Sex is what life is all about. When first reading "The Tenant" by Bharati Mukherjee, we as readers get a first impression that this is exactly how the main character, Maya feels about life. Maya, an East Indian woman is an immigrant to America, and she obviously has many experiences that set her quite apart from the traditional East Indian female character. But throughout the story, we learn much more about Maya that causes us to speculate upon her true intentions and even her real character. Through Maya's many conflicting values and beliefs we begin to see the actual complexity of her character, depicted as a "round" character, and we get a sense that the true character of Maya is perhaps as complex as the actual human mind and much too intricate to easily define.
In this story Maya is portrayed as a "round" character, but what exactly is such a character? "A round character is one who is multi-faceted.
They contain multiple traits and varied responses to any particular situation." (Bill Craig Internet website) When Maya meets Ashoke Mehta for the first time she seems to portray several different emotions or responses.
She can't move. She feels ugly and unworthy. Her adult life no longer seems miraculously rebellious; it is grim, it is perverseÃ¢ÂÂ¦She knows he can read her mind, she knows her thoughts are open to him. You, she's almost giddy with the thought, with simple desire (Mukherjee 110).
When Maya meets this man from a newspaper personals ad, she feels many negative feelings at one moment, but then suddenly becomes filled with desire the moment after. Only a multi-faceted character could have such contradictory feelings in such a short time frame. Had she been a flat character, she may have felt nervous upon first meeting this stranger, and remained nervous possibly even for a few meetings until she knew him better. Someone like Fred, Maya's new landlord, shows more characteristics of a flat character in that the reader never learns about Fred as a person, but only as a mere character. "Her new landlord calls himself Fred. He has no armsÃ¢ÂÂ¦" (111) No further description is given of this man, simply that he has no arms. We also never learn how Fred feels about anything, unlike the way we see Maya's change frequently. This distinction is needed to characterize Maya as the central "round" character of the story.
In addition to the portrayal of Maya as a round character she also exhibits several conflicting beliefs. These contribute to the definition of a round character, as well as to the point of Maya being a character too complex to fully describe. The beliefs and values she holds deal mainly with her East Indian heritage and the conflicts pertain to her difficulty adapting from her past traditions to those of America.
She realizes East Indian women are supposed to be inventive with food, whip up exotic delights to tickle an American's palate, and she knows she should be meeting Fran's generosity and candor with some sort of bizarre and effortless countermove. (103) Maya has been taught certain things from a completely different value system than that in America where she now lives. An East Indian woman is taught to be a very submissive and passive individual. On the contrary, Americans feel that the idea of freedom plays an extremely important part in the culture and traditions of the country. Coming from a strict background to such a liberated society Maya is simply overwhelmed by her new freedom. "She's done things a woman from Ballygunge Park Road doesn't do, even in fantasies" (104). These conflicting beliefs, however, cause Maya to be seen as more of a realistic character by us, the readers because we are able to relate to the situations and struggles Maya encounters. We can easily relate to the mixed emotions and various responses she experiences, but we can not easily define her motives or reasons for what she does, and in this way she becomes a character that is much too complex to define.
Maya, a typical character in a story becomes brought to life through the author's vibrant imagination, and she truly becomes more than a mere character of fiction to us. We become drawn into her mind, full of conflicting beliefs and values. She is shown to be the epitome of a round character in a story, through the definition that a round character is "multi-faceted". Also, we see how she is overwhelmed by her new exhilarating freedom in America, which causes her to let many of her conflicting beliefs be revealed to the reader. Lastly, this combination of intricacies and inconsistencies throughout the story leave the reader feeling quite perplexed as they realize, just like ordinary people, Maya is a person much too complicated to define.