Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

Reading and Discussion Questions for Cereus Blooms at Night

Deirdre Aaron '04, English 365, Northwestern University, 2003

[Additional reading and discussion questions]


From the outset of the story, the narrator Tyler says: "my own intention, as the relater of this story, is not to bring notice to myself or my own plight" (3). However, as narrator, Tyler inevitably brings himself into Mala's story, and as the novel progresses, their two stories seem to intertwine in a manner that ultimately leads Tyler to claim that, through Mala, his "own life has finally . . . begun to bloom" (105). What is the significance of Mala and her story that allow this blossoming to occur for Tyler? Furthermore, how does Tyler as narrator enhance the telling of Mala's story, and what significance does his narration and intertwining with Mala's story have on the novel as a whole?


Religion is a theme that figures prominently throughout the novel. It first appears in the opening pages as a symbol of colonization, when the parents of Chandin Ramchandin must "convert" from Hinduism to Christianity in order to ensure a better education for Chandinhbh. Reverend Thoroughly from the Shivering Northern Wetlands, is perceived as a benevolent figure, offering opportunity to the impoverished "natives", who are, in fact, themselves immigrants to the island. When the natives speak of the Reverend, they say:

Now, you see any schools set up for our children, besides the Reverend's school? . . . We looking after our own self, because nobody have time for us. Except the Reverend and his mission from the Shivering Northern Wetlands. All he want from us is that we convert to religion. [28]

As the story of Paradise and its inhabitants unravel, however, religion loses its potency and ability to sustain the "morality" of the island. The Reverend's own daughter runs away with another woman. Chandin, himself educated in the seminary, becomes maddened with rage at the loss of his wife, begins to sexually abuse his young daughters. Ambrose Mohanty, sent to study abroad in the Shivering Northern Wetlands with the expectation that he pursue theology, rejects this path to pursue entomology. Religion as an instrument of colonization and imposition of "morality" becomes destabilized through Mala's story. What implications does this destabilization have on assumptions of colonization, historically and otherwise? In what other ways does religion relate to the story, and what can be seen as the ultimate cause and significance of its failure ?

Protectors of "all things unable to defend themselves"

Ambrose, in reminiscing about his childhood with his beloved Mala saving snails on the playground at school, remarks: "We fancied ourselves protector of snails and all things unable to defend themselves from the bullies of the world" (119). Mala herself, defenseless against her father's madness, is unable to defend herself from his advances. Yet, it is Ambrose who has the chance to save Mala from the wraith of her father, and who ultimately fails. Mala, the most in need of his protection and defense, is precisely the creature who he is unable to protect, perhaps merely out of his own cowardess. As Otoh, Ambrose's son, learns Mala's story, he becomes resentful of his father's inability to protect Mala, and resolves to be the Romeo to Mala that Ambrose was not. It is Ambrose who discovers the secret of Mala's father, but who also burns down Mala's home to protect it from the intrusion of the outside world, as well as to protect her from the evidence of her father's death. Why is it that Ambrose is unable to protect Mala, and why does Otoh feel this urgency to fulfill his father's legacy as protector of "all things unable to defend themselves"? In what ways does Otoh, Ambrose's son/daughter, redeem his father's failure, and if Otoh redeems his father's failure to act, what, if anything, is implied by the fact that Otoh, Ambrose's "son," is actually biologically his daughter ?


Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.

Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Mootoo

Last modified: 5 December 2003