“Clothes” Initiation Essay

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The short story “Clothes” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is about a young Indian woman, Sumita, and her cultural transition to America that is symbolized by her clothes and the color of her clothes. The traditional Indian attire for a woman is a sari and each one has its own purpose. Her clothes also indicate her progression from daughter, to wife, to woman, which is why this story embodies Mordecai Marcus’ description of an initiation story. The story starts off with the bride to be in a yellow sari preparing to meet her future husband by bathing in a lake. As the story progresses, Sumita wears additional saris, each holding a significance (due to color) pertaining to what stage of life she is considered to be in. She wears one for her bride-viewing ceremony, one for the marriage, and one for the plane ride over. In wearing each, she reveals not only her faith toward her heritage but also her obedience to her family and her society. She does not speak of the marriage before it occurs with her childhood friends for fear of sounding vain or too excited to move to America. Once in America we see that Sumita is now starting to transition from wife to woman. Her husband buys her American clothes and she proudly tries them on and shows them of in the mirror for him. She becomes more comfortable and confidant as a woman, admiring her body that has been, up until this point, always covered up. She finds joy in being a woman and moves past the idea that she is a lowly housewife with obligations and duties to perform. Her husband’s optimism and entrepreneurism ignites her ambition to hold a job at the 7-11 and become something more and widen her possibilities as a westernized woman. She, at times, feels ashamed for becoming westernized, knowing that if she was home, she “never would have felt this way”. By “this way” she refers to herself desiring a new apartment, American clothes, traveling, and seizing the opportunities she’s surrounded by. She views America in awe...
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