The Role of Identity in Determining One’s Loyalty and Betrayal

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The Role of Identity in Determining One’s Loyalty and Betrayal
Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies is a novel about life in colonial Indian prior to the firs Opium War. In the novel, Ghosh used imagery and symbolism to support the narrative. The sea of poppies, for instance, illustrates different characters in the novel that similarly exemplify people living in India during the European colonization. Sea of Poppies is the first book in Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy. It follows a myriad of characters with different experiences and personal struggles as they all converge in the Ibis, a schooner used by its owners to trade opium. All the characters in the Ibis travel across the Indian Ocean to a land unknown where they would have to rebuild their lives again after leaving their own home and settling in this new land. From this plot alone, we could surmise that the characters each represent different kinds of people in varying situations confronted with issues regarding their identity. As formerly noted, all the characters went aboard the Ibis to leave and sail towards an unknown place, which means that they would have to share the challenges of having to rebuild their lives and start over in an unfamiliar environment. It is for this reason that one of the main themes of the novel relate to identity, which would then be the point of reference in the following analysis of other themes in the novel including loyalty and betrayal.
Although Sea of Poppies explores various themes such as culture, identity, individuality, and freedom among others, the need to narrow down the scope of the discussion brings us to focus on the theme of identity in the novel. The discussion would also focus on two overlapping themes – loyalty and betrayal in relation to the theme of identity. Hence, the following discussion explores aspects of the novel that illustrate incidences of loyalty and betrayal in relation to identity and what these mean in the narrative and the meaning or significance that readers would gain from reading the novel.
Role of Identity in Determining One’s Loyalty and Betrayal
The characters in Sea of Poppies aboard the Ibis belonged to different socio-economic groups in their former lives. The socio-economic conditions and lived experiences of the characters shaped their identities including their beliefs, views and perspectives, and actions and behavior. Overall, identity is a result of various external factors such as culture, beliefs and traditions, interactions with other people including the family, friends, and individuals in the community, social expectations, history, and other environmental forces. Prior to going aboard the Ibis, the characters in Sea of Poppies all exhibit pre-established identities. Nonetheless, when they went aboard the Ibis, the characters were thrown into a situation where they had to make adjustments or changes in their identities so they could move forward with their own goals or plans. All the characters that went aboard the Ibis, for instance, took on different identities after running away from their old lives by either changing their names, making up stories about their lives, and impersonating people.
In some cultures, people believe that some events are premonitions that predict the future and allow people to see what will happen next in their lives. Consequently, culture is tied to personal growth and development, and therefore influences behavior and identity. In the novel, culture nourished belief in premonition, which is why Deeti interpreted the vision of a gigantic shipping vessel as a sign that someone will come and change her life. Furthermore, Deeti believes in fate or destiny, which is why she was open to anything that could happen after she saw the shipping vessel. Days later, Deeti’s husband dies and later on, she finds an opportunity to leave Ghazipur with Kalua. As a result of her belief in premonitions and fate, Deeti believed that she was meant to elope with Kalua to Calcutta. Since then, Deeti remained loyal to her husband, which illustrates the influence of identity to one’s loyalty, in her case, Deeti’s loyalty to her second husband.
Overall, Deeti’s story illustrates the impact of culture on identity particularly in terms of the character’s beliefs. Due to culture, Deeti believed in premonitions and destiny, such that the things that are about to happen constituted those destined to happen to her. Hence, when Deeti saw the shipping vessel, she believed that her life was about to change. Consequently, when opportunities arose for her to change her life, she went along believing that meeting and eloping with Kalua, for instance, was destined to happen for her. Within this context, Deeti remained loyal to Kalua as a result of her identity tied to culture. Due to Deeti’s belief as part of her identity and the influence of the premonition, she married Kalua and remained loyal to him believing they were destined to be together. Furthermore, when Deeti embarked on the journey aboard the Ibis, she believed that something new and good were about to happen to her because she believed that she was destined for change in her life.
During the Ibis’ journey, Deeti takes on a new persona. Deeti changed her name to Aditi, which is an important aspect of the narrative when we are studying and exploring identity. “Aditi” is the name of a female Hindu deity who is known for her wisdom, independence, and ability to lead. When Deeti changed her name to Aditi, the symbols and values attached to the name consequently illustrated the changes that she went through. Throughout the journey, Deeti imbibed and developed traits and characteristics that changed who she was as an individual. Hence, by taking on a new identity as Aditi, the significance of the name influenced Deeti’s growth throughout the story.
In the Ibis, Aditi formed close relations with other people aboard the shipping vessel. As Aditi, Deeti adopted admirable traits and characteristics that reflect Aditi as the Hindu deity. As Aditi, Deeti was trustworthy so much so that other women aboard the Ibis went to her for support. Many of the characters including Heeru, Munia, and Sarju considered her as their friend. Aditi remained loyal to them in return.
The novel Sea of Poppies, is set in India in 1838, in the days leading up to the Opium Wars. The book explores the lives, and the language, of an unlikely collection of men and women – princes, sailors, merchants, pirates, peasants, and runaway girls – all of whom eventually converge on an American schooner called the Ibis. The novel presents itself as a tale of opium and pirates and cruelty and love, but at its best, Sea of Poppies is a celebration of language – its idiosyncrasies, its prejudices, its humor, cruelty, freedom, and, finally, its generous, open-armed invitation to escape. Deeti, who has never seen the sea or any of its vessels, has a vision of a great ship with two triangular sails and a figurehead in the shape of a graceful, curved-beaked bird. She rushes from the river to her own tiny shrine where she draws a quick, crude picture of the ship to add to a collection of family relics and religious statues.
The title of the novel refers to the waving fields of white flowers that rolled over nineteenth-century India. Deeti, and villagers and farmers throughout the region, are forced, first by the British East India Company and then by the imperial government itself, to cultivate poppies for the opium trade. In 1838, in their attempt to right the balance of trade between China and Britain, the British were illegally selling about 1,400 tons of opium to China per year. Those 1,400 tons were grown and harvested and packed in India and shipped on vessels like the Ibis. Having notoriously turned China into a country of opium addicts, the British also, in a less familiar but equally lucrative and destructive part of their trade policy, turned India into a country of opium suppliers and themselves into the largest drug dealers in the world. They remained loyal to themselves because they made huge profits and betrayed China by eroding their culture and destroying them. Chinese attempts to block the importation of opium, which led to the Opium Wars, are one side of the story. In Sea of Poppies we find Indian farmers, traders, sailors, and investors caught up in the enormous wave of opium-fueled nineteenth-century imperial greed. They are all part of another side of the same sorry history.
For Deeti, in her poor village, opium permeates every moment of life. Her hut needs a new roof, but there is no thatch to repair it: the fields that once grew wheat and straw are now filled with “plump poppy pods.” (Vegetables, too, have been displaced by the opium crop. The British “would allow little else to be planted; their agents would go from home to home, forcing cash advances on the farmers…. If you refused they would leave their silver hidden in your house, or throw it through a window.” At the end of the harvest, the profit to the villagers would come to just enough to pay off the advance.) Her husband, who works in the opium factory, is an opium addict. She discovers this on her wedding night, when he blows opium smoke into her mouth and allows his brother to rape her unconscious body because he is incapable of performing his conjugal duties. The father of her child, she comes to realize, is “her leering, slack-jawed brother-in-law.”
When Deeti’s husband dies, she is forced to set out on a dangerous journey that eventually leads her to the Ibis, the ship she saw in her vision. In fact, the Ibis is the improbable fate of all the major characters, a magnet powered by the opium trade that attracts victim and oppressor alike. A schooner from America, the Ibis began its life as a “blackbirder” for transporting slaves. Not fast enough to escape the American and British ships that, following the formal abolition of the slave trade, now patrol the West African coast, the Ibis has come to India on a new mission. “As with many another slave-ship, the schooner’s new owner had acquired her with an eye to fitting her for a different trade: the export of opium.”
The Ibis exists not only to unite his incongruent characters on their journey into Diaspora. It is also a symbol of the India, and indeed the world, that readers of some of his earlier work will recognize — a world composed of human needs and desires, of aspirations and betrayals, all of them historically, geographically, morally, and inextricably linked. Ghosh’s India could never fit on a map; it requires a globe, a spinning three-dimensional sphere extending in every direction at once, where every path circles back to its starting point.
From the relationship of the women in the ship, we can deduce the fact that women needed each other for support morally and emotionally. For instance, Deeti married Kalua because she needed a man in her life to protect her from prowling men and other possible perils a lone woman has to face. This is unacceptable to their fellow villagers. In order to escape Deeti’s in-laws, she and Kalua become indentured servants on the Ibis – a ship which now becomes their new home and even their parents. … this vessel that was the mother-father of her new family, a great wooden mai-bap, an adoptive ancestor and parents of dynasties yet to come: here she was, the Ibis. (Sea of Poppies, 356-57).Deeti, a widow who assumes another name and the (lower) caste of a new love as they escape to¬gether on the Ibis Kalua, the ox man from the neighboring village, comes to her rescue from the burning pyre of her husband. He expresses his true feelings, when Deeti asked her about saving her, “It was myself I saved today, he said in a whisper. Because if you had died, I couldn’t have lived; jindana rah sakela …” (Sea of Poppies, 179) . Deeti feels freed from a marriage that she was dragged into forcefully w.............

Type: Essay || Words: 4168 Rating || Excellent

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