21 September 2008
Characterization in “Red Carpet”
In Lavanya Sankaran’s short story “Red Carpet,” the author intends to convey a message about the cultural chasms between socioeconomic classes in Indian society; she touches upon the idea that underlying basic values of kindness and humanity exist even across castes. In order to do this, Sankaran fully develops two distinct characters through vivid descriptions and selective omniscience and places these two people in stark contrast with one another. One is Ms. Choudhary, the wealthy woman with modern ideals, and the other is Rangappa, the poorer man with more traditional values.
Immediately at the start of the story, Sankaran gives the reader clues into Rangappa’s background. In the first paragraph, the author reveals that Rangappa comes from “the village of Tarikere, near the hills of Chikmagalur;”(1) the word “village” has the connotation of being a remote, third world area, and “near the hills” only adds to the idea that Rangappa lives in a very rural place. The author goes on to describe another striking quality of Rangappa’s-his unquestioningly subordinate nature. He allows his name to be changed at the whim of his employer without even the slightest hint of grievance; in essence, he allows his identity to be manipulated by his superior. It is later revealed on page 1 that he his working to support his entire family and to marry his sister off. These are clearly both very traditional goals, and it proves that Rangappa does not strive for material possessions, the mark of the modern world. When Rangappa is initially shocked at Ms. Choudhary’s style of dress, (2) as he is for the remainder of the story, it is because a good portion of her skin is exposed; this upsets Rangappa because it is traditional in Indian culture for woman to be more covered up- in modern day America, for instance, it is not at all uncommon to see a woman’s bare arms and legs. Because the reader is able to see into his thoughts, it is clear that Rangappa is a very nervous man. He becomes “feverishly, anxiously concerned” (7) about his employers behavior, although it really shouldn’t concern him that much, as her actions barely affect him.
Initially, Ms. Choudhary is portrayed as the story’s antagonist. She appears to be an unfeeling, controlling boss when she changes Rangappa’s name and it’s revealed that she changed the names of all her other drivers to Raju. Ms. Choudhary also appears to be an elitist, when on page 4 she criticizes the car Rangappa picks. Her sarcasm in the same scene-with frequent exclamations like “Oh God!”- make her seem excessively rude and unconcerned with Rangappa’s feelings. Her drinking, smoking, and other bad habits promote the reader to become increasingly sympathetic toward Rangappa’s feeling that Ms. Choudhary is “immoral.”(6)
However, it is soon revealed that although Ms. Choudhary chooses to live her life as she does, she is aware of how unorthodox it is; she knows when to accept traditional values. For example, toward the end of the story when she visits Rangappa’s family, “she looked every inch the memsahib.” (9). This fact demonstrates her underlying respect for traditional values, and more specifically the wishes of Rangappa. It also comes forth later in the story that Ms. Choudhary is not nearly as corrupt as she initially seemed. Ms. Choudhary provided her workers with “good meals,” high wages, and “didn’t shout” (5) at them. Near the end of the story, Rangappa grows to accept Ms. Choudhary’s behavior; although he still deems her actions immoral, he begins to “like and respect May-dum.” (6) There is symbolism in that these facts are veiled; the author is creating a metaphor for the natural integrity and element of acceptance that is found in all mankind by allowing these two sharply contrasted individuals to have respect for one another. Despite missteps, the author argues, there is an essential good in human nature. The blatant juxtaposition between the two main characters in “Red Carpet” is a clear commentary on how India’s traditional culture and values are preserved only among the lower castes; more privileged Indian citizens have succumbed to a more American way of life.