An Argumentative Literary Essay on “The Disappearance”
The rewards of relationships are great, but its punishments are greater. Relationships are a double-edged sword—it can be a satisfying experience to be able to communicate with someone on a deeper level, to share a life with someone and to be able to enjoy a person’s companionship throughout life. On the other hand, it can also be a grueling experience to be constantly in conflict with someone, to lose your identity and freedom, to fear someone’s ability to destroy you because they know the most intimate knowledge about you as a person, or to be chained to your significant other. In the short story The Disappearance, the husband is fully aware that his wife is preparing to leave him and this leaves us readers to doubt his seemingly innocent character.
In the story, a husband has everything a man can hope for—an economically stable job, a loving wife and a lovable son—and yet his family self-destructs when the wife disappears. The story unfolds and the reader’s begin to understand the details of the disappearance. The innocent and concerned husband is apparently the culprit in his family’s breakdown.
As the story progresses clues are left for readers to ponder. The husband is an Indian living in the US, and it is customary for Indian men to choose an Indian bride presented by a matchmaker. The husband flew to India to look for “someone who would be relieved to have her husband make the major decisions.” The husband married his bride almost within a week (Divakaruni 334). He brings her to the US and they have a quiet life as a family with one son. However, one day the wife mysteriously disappears.
Arguments in Support of the Thesis
The disappearance could be attributed to many different factors, however, this essay points out that the husband is the culprit for the wife’s disappearance, and that he is well-aware of her plan. Interestingly, the story seemingly presents the husband as innocent by saying that he never had arguments with his wife. Divakaruni writes that “they didn’t really have a fight. She wasn’t, thank God, the quarrelsome type, like some of his friends’ wives” (334).
Moreover, he is presented as someone that provides well for his family. Some evidence to his economic and financial stability are the kitchen being remodeled, a Yosemite Park vacation, when his wife disappeared he was able to pay for a half-page ad in a newspaper, he had the capability of raising money as cash reward for the lost wife ($100,000 to be exact), and he could afford to buy another car for his wife (334-337). The man is described as a “good husband. No one could deny it. He let her have her way, indulged her even” (334).
From the very start, the husband knows about his wife’s planned action of leaving him. A stressful or traumatic experience of a conventional man would necessitate a coping mechanism in him. One of these coping mechanisms is denial and deception. From the start, the husband is deceiving himself and his son, not by utterly lying like Pinocchio but by a deception and self-denial of omission. Essentially, the husband had effectively ‘erased’ his wife out of the equation. She merely became a ‘provider of needs,’ and that her needs for self-fulfillment and self-identification are neglected by the husband to the point that she left.
The readers are given clues to the man’s inconsistency when the policeman asked, “Did you folks have a quarrel?” and he replied, “No of course we didn’t” (333). Afterwards, the husband continues to contemplate on his answer, since he “had told the truth about them not having a quarrel.” However, this does not negate the fact that the husband neglects his wife and does not communicate with her with a deep and intimate conversation. The reason why they do not ever quarrel is not because of the man’s good character, but rather because of his attitude of completely ignoring her.
The husband is also a man to be feared by his family, it is not explicitly stated in the story but the clues provide evidence that he is a violent and rigid man. During an instance when the son and wife are playing around the house, shouting and running, the knowledge that the husband is home is enough to stop them from playing, to just walk towards the father and routinely give the father a kiss. The man’s presence, for his laughing and screaming wife and son, would mean a “Hush now!” (334).
Another instance of his conscious, violent tendency is in sex. Although the husband “indulges his wife,” and gives in to her desire for Yosemite Park instead of Reno, or pink and gray kitchen instead of white (334), he is firm in his desires. In sex, he is firm to the point of not minding her refusal to sex. He is also known to flare up when angry, such as when he desired sex and the fearing wife would make up elaborate excuses just so that they would not be able to do it. “He raised his voice… grabbed her elbow and pulled her to bed, just like he did that last night” (334). His violence even extends to bed, where he does not stop and tells himself that he will only stop if she cries or really begs. Because of this type of violence, the woman is imprisoned in the relationship, helpless and without a choice but to “quit struggling and let him do as he wants.” His dictatorial nature is also subtle in its demands, that he is able to forms laws for the wife only by the power of suggestion. Divakaruni writes that, “He was glad, he’d told her several times, that she didn’t spend hours chattering on the phone like other Indian wives” (335). In addition to this, the husband does not even allow his wife’s self-fulfillment, freedom and enjoyment as depicted when he prevented her from studying again, or working, or wearing American clothes (she wore traditional Indian garb all the time, as suggested by the husband), or even learning how to drive.
The husband, contrary to his story of Pinocchio to his son, is not devoted entirely to truth but is a liar from the start. He lies when his mother asked him what the problem is and why is he awfully quiet. He answered that he is just having a pain in the chest area, when in fact it is not the reason for his anxiety. The husband is also suffering from a psychological incapacity to handle or cope with stress and trauma. In one instance, the husband had enjoyed a bitter pleasure at the thought of his wife’s death, killed by a lover or a complete stranger (338). Also his psychological problem would surface. “With a sudden anger that he knew to be irrational, he would imagine her body to be tangled in swaying kelp at the bottom of the ocean where it had been flung. Bloated. Eaten by fish” (338).
Refutation of Opposing Arguments
An argument supporting the husband would say that he is genuinely concerned with his wife. This is seen in his half-page ad that contains a hundred thousand-dollar reward. However, the reason he came looking for her is to recover his pride (since he was the one left out by his wife) and second and more importantly, he is completely dependent on his wife’s abilities. This is seen in his mother’s remark: “My poor boy… left all alone, how can you possibly cope with the household and a child as well?” (335).
The husband is a good person in the description of Divakaruni, since the perspective of the narration is depicts the man’s logical reasoning. He thinks that he is a responsible man and is not violent because he does not slap her like his friends and their wives. Nevertheless, he forces her to bed, pulls her and struggles with her until she gives in and gives up.
The husband did not notice at first that his chosen bride is a ‘modern’ woman, yearning for identity and independence, the wife is not a weakling, so to speak. She desired to be educated, to have a decent job, to be able to wear non-traditional Indian women’s clothes (i.e. have liberal Americanized fashion). She also taught her son to “be independent,” and she would always desire for a walk as a way of finding solace and contemplating about life.
The man knows all about his actions toward his wife. It is not that he does not love his wife, in fact, he does, however he is bound by the norms and culture of Indian conventionalities of men and women’s roles. He makes the decisions, and he does not give in to her desires when it is in conflict with his own needs and wants. While he provides for his family, he is also given to a subtle form of violence. As such, the wife is emotionally-battered, quiet at all times, and helpless with her lack of independence and available choices.
The narration is presented in the way a man would present his arguments instead of showing the perspective of the victim or the wife. The clues that his behavior provide show that he is fully aware of his actions, and has problems with insecurity, dependence, power relations, gender inequality, and conventional ideas that the man’s role is primarily to provide and that the women’s role is to obey and serve, no questions asked. The husband is aware of his actions, but remains in a denial state that his actions are in violation with his wife’s rights and freedoms as a human being of equal stature.
Divakaruni, Chitra. The Disappearance, p 333-338.