‘The Stone Age’ by Kamala Das has been taken from the collection of poems called The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973). The poem shows the relevance of an extra-marital relationship in a ruined marital life. It reveals the pathos of the female speaker who is deprived of her individuality and freedom by her lustful husband and dehumanizes her beyond limits. She loses all her identity as a female in this life of suffocation and utter neglect.
‘The Stone Age’ by Kamala Das is about the loss of a female’s individuality. Here, the speaker addresses her husband in a satirical manner.
The lady speaker is shown very critical of her husband’s repulsive physical appearances and calls him an ‘old fat spider’ who has built ‘walls of bewilderment’ around her. She charges him for turning her into ‘a bird stone’, /‘a granite dove.’ He has built around her a shabby drawing-room and absentmindedly strokes her face while reading. He often disturbs her early morning sleep and directs a finger into her dreaming eye. While daydreaming, she finds her husband an unwanted intruder into the privacy of her mind, haunted by strong men. They vanish like ‘white suns in the swell of my Dravidian blood.’
After her husband’s departure, she would leave the house in a battered car along the blue sea. She would climb the ‘forty noisy steps to knock at another’s door,’ closely observed by the neighbors while she appeared and disappeared like rain in search of love. She was asked questions like what he observes in her, why he is called a lion or libertine, the flavor of his mouth, and why his ‘hand sway like a hooded snake/ Before it clasps my pubis.’ She is further asked why he felled like a tree on her breasts and slept on them. Finally, she is asked why life was short and loved shorter still, and what bliss was and its price.
You can read the full poem here.
About the Title: ‘The Stone Age’
The title of the poem, ‘The Stone Age,’ is very suggestive and appropriate. It shows that the life of exclusive lust ultimately leads to lifelessness. Lust kills individuality and a sense of freedom. A lustful person does not think beyond the satisfaction of his carnal desires. The female persona in the poem feels like a “bird o stone,/a granite dove,” having lost all her identity and freedom. She is absentmindedly fondled like a toy to create the illusion of love only. The speaker seeks alternative sources of love to overcome her frustration in a marital relationship. Finally, she realizes that she has totally failed in her quest for finding true love in life.
Fond husband, ancient settler in the mind,
Secretly flow the drains beneath sacred cities.
The speaker in Kamala Das’ ‘The Stone Age’ blames her husband for ruining her life by his unappeasable lust. She ironically calls him an old fat spider and reveals his physical incompatibility with her. The speaker criticizes her husband for turning her into a bird of stone which looks like lifeless granite love. She is deprived of her freedom and identity and is caged in a shabby drawing-room. She criticizes him for feigning love while he is totally lost in reading. She is disturbed by her husband’s loud talk or by sticking “a finger into my dreaming eyes” at dawn.
This extract from the poem exposes the futility of ruined and forced marriages. It also shows the limitations of the life of lust in which there is no space for emotional or spiritual fulfillment. The speaker is totally dehumanized and feels like a caged granite dove having no life of lust in which there is no space for emotional or spiritual dove having no life of her own. She suffers from a sense of alienation and hopelessness and is left with no ray of hope in life.
When you leave, I drive my blue battered car
And go like rain.
In this extract, the speaker is quite fed up with her husband’s show of love. She fails to sleep due to the loud talk of her husband at dawn. He absentmindedly strokes her face while reading in the dirty drawing-room. She feels suffocated in this life of confinement.
The speaker drives her highly dented blue car along the bus sea after the departure of her husband. She knocks at another’s house after ascending forty noisy steps in search of love. She appears and disappears like rain, and her neighbors keep a constant watch over her through the peepholes of the doors of their houses.
It is a classic case of ruined marital as well as extra-marital relationships. It shows how neglected and enslaved the woman speaker is forced to go into for extra-marital relationship for acceptance and freedom. She willfully violates the moral code to take revenge on her callous and egotistical husband.
Ask me, everybody, ask me
Shorter still, ask me what is bliss and what its price …
In these lines, the speaker asks questions like what he observes in her, why he is called a lion or libertine, the flavor of his mouth, and why his ‘hand sway like a hooded snake/ Before it clasps my pubis.’ She further asks why he fell like a tree on her breasts and slept on them. Finally, she asks why life was short and love shorter still, and what bliss was and its price.
Kamala Das here exposes the futility of a ruined marital relationship. The poem shows that the life of exclusive lust ultimately leads to lifelessness. It kills the individuality and the sense of freedom of its victim. A lustful person does not think beyond his sexual gratification and pays fig for his partner’s emotional and spiritual needs in love. The female persona loses all her identity as a woman and is reduced to the level of a granite dove only. She seeks alternative sources of love to fill in the emotional gap created by her selfish and self-centered husband.
Readers who liked the strong sense of feminism in Kamala Das’ ‘The Stone Age’ may also consider reading the following poems. You can also explore more Kamala Das poems.
- ‘An Introduction’ by Kamala Das – This piece explores the poet’s complex emotions regarding the system controlling her life and the lives of countless suffering women.
- ‘The Rights of Women’ by Anna Lætitia Barbauld – This proto-feminist poem intones the power that a woman might have if she resists social law and rises up to take control over the world.
- ‘The Prologue’ by Anne Bradstreet – This poem contains an interesting analysis of the poet’s own writing abilities in comparison to those possessed by men.