IB Extended Essay English A1
How is the decadence of the protagonist Darashikoh portrayed in Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke?
Table of Contents Introduction The title “Moth Smoke” Mental Decadence Moral Decadence The role of relationships Daru – Crude wine Personal Characteristics Drug Addiction Role of Society Conclusion Bibliography 4 6 6 7 7 10 11 12 12 15 15
How is the decadence of the protagonist Darashikoh portrayed in Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke? Introduction The consciousness of the fatality of decline brings about restlessness and a need for self examination. In an article Lewis Rice quotes Mohsin Hamid, “It does expose decadence, but it exposes self-criticism.” Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid is set in modern day Lahore, Pakistan in the summer of 1998 against a backdrop of nuclear confrontation and a miasma of corruption, is a “portrait of contemporary young people in Pakistan”. However, if read critically it probes the social inequality in Pakistani society and the antagonism of the less fortunate in a society where the upper classes are thoroughly corrupt and lurk beneath a surface of material comfort and effortlessness , immune from the socioeconomic conditions. Although the theme of decadence has been portrayed by Hamid at different levels, the decadence of the anti-hero, Darashikoh is the most transformative aspect of the novel. The research question is how is the decadence of the protagonist Darashikoh portrayed in Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke? This essay will discuss how the development of the novel is coupled with Darashikoh‟s subsequent downfall which could be linked to Darashikoh‟s‟ gradual transformation into a Byronic Hero and which techniques the writer has utilized to portray this. The aspects of personality in which Darashikoh has disintegrated and the importance of the decadence to the writer‟s intention of “self criticism” will then be analysed. The factors that contribute towards Darashikoh‟s tragic end will be highlighted and the factors that contribute greatest to his moral atrophy will then be critically evaluated. Although Darashikoh‟s fortune faces decadence on a whole but it can be divided into three areas namely, mental, economic and moral decadence. Darashikoh‟s character analysis has captured my attention, to make it the focus of this essay, because it is testimony of Hamid‟s
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profound skill as a painter of life-like characters with whom the readers can relate and feel sympathetic towards. The novel is structured similar to a murder trial where witnesses justify their actions. The opening pages of a novel contain a monologue of a character in the prison cell and the name of the character is not disclosed. On reading further, the reader realizes that the narrator of the first chapter is Daru. After that brief chapter of about a page, the next meeting of the reader with Daru is in the courtroom where he is presented in front of the judge. This chapter of the book, addressed to the judge, has been titled, “Judgement (before intermission).”It gives a glimpse of the ending of Daru‟s tale. The courtroom scene brings along with it a foreboding of Daru‟s tragic fate. When the accused, Daru comes in the courtroom, he is described as, “A hard man with shadowed eyes, manacled, cuffed, disheveled, proud, erect. A man capable of anything and afraid of nothing.” Daru is further introduced as, “He is the terrible almost hero of a great story: powerful, tragic, and dangerous.”(8) The journey Daru has undergone from an educated, sensitive, civilized man who is in control of his life to,“a hard man with shadowed eyes…capable of anything and afraid of nothing” (8) is very interesting and captivating and hence is the focus of my research.
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In the courtroom, we find him accused of a horrendous crime i.e. the cold blooded murder of a child whom he killed, according to the prosecutor, “as a serpent kills that which it does not intent to eat: he killed out of indifference. He killed because his nature is to kill.” Talking about this aspect of the novel Sudip Bose writes, “We are told early on that Daru has killed a boy. But did he really do it? The discovery of the truth leads us along Daru’s downward flight from stability to desperation, from salaried banker to low-life addict.” In my essay I have attempted to interpret the causes and elements responsible for this accusation, through a critical analysis. Although Daru‟s fortune faces decadence on a whole but it can be divided into two areas namely; mental and moral decadence.
The Title “Moth Smoke” The decadence of Darashikoh is foreshadowed from the outset through the title “Moth Smoke”. The title of the book refers to what remains when the moth is seduced by the candle flame, however it is also a metaphor for Darashikoh spiralling towards his own destruction, drawn by the allure of sex, drugs and money. The moth desires something that cannot be had without risk: union. Daru‟s wish to rejoin the elite leads to violence and his affair could cost him his freedom, but his desires prove too potent not to act on. In the darkness of evening, Darashikoh watches the strange seduction played out: the moth “spinning around the candle in tighter revolutions”, attracted to the fire. Hamid further describes “The moth circles lower, bouncing like a drunk pilot in turbulence” .The utilization of the similes highlights Darashikoh‟s actions throughout the novel, against the setting of economic burden, Daru disintegrates similar to a moth. Daru‟s tendencies of self destruction is further highlighted when Daru quotes” He‟s an aggressive fellow, this moth,” and the servant mentions “Love, saab”. The moth resembles to what Darashikoh is transforming into, a frustrated unemployed hero in love with his best friends wife, an object for him who he would like to attain but can never and thus becoming an obsession. Mental Decadence In the story, Daru is an educated person. He had started his PhD in Economics on the encouragement of his teacher, Professor Julius Superb. Mumtaz interviews the professor after Daru has been sent to prison to get the professor‟s opinion about him. Professor Superb speaks highly of Daru‟s intellectual ability. He says, “He was a student of mine. He distinguished himself by attending my lectures and taking notes.” So impressed was the professor by Daru‟s intellectual merits, that he even invited him to his discussion group which Daru accepted showing his keenness to gain knowledge. The professor further talks of
With the Guest by Andrew Camus: Daru We have had the opportunity in the last month to read many short story selections, giving us examples of many different things. When asked to pick a character to analyze it was a tough decision but I would have to go with the story that most interested me to choose my character. This story would be 'Withthe Guest', written by Albert Camus. With the main ...
Daru‟s dissertation tackling as, “Brilliant.…not the best at handling criticism. Took methodological challenges very personally. But talented, definitely.”(37) The inability of Daru to complete the PhD is the first step in his mental decadence. The reason for leaving, as mentioned by the professor, was the allure of wealth and he left because he found job in a bank. “I was disappointed, naturally. But more, I was worried for him. I didn‟t think he was choosing a path that would make him happy. It‟s hard to stop thinking once you‟ve started.” (37) In the course of time the professor‟s words turn out to be very true as we see Daru as more than just dissatisfied. His dissatisfaction grows continuously and gives way to venomous bitterness leading to his tragic downfall. The once intelligent young man turns into a half-awake-heroin-infused-maniac, ready to kill. Moral Decadence Morals are not Daru‟s strong point. His moral standing does not appear to be very objectionable at the start as his lose morals do not hurt anyone but with time we see him fall deeper into the pit of remorseless crime. His consciousness and guilt eventually leaves him as he decides to rob a boutique towards the end and even shoots at a small boy during the robbery. Whether he kills him or not is another question but he had every intention to do so. So with the progression of the novel, Daru exhibits a sharp decline in his moral standing. In a scene from the novel, Daru in reference to the elite mentions “People do not believe in consequences anymore”. Hamid‟s use of irony highlights how through the course of the novel , Daru turns against his own ideologies and does not “believe in consequences” eventually which leads to his affair with Mumtaz and the shootout at the end. The role of relationships Daru‟s decadence is not without reason. A factor playing an important role in his decadence is Daru‟s relationships with people. He wants to be a part of the elite crowd of
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Lahore but is unable to because of his lack of resources. He does not befriend anyone from the social class he belongs to but aspires to be counted among the rich party people who have money to throw about. Anita Desai brilliantly describes Daru‟s fatal flaw “ While hes contemptuous of the idle rich, he feels nevertheless entitled to join their ranks”. His best friend, Aurangzeb (Ozi) is the son of a rich corrupt man, Khurram Shah. On the other hand Daru, as discussed above, is an orphan, unemployed without any financial standing. Their friendship having such a glaring financial difference was doomed from the start. Ozi‟s fortune makes Daru frustrated but he continues the friendship nevertheless. When Ozi returns eleven years afterwards, Daru has not made much progress in his life.. The economic difference in them was bound to make this happen. Talking about Daru‟s economic condition Peter Gordon writes, “He starts off with several strikes against him: while intelligent, his family could not afford the international degree that might made him part of the hip, mobilephone-toting-crowd of which his childhood friend Ozi and his beautiful wife Mumtaz are a part.”. Daru‟s friendship with Ozi was doomed from the start because of the difference in their social standing.
Had they belonged to the same class, Daru would have never become so bitter about the rich and about Ozi. “At first joyfully reunited, the old friends are soon pushed apart again, first by Daru’s declining social circumstances, then by a horrific instance of Ozi’s immunity from justice, and finally by the attraction that develops between Daru and Mumtaz.” (Brothers Judd.com) Writes a reviewer of the novel. Ozi also plays a major role in corrupting Daru. In their teens both, Daru and Ozi enjoyed all kinds of objectionable stuff. Chasing girls, drinking and smoking, were the actions they committed and would be seen as objectionable in a conservative Muslim society. Hamid through his craftsmanship highlight hows Ozi‟s actions end Daru and his relationship and link to the end of their friendship. In one of the scenes where Daru confronts Ozi about the accident, the scene ends with “the back seat is covered with blood”. This blood could
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symbolize the beginning of Daru‟s tragic end and also signify the ending of Daru‟s and Ozi‟s friendship. His other major companionship is much more explosive than the one with Ozi. It is his friendship with Mumtaz, Ozi‟s wife and the consequent love affair with her. The trouble begins at the very first meeting between Ozi and Mumtaz. When Daru goes to meet Ozi at his place for the first time, after his return, there are many references that show the start of an affair between Mumtaz and Ozi. As Daru exposes his feelings, “Mumtaz is watching me and I look away because she‟s beautiful and I don‟t want to stare.” (12) Then there is another telling comment by Daru, “You know you‟re in trouble when you can‟t meet a woman‟s eye, particularly if the woman happens to be your best friend‟s wife.” (13) The warning signals are given here and Daru would have stopped here but Mumtaz does not let him. She is the first person with whom he shares his tragedy of getting fired and she consoles him. When the intimacy begins to increase he tells her, “I‟m so sorry…Please go in to Ozi.” To which she replies, „I‟d rather stay outside with you for a little bit. If you don‟t mind.”(29) This is the time when Ozi and Mumtaz‟s marriage is already falling apart.
She finds relief and consolation in Daru who is in dire need of a female companion to share his troubles with, so the relationship begins. After an intimate encounter , Daru watches her leave in her car his feelings are very poignant. As he says, “I know I‟m standing still, but I feel like I‟ve stumbled and I‟m starting to fall.” (52) This is a direct reference to Daru‟s downfall as the affair with Mumtaz plays the strongest role in his decadence. It is here that he stepped off the morality train and ventured on a path of lust, cheat and amoral relationship. At the end when Mumtaz tells Daru that she is leaving him and will not return,it affects his mental condition. When she leaves him she leaves a thousand rupee note for him in his wallet. His feelings at this moment are, “I‟m at once furious and ashamed, furious because people give money after sex to prostitutes and ashamed because I‟m so hungry that I have to take it. But I make a
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decision. To hell with handouts. Im‟ ready for a little justice.” (210) This justice that Daru is speaking about is his decision to get back at the rich for wronging him by robbing a boutique. He makes up his mind to do crime after Mumtaz hurts him and forfeits him. When robbing the boutique, the only reason he fires at the little boy who tries to go out of the boutique is because he sees Mumtaz‟s son, Muazzam in him. Daru blames Muazzam for making Mumtaz go away. The robbery where the little boy appears Muazzam to Daru, is recorded thus, “Little ugly boy who looks like Muazzam. Runs right by me and reaches the door. No one gets out, that‟s the rule. No one gets out. My hand. Hand‟s rising. Hand with the gun in it. Levelling off at Muazzam‟s head. He‟s not going to make it Muazzam. He‟s not going to ruin this. The sound of an explosion and the glass of the door becomes opaque with cracks but doesn‟t shatter. Was that me?” (233) The obsession with Mumtaz was intense which could be in reference to the nuclear tests background. Daru‟s meagre resources wane as the couples passion intensifies, and their relationship unlike that binding India to Pakistan – threatens to destroy everyone around them. After she leaves him, his obsession leads his judgement to be clouded and he attempted to kill a boy thinking of him as Muazzam. In this way this way Daru‟s friendship and affair with Mumtaz becomes an extremely important factor in his decadence. Daru – Crude wine The nickname used for Darashikoh i.e. Daru, in the novel is very suggestive. Daru is the Hindi name of a crude wine. It is not expensive and causes slow but severe damage to the health of the addicted drinker. So the very name of the protagonist, suggests the danger associated with it and the negativity that will work in him slowly but steadily, resulting in an eventual irrevocable disintegration. Thus, apart from the above mentioned factors there are
also many personality traits of Daru which are responsible for his decadence. This could link to his development of a Byronic Hero in the novel. In the beginning he exhibits some elements of a Byronic hero such as his intelligence, education, dominance. However throughout time, he starts to develop an identity crisis and start transforming into an outcast in society . A person who neither fits in his class or the elite class. Personal Characteristics A major problem with Daru is his short-temperedness and unreasonable pride. He loses his temper very easily. In the beginning he loses his job because of his short temper. The words of the bank manager about his reckless behavior are very poignant at this point, as he says to Daru “You have a very serious psychological problem, Mr.Shezad….collect your personal items, and go home.” (23) Even after repeated attempts he is unable to find a job but he doesn‟t ask Ozi‟s father for it because of his pride. He had landed his first bank job because of Ozi‟s father in the first place but he does not swallow his unreasonable pride to ask him again for the favor. Daru‟s justification to Fatty Chacha for not finding a job is, “There aren‟t any jobs.” But his Chacha responds „Maybe you‟ll have to accept a more junior position.” (189) But Daru is not ready to do that.
He says, “I‟m not going to work at a mindless job for ten a month.” (189) However the use of irony by Hamid is such that Daru is transformed into a drug dealer which is much less respectable than a “junior position”, something which he is ostracized in society for. His other character flaw is that he has double standards. On one hand he is extremely agitated by the attitude of the elite towards the lower classes but he doesn‟t treat his own servant boy, Manucci fairly and physically assaults his servant for months. According to an essay by Humeira Tariq “This shows the vicious cycle prevalent in society”. The way the rich degrade the lower classes . the middle classes commit the same kind of behaviour towards the
lower classes. When Manucci looks good wearing an old Kurta Shalwar, and Fatty Chacha praises him, Daru cannot stand it. It shows the class-conscious attitude of Daru who cannot tolerate a lower class person‟s appearance to be better than his. And he says to Manucci, “Go clean my bathroom…And scrub behind the toilet. It‟s getting filthy.” (171) The sense of power that Daru experiences from mistreating Manucci boosts his ego and confidence. Deprived of electricity, water and basic amenities, Daru gets sadistic pleasure out of hurting others. Manucci‟s leaving makes Daru more alone than before and the loneliness starts gnawing at him, making him angrier and remorseful. Drug Addiction Daru‟s drug addiction drowns him. Starting from cigarettes he starts taking drugs like Ex and Hash and then he starts taking Heroin. “His banking job is the result of Ozi’s family connections rather than merit. But Daru himself, it appears, has never quite pulled his socks up, and finds a certain amount of solace in recreational hashish.” (Gordon) Mumtaz and Murad Badshah both try to discourage him from heroin‟s use but he cannot stop. The drugs play a very strong role in his decadence. In an interview Mohsin Hamid comments about the drug culture in Pakistan in these words, “Hashish is freely available, alcohol is illegal. The young rich dabble seriously in drugs.” (Hamid) He stops seeing reason, his common sense and judgment fails him, he becomes obsessed with Mumtaz and ultimately goes to prison. Mumtaz‟s last words to Daru are, “Daru, please do something about yourself. Tell your family. You need help. You shouldn‟t be alone.” (229) Role of Society However, possibly the most important element in Daru‟s decadence is the role of society. Mohsin Hamid in an interview with News Week, commented “He‟s (Darashikoh) secular, but his angry reaction stands for Pakistan‟s religious movements, its violent crime”.
In one of the scenes in the novel, Professor Julius Superb comments “ There are two social classes in Pakistan. The first group, large and sweaty, contains those referred to as the masses. The second group is much smaller but its members exercise vastly great control over their immediate environment and are collectively termed as he elite. The distinction between members of these two groups is made on the basis of control of an important resource: air conditioning”. The role of the air conditioning is a hugely important symbol in the novel which Hamid utilizes to exacerbate Daru‟s downfall. The absence of air-conditioning in his home due to repetitive load-shedding, is the reason why his mother chose to sleep on the roof on that summer day. And this consequently resulted in her death. This is commented on in the novel as, “no matter how important air-conditioning was to Mumtaz, to Aurangzeb and Murad Badshah and professor Superb, it was more important to Darashikoh Shezad, for it took his mother from him and propelled him inexorably toward a life of crime.” (107)To add to the cruelty of fate, his mother also left him for the world hereafter, soon afterwards. When Daru was still a boy his mother‟s life was claimed by a stray bullet which caught her when sleeping on the roof-top.
Daru was also sleeping on the roof but he did not find out until morning.. It could be that someone fired a Kalashnikov in the air to “announce a victory in a kite fight, a job promotion or the birth of a child.” (108) The irony is clear here along with the writer‟s criticism on the society‟s doings. That event is shown to have an effect of traumatic proportions on Daru, as is written, “After that night, Darashikoh would have a recurrent vision which came to him not only when he was asleep but when he was awake as well.” (108) He described the image to Mumtaz once in these words, “I imagine Lahore as a city with bullets streaking into the air, tracers like fireworks, bright lines soaring into the night, slowly falling back on themselves, a pavilion collapsing….and I lie on a field in the center of town…watching the brilliant arcs descending toward me.” (108-9) He was very close to his mother and he could not ever
recover from the loss, as he tells Mumtaz, “We used to talk. We were close.” (202) The absence of air-conditioning in his home due to repetitive load-shedding, is the reason why his mother chose to sleep on the roof on that summer day and this consequently resulted in her death. After losing hs job he felt insecurity due to the loss of social status because of the loss of air conditioning and electricity. The absence of electricity led him to live alone in the “sweltering darkness‟. The symbol of darkness which is prevalent throughout the novel highlights the role society has in his downfall. Lack of air conditioning is shown to be an important motive in Daru‟s turn towards crime. It is written in the novel “He needed money to have his power and air conditioning and security restored, and he swore that nothing would stand in his way. He, a man who hated guns, came to accept that he would have to use one”. Being an orphan with no proper guidance or vigilance, Daru starts to walk on a wrong path writing his own doom along the way. This leads to a great extent of sympathy for Daru which the reader experiences as this can be connected to Pakistan‟s current scenario. Daru is a character of what society has transformed him to be. His character is a victim of society. His character is very important in the aspect of “self criticism” to understand that he is the consequence of the society‟s actions. However the sympathy is limited due to the contrast with Mumtaz with Hamid utilizes. Mumtaz in Hamids words “ Shes self critical, strong, honest and fearless – qualities I see as a way forward. The steps she takes are the only positive ones taken in the books”. Her name Mumtaz is an allegorical reference to that of Empress Mumtaz in the Mughal times and this highlights that if Mumtaz being part of the elite class, exhibits the way forward then why not Daru ?
Conclusion Thus there are many reasons behind Daru‟s moral, mental and economic decadence. Weak morality, drug addiction, double standards, dissatisfaction, unrealistic aspirations all work as active instruments in his decadence. But the most poignant one is the role of society. Daru is the “violent backlash” of the system. He is what the characters of Ozi have transformed him into .But Daru chooses his own path, a path imbued in cheating, lying, robbing and ultimately killing. In this way Daru becomes a tragic figure at the end, the terrible almost hero of a great story: powerful tragic and dangerous. The decadence of Darashikoh links to wider issues that I can connect with today following the events of 9/11. Has society created terrorists, who had no option to buy make use of violence like Daru? Bibliography