant to the structure of the novel?
Introducing the Christian theme of reconciliation connects to the Hindu belief system of endless birth and re-birth, exploring yet another duality. When Alice puts aside her history with Amma, she opens a future for them that reassesses the meaning of family in an unpredictable world.