K Kamala Das

The Stone Age by Kamala Das

In ‘The Stone Age’ by Kamala Das, a frustrated speaker blames her husband for ruining her life by his unappeasable lust. This poem is addressed to the husband in a satirical manner.

‘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


Summary

‘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.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-10

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.

Lines 11-16

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.

Lines 16-22

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.

Similar Poems

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.

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About
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
  • Thankyou! It is very helpful. To add to this, the neighbours who watch her “come and go like rain” from the “peephole”, suggest their lack of information as they see very small part of the whole situation. They don’t really know the whole story as their view is really very narrow and small. Peepholes also stands as a tool of surveillance.
    Plus, “sacred cities” are also suggestive of the dual standards of society that things are not as they look like. Roles here are constructed and performed. Marriage, as an institution, holds various untold stories, hidden lies, secret, etc. Along with the struggle and sacrifice faced by women and how she is the one who becomes the subject of pinpoint.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for this extra information. It really helped enrich our interpretation.

  • Kamala Das has an extra ordinary power of imagination, which helps her to go into the heart of women. She is a strong person to say that openly, without fearing the society. the most important thing is her language. it comes from the depth of her heart and imagination, as she said, she is writing with her dreams, not with common man’s language. it is very beautiful, attractive and impressive.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      What a beautiful and articulate statement.

  • Alpeshkumar says:

    Yes always women are only troubled in marriage…never men?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      From experience, it’s usually mutual misery!

  • Chhotan Ghosh says:

    Extraordinary description of Kamala Das’s The Stone Age…..

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