Shashi Deshpande in her novels explores and exposes the long smothered wail of the incarcerated psyche of her female protagonist imprisoned within the four walls of domesticity and sandwiched between tradition and modernity. These women however disown a ritualistic tradition bound life in order to explore their true self. Shashi Deshpande’s heroines are all curious to retain their individuality in the teeth of disintegrating and divisive forces that threaten their identity. Bogged down by existential insecurity and uncertainty the women in her novels are in quest of refuge which in ‘The Dark Holds No Terrors’ is portrayed by the protagonist Sarita.
‘The Dark Holds No Terrors’ is the story of a marriage on the rock. Sarita is ‘two-in-one woman’ who in the daytime is a successful doctor and at night ‘a terrified trapped animal’ in the hands of her husband Manohor, an English teacher in a small college. The novel opens with Saru (Sarita) returning after fifteen years to her father’s house –a place she had once sworn never to return. Outwardly, the reason to come back to her home is to see and serve her ill father, but in reality she is unable to bear the sexual aggression of her husband. The rest of the novel is what Saru remembers and a brief confession to her father about her trauma. Her stay in her father’s house gives Saru a chance to review her relationship with her father, husband and her dead mother. She has a better understanding of herself and the others and this gives her the courage to confront the reality.
This novel stridently questions the unquestionable superiority of a man in the male-dominating society, which as a result eventually nudges a woman for identity crises and she suffers at the hands of disparity. As Sarita dredges up her past life in her parents’ home, when her mother was alive, before marriage, she realizes that for male domination women too are responsible as in her case her mother was spiteful to her, this clearly shows the gender discrimination played by women which ultimately sets the preface for male domination. Saru’s situation deteriorates even further when she could not save her younger brother from drowning. After this incident, she always resents being a daughter hence she craves for a new role of a wife thinking it will give her freedom and recognition as an existing person in the form of a woman, who otherwise is reckoned as a toy for pleasing carnal desires.
When she moves out of her maternal home, she not only becomes financial independent but also marries a person of her choice. At her husband Manohar’s home, she gets even the bigger shock of her life. When she outpaces, unintentionally, her husband in both occupation and fame, she is treated like a minuscule creature and her husband practices brutal sexual practices on her only to keep her controlled and under his dominance. She felt being trapped and the piling guilt in her heart flutters ferociously for freedom.