“The Bats” by Chitra Divakaruni starts with a young girl explaining how her mother cries at lot at night and how that scares her very much. The girl notices a bruise on her mom’s face from her abusive husband, who beats them both. The next day, the mother asks the girl if she would like to visit her grandfather, but she cannot tell her father. They arrive at her grandfather’s house, whom the girl calls “grandpa-uncle,” unannounced but he takes them in. The girl becomes close with grandpa-uncle and she helps him with chores, except disposing of the bat carcasses that had to killed because they ate all the mangoes. They also go fishing together, where they find a ring inside of a fish. When they return home, the mother has a letter from the father, whom she had written to. She decides to go home with the girl, who is very upset. The father is still abusive and they must flee many more times, but they always return to the father. At the end of the story, the girl lost her ring from her grandfather after fleeing.
One technique that I tracked in this story was the use of point of view. Because the story is told through the little girl’s eyes, she doesn’t fully understand the severity of her situation. When her mother and herself first flee their home, the girl is just excited to be able to go on a train and refers to the day as magical, when it is a day with high-risks.
This was surely a magic day, I thought, as I tried to picture what traveling on a train would be like.
Another example of when the point of view is used through the girl’s narrow understanding of her situation is when the mom decided that they will leave her grandfather. The girl is just plain mad at her mother for taking her away from her grandfather and doesn’t understand that they will be going back to her abusive father.
I kicked at our bags which she had packed even before Grandpa-uncle and I had returned from the lake. I tried to find words for all the things boiling up inside me. But all I could shout was ‘I hate you! I hate you!’
I would love to use this technique of creating the point of view from a character who doesn’t fully understand the situation in more of my own writing. It lets the reader think more to determine what is fully going on and provides insight that wouldn’t be included in the story if told through a different point of view.
Another technique that was used frequently was symbolism. The biggest symbol in this story was obviously the bats. They served as a symbol for the mother returning to her abusive husband. When the little girl and Grandpa-uncle see all the bat carcasses, the little girl wonders why they wouldn’t just leave to go to somewhere safer instead of returning to a place where they will only get hurt.
You would have thought that after the first week the bats would have figured it out and found another place to live. But no. Every morning there were just as many dead bodies. I asked Grandpa-uncle about this. He shook his head and said he didn’t understand either. ‘I guess they just don’t realize what’s happening. They don’t realize that by flying somewhere else they’ll be safe. Or maybe they do, but there’s something that keeps pulling them back here.’
This perfectly represents the mother’s situation. By staying with the grandfather, she will be safe from harm, but if she returns to her husband, she will only be hurt, which she is aware of. Comparing the bats to the mother gives the little girl a pathway to somewhat understanding what her mother’s situation is. Although she is young and doesn’t understand why people return to those who hurt them, although nobody is quite sure of that, the bats give her some insight into what exactly is happening. The girl doesn’t realize it at the time, but after the reader re-reads this part, it is quite apparent.
There is one other symbol that I noticed in the story. It is a little harder to spot and I noticed it on my second or third read through. The ring that the girl and Grandpa-uncle find in the fish is also a symbol. Grandpa-uncle says that it can grant wishes and holds magic powers.
“This must be the magic ring of the sorcerer of Kalodighi, the one that grants all wishes.”
The reader can infer that the girl’s wish would be to stay with grandpa-uncle. When the narrator and her mother return home and must leave home again, the ring becomes lost.
I looked for the ring everywhere. But it was gone.
This is a symbol for how the girl and her mother will most likely stay with the father and not leave to go to Grandpa-uncle again. The ring was the girl’s sign of hope and connection to her grandfather, and without it, she will most likely lose hope and not return to him.
This technique of symbolizing elements of the story to attempt to better explain it to a character, in the case of the bats, is something that I had never seen before. Usually, symbolism is used to explain things to the reader, not the character. Having the symbolism be for the character’s own discovery can make the reader feel closer to the character. I would like to try and include this in my own stories to add another element that would set it apart from other fiction pieces.
- If you were writing this story, would you keep the same first-person point of view from the girl as the story does or change it? If change it, what didn’t appeal to you in the point of view in the story? If keep it, why did you enjoy this type of point of view?
- Do you feel that the mother’s reaction of guilt by writing the letter and returning home was irresponsible to her daughter?
- What other symbols did you notice in the story? What do they represent?