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The Agent in the Margin

Nayantara Sahgal’s Gandhian Fiction

Clara A. B. Joseph

Publication Year: 2008

The Agent in the Margin: Nayantara Sahgal’s Gandhian Fiction is a comprehensive study of the literary works of Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly—and niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Clara A.B. Joseph introduces Mahatma Gandhi’s political and philosophical to literary analysis and utilizes non-structuralist aspects of Louis Althusser’s theories of ideology to trace how characters marginalized by gender, class, race, and language in Sahgal’s work assume agency, challenging poststructuralist theories of cultural and ideological determinism. She considers how gender complicates autobiography and how the roles of daughter, virgin, wife, widow, and alien serve (often ironically) to highlight human dignity.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

I was a child when one day my father, a speed-reader of five national dailies, pointed out a name in an article and said to me, she is the niece of Jawaharlal Nehru. Later, in a different land and age, I chose her as the author I would work on for my PhD thesis for the simple reason that I couldn’t find anyone...

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Introduction: Agency in the Margins: Althusser, Gandhi, Sahgal

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pp. 1-42

Nayantara Sahgal’s autobiographical works and novels repeatedly present the resisting marginalized Gandhian figure as a literary symbol of human freedom and choice—an agent rather than an entirely, ideologically, constructed subject. Her argument deserves close consideration: that one pushed into the...

Chapter One: The Interpellated “I”: Gandhian Ideology and the Autobiographical Genre

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pp. 43-74

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Chapter Two: The Thinking Subject: Virginity and Swaraj

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pp. 75-95

It is a useful exercise to close-read Nayantara Sahgal’s four early novels, A Time to Be Happy (1958), This Time of Morning (1965), Storm in Chandigarh (1969), and The Day in Shadow (1971), if mainly to understand the predicament of the marginalized characters in these works. These characters, who...

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Chapter Three: The Special Place of Literature: Mahasati, Satyagrahi

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pp. 96-119

In representing the ideologically marginalized character as an agent, Nayantara Sahgal’s novels repeatedly challenge the view that all things are entirely determined or that the systemic supersedes the personal at every level. In this the novels appear to vindicate reality rather than ideological...

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Chapter Four: Overdetermination and Truth

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pp. 120-146

In For Marx Althusser borrows a term of Sigmund Freud—“overdetermination” (used by Freud to denote the multiple causes of the condition of hysteria)—to understand the effect of dominations, subordinations, in short of all kinds of contradictions, on social formation. With the help of this term...

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Chapter Five: The Resisting Subject: Dignity of Lesser Breeds

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pp. 147-166

“But if you yourself will sit in an easy chair like a sahib and expect others of the lesser breed to get ready for the job, you will get nowhere. That is not my way.” This is Gandhi responding in an interview published in Harijan, on August 25, 1946. Three phrases in this response are particularly illuminating:...

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Conclusion: Representing the Human Person

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pp. 167-175

A Gandhian close reading of Sahgal’s literary works has resulted in some challenging theoretical positions, chief of which is an argument for the significance of the human person when represented in literature. Both Althusser’s notion of the interpellated subject and Macherey’s understanding...

Works Cited

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pp. 176-186


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pp. 187-205

E-ISBN-13: 9781554582815
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554580439
Print-ISBN-10: 1554580439

Page Count: 247
Publication Year: 2008