Hannah: A woman trying to live in a man’s world

Posted by: Kristi

Gabriel plays little role in Hannah’s day-to-day life, yet his character creates a large impact on her life. She changes her life for him, and adapts her desires sometimes in combination with his. Hannah, I think, is the only woman who desires change in this novel. Men, often want change or change themselves to match other men in the Company. The common occurrences of copying in this novel seem strange to me because they’re all in a new land, yet they still choose to all be exactly the same.

All the men in this novel so far have been exceedingly demanding of themselves to be other people. Gabriel, in the first part of the book, was an adventurer who loved to tell tall tales of his journeys and impress anyone who was listening. Once they arrive in India, he seems a much harsher man when one of the chests is overturned. He was “…so angry; with his words muffled by the surf…” (114). And later, a “notices each of these changes in Gabriel, but does not respond, only writes them in her journal. This journal is a small copy of the journal that Gabriel keeps (125). He keeps this journal, as discussed in the book, either because he does not trust Chief Factor Prynne, or because he wished he was a Company writer (142).  Another idea presented is that he may want to be Chief Factor himself, and is therefore copying the actions of Chief Factor Prynne. Gabriel also attempts to copy Pedda Timanna and the Marquis in their pirating as well as in their attitudes. He is relatively successful in this, except in the end he remains smarter than these two and survives when they come into the harbor.

Later in the novel, Higginbottham becomes the Chief Factor and in an attempt to save the Company, “These letters took over his life” (199). He attempts to resemble Chief Factor Prynne, but tends to fail in the times that the Company needed it most. Chief Fractor Prynne was a “sordid force of character” (199) which Higginbottham tried to emulate since he began working for Chief Factor Prynne. He becomes, however, “an ineffectual, embittered visionary” (199). Higginbottham from the beginning was a small, weak character that could never muster power over anyone. Each time, such as when he delivered a message for Gabriel to Hannah, he is unable to stand his ground. In this particular instance, “[He] flinched. Hannah was grateful that it was the uneasy Higginbottham and not the cold, self-possessed Cephus Prynne” (186). Higginbottham seems to be the only man in this story that cannot successful emulate his idol. He fails at being a strong and worthy leader, in the way that Chief Factor Prynne was able to, despite his coldness.

The women of the novel also copy each other. Unlike the men, however, it is not to change who they are. They copy each other to remain the same, creating the ideal “English woman” in India. In spending time with Hannah, “they never let [her] forget that they were truly Englishwomen” (134). They explain to her the rules of living in the Indian society and what is acceptable. They act as the aristocratic women of London that attempt to teach young girls how to behave properly in society, very archaic if you ask me. They take this, however, as making sure Hannah acts in the appropriate manner for the society they live in, attempting to create another woman just like them. They fail to recognize that Hannah is changing, just not in the way that they intended.

What I really want to know is what is going to happen to Hannah now that she is out of Gabriel’s life? Yes, she spent most of her time alone anyway, but now he will never return. With her copying of his journal and revolving her life around his adventures, did she idolize him? Or was she jealous of his ability to travel and see the world while she remained at home? Hannah had a different lifestyle than the rest of the women in the fort, who wished only to return to England and to see nothing outside White Town. Is Hannah’s ability to change and desire to do so a result of her four “homes”? Or is it something she has adapted from Gabriel? And finally…Will Hannah change as a result of her loss of Gabriel or will she continue on in hopes of finding herself in a place she belongs?

4 responses to “Hannah: A woman trying to live in a man’s world

  1. I think Hannah’s desire to be different from those around her and her intense desire to experience the world is intensified through Gabriel. Sarah and Martha Ruxton tell Hannah to accept and ignore the fact that soon, her husband too, will claim a bibi. From the moment she hears of this, she knows she will never be able to accept disloyalty from her husband. When she hears of his bibi, she feels it is “a matter that her pride would not permit forgiveness” (pg 198). Because Gabriel leaves her constantly and displays hardly any affection towards her when he does return, Hannah is forced to continue her eternal search for her “home” and where she belongs. She says she feels “unfinished, unformed…” and that “to let Gabriel go was also to let herself expand” (pg 163). She defies the White Town social norm by befriending Bhagmati and becoming the surgeon yet again for poor Tringham, thus seeking adventure through others. Finally, when Gabriel is assumed dead, she sets sail to find her true home. But, where that will be and how she will change this time is the intriguing question.

  2. I don’t think Hannah is copying or desires change just to be like someone she already knows, but is trying to find a life she hasn’t yet experienced. Every place she’s been so far has been miserable in one way or another. All she can do is try to cling to someone she respects because they enjoy themselves. I believe that’s why she went with Gabriel in the first place and refused to think that he would be like the other men and have a bibi; she respected him because he had a way to cope with his troubles by adventuring and enjoying life. She is looking for that kind of contentment and pleasure of her own, but can’t find it in any of her surroundings. This is why she is always so ready to leave and try something else. She hopes and dreams of a better life and, unlike many of the other people, honestly thinks she can find it.

  3. I am more in agreement with Michael here. When I was reading part two I did not get the sense that Hannah was copying or trying to alter the way she lives her life based on what people in her surroundings were doing. Just like with any significant change, it takes time to develop a new lifestyle and new habits. Having to adjust to a different culture to makes things even that more difficult. Thus I can understand thinking that Hannah was copying other women, but I do not think it was out of choice. I believe Hannah was following their lead. Hannah was observing the local customs on how things were done, and thus could assimilate into her new culture quicker and easier. Eventually Hannah will put her own spin on old traditions in her new land, and perhaps others will be copying her.

  4. Ken Loach once said, “I think we all have to plough our own furrows. You have to work out your own artistic strategy as directly from life as you can, and say…”How can I make a film which breathes of the outside world rather than of other films, theatricality, or old techniques or methods?” [sic]. However, before making their own way in the world, young artists are taught to copy from directors, artists, the greater models in the world before them. Hannah, in my opinion, is like a young artist trying to weave her way through life’s tapestry, trying to create her own pattern on the loom of life. She has a unique experience where her mother leaves her and the Puritan settlement to be with her Indian lover, her own “bibi,” so to speak. As Hannah goes through life trying to suppress this event, it shapes her by forcing her to understand how different her mother was from society, and also how different she herself is because of the way she was raised. By imitating the other people around her, Hannah is trying to find her way through life the same way everyone else does: she is trying for normality. Yet, her experiences will refuse her that semblance which she finally gives up when she meets the Raja and decides to take control of her own life.

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