Language as a Process of Othering in Amitav Ghosh's the Shadow Lines

Topics: The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh, Jacques Lacan Pages: 13 (4199 words) Published: January 7, 2011
In this tutorial I question the ideas of ‘language’ and ‘othering’, removing any preconceived notions from my mind, starting a fresh research and pondering process to form an opinion. I debate both sides of the coin, fully cognizant of the fact that it is more like a multi-faceted dice and that only two perceptions are not enough to discuss such an extensive issue.

In Ghosh’s fiction, space is not merely remembered as an imaginative construct but is represented as a domain of political and cultural encounters, encounters which actually shape the connection of different characters with territory and location. Hence, space is represented as a dynamic arrangement between people, places, cultures and societies. Shadow Lines wakes us up to the furiously changing geo-political scenarios and governmental regulations that have led to the formation of the modern world as we know it. The process of othering, i.e. the creation of a certain sense of "us" and "them" has inevitably been created between nations and people due to the creation of boundaries or ‘Shadow Lines’ as Ghosh puts it. In this paper, I aim to analyze the feasibility or the desirability of these intangible lines that separate us historically, culturally, linguistically and racially and the role of language in the creation of such lines.

Undoubtedly, language is the most basic form of human communication and interaction. Hence, language often takes centre stage with regards to the process of othering. A pertinent example lies in the construct of the mother tongue, since childhood it is instilled in us that one language is our mother tongue while all the others are secondary foreign entities in effect creating divisions between the languages themselves. Nelson Mandela once said "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.”

Interestingly, language need not necessarily be confined to the verbal and written forms, but can also be of different modes. One such mode is body language, often used in the novel to designate two characters’ proximity to each other, Nick and Ila for example, also it can serve to alienate, as it does the author on several occasions during the text. The author's narration about how Nick and Ila were sitting quite apart at Kemble’s Head, yet their body language shouted out they were together. This alienated the author. Similarly at Christmas on 44, Lymington road Ila goes off for a few minutes from the cellar which she was sharing with the author for the night, to meet Nick and doesn’t return. This creates a very strong turmoil in the author’s mind and a sense of othering between him and the part of him that loved Ila starts to develop.

Another point of contention is the socio-cultural baggage that language carries, so much so that two cultures can be different even in the same language. Thus, an Indian and a British national shall have vastly contrasting shades of English.

"I happened to be home that day, she said. And I know that Nick didn’t stop to help Ila. He ran all the way back. He used to run back from school early those days."

-(page 76, shadow lines)

Young Nick price is so ashamed of his dear friend Ila's nationality, that he chooses to alienate her despite of them speaking the same language and being friends, to avoid jeopardizing his social status. Countless similar incidents happen with exchange program students. This harms them psychologically often giving them mental scars and social disabilities for life.

"England and America are two countries separated by the same language." -George Bernard Shaw

The above incident and this quote suggest that language in itself sometimes does not cause othering as many groups that use the same language are often alienated too, sometimes in quite an extreme way. It is the cultural and social baggage that needs to be considered that each...
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