Subaltern Autonomy and Western Dependence in Mahesh Rao’s The Smoke Is Rising

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Cooper, James L.
Mahesh Rao , The Smoke Is Rising , Mysore , Subaltern Subjectivity , Gayatri Spivak , Female Psychology , Male Influence , Social Slavery , Autonomy
The dynamic city of Mysore, India, filled with economic promise despite high levels of poverty, is the setting for Mahesh Rao’s satirical novel, The Smoke is Rising. It portrays the daily lives of three women, Uma, Mala, and Susheela, each from a different social caste. Uma is a young female servant for the wealthy older widow Susheela, and Mala is a middle-aged college graduate, confined to an unhappy marriage with her oppressive, Western-influenced husband, Girish. Many of Mala’s relationships restrict her subjectivity as a middle-class woman within India. This paper explores how the subaltern other struggles to live in harmony with the Western subject that has been established as part of their own consciousness. My paper references sociological studies on life in Mysore, as well as theoretical works by Luce Irigaray, Immanuel Kant and Gayatri Spivak to trace the steps suggested by the novel of the subaltern's path to freedom from Western subjectivity.