Deven as Antihero

Neel Parekh '00 (English 27 1997)

The convergence of his lack of emotion, inability to act, absence of hope, and indecisive nature makes Deven an anti-hero -- a nonheroic protagonist or main character. His pathetic existence bleeding with perpetual indecisiveness and constant defeat, Deven from In Custody is truly pathetic. A bus rider who sits next to Deven on the way to Delhi comments that life is merely "Birth and death, and only suffering in between" (26). Deven, who seems to fit this pessimistic description of human life, appears a trapped being who never grows out of his meager financial condition, never progresses to a better job, never improves his family situations, and never learns to act assertively. Deven exemplifies someone with no sense of direction, and he exercises no control over his life. When Murad tells Deven he does not know the way to Nur's home, Deven asks fearfully,

"But then -- how are we to go there? I thought you must know it" Deven cried in dismay. He often had nightmares in which he struggled towards an unspecified destination but was repeatedly waylaid and deflected, never in any stretch of sleep arriving at it any more than he did in waking. His feet seemed to be enmeshed in the sticky net of the nightmare that would not let him escape at any level of consciousness. (31)

Deven lacks self direction. "And that was all he was -- a trapped animal" (131). This entrapment holds Deven back throughout his life. Desai describes the cycle of being "trapped" later in the novel: "In his youth, he had had the illusion of having free will, not knowing he was in a trap. Marriage, a family and a job had placed him in this cage; now there was no way out of it" (131). Deven's life seems marked by stories of supposed oppression, but if he were truly oppressed, he would attempt an escape to freedom. We see, however, that when Deven has the opportunity to change his conditions, he fails. Moreover, he revels in this failure, for it assures safety.

Desai expresses this inability to act best with Deven's interaction with Nur. Deven, who enters the relationship as a slave, he worships Nur to the point that when Nur questions, "Fool are you a fool?" Deven responds, "Sir I am! I am" (38). When Nur called Deven into the house it was "as if God had leaned over a cloud and called for him to come up" (39). A chance to interview Nur allowed Deven to pursue his dream -- the preservation and advancement of Urdu poetry -- but his association with the Urdu poet represents much more. "The unexpected friendship with Nur had given [Deven] the illusion that the door of the trap [which oppressed Deven] had opened and he could escape after all into a wider world that lay outside" (131). Deven, however, feels that this entrapment never ends. In an answer to Desai's questions of "Then where was freedom to be found?" (131) Deven may reply "nowhere," for even when he finds an escape, he retreats to the safety of the familiar, staying in his dead-end life rather than moving away from his self-destructive path. When Nur defeats Deven, the Hindi lecturer puts up no fight because he possessed the "realization that that loss has simplified his existence" (71). Why, Deven questions, look for change when with change comes uncertainty? Desai spells out Deven's beliefs during the conversation between Deven and Jayadev. "Deven gave [Jayadev] a pitying look. 'We have no future. There is no future. There is only past'" (186). Deven feels the future cannot be changed and his condition must be static. Upon his final defeat by Nur, "[Deven] hoped his former life of non-events, non-happening, would be resumed, empty and hopeless, safe and endurable. That was the only life he was made for, although life was not perhaps the right term" (183). His content feelings for his present pathetic condition produce the antihero sentiment. Deven believes his situation cannot be changed. This serves as the root of his pathetic nature. Deven passively accepts and finds refuge in his meager situation because of its so called safety.

The final aspect of Deven's antiheroism appears in his unassertiveness. Deven does not act because of the safety he finds in his current situation. At the same time, Deven does not take action because of a lack of confidence. When Murad presses him to be direct with Nur, Deven pathetically comments, "No one ever listens to me...That is the trouble -- he won't listen to me" (77). Because Deven does not believe in himself, he cannot act. "But that was how it was with him, he sighed: his reflexes, sluggish out of a habitual timidity and indecisiveness, were slowing still further; tardy in both thought and deed, he was never ready with the apt word or appropriate action; both seemed to trail him at a moody distance" (128).

Does any relation exist between Deven's character and his appearance in a work of postcolonial fiction? Does Desai, in other words, present him as in some way culturally or politically representative, or is the fact of postcolonialism irrelevant? How would you go about arguing for either possibility?[GPL]


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