My Grandmother’s House Summary
This central idea of “My Grandmother’s House” is the poet’s longing for love and her failure to achieve love.
It is a poignant poem where the poet is reminiscent of the old happy days of her childhood days. The poet’s sweet memories of her childhood are associated with her grandmother’s house.
The poet says she received immense love and care at the house. The death of her grandmother brings bleakness to the house. The house has turned still and only a handful of memories remain with the poet.
She often thinks of visiting the house to freshen her memories. She laments that the house is far from her present house and her want of love and care in her married life pushes her to beg strangers to get some love.
My Grandmother’s House poem | Analysis | Explanation
The poet is in a nostalgic state and says that there is a house that is far from her present house. In that house, she once “received love”.
The woman who loved the poet died. That woman is her grandmother and the house the poet is referring to is her grandmother’s house. This could be assumed as it is mentioned in the title of the poem.
Another autobiographical element can also be found in the use of the pronoun “I”, which suggests that the poet is talking about herself. Therefore Kamala Das is the speaker in the poem.
Das’s grandmother was a sweet woman from whom Das received warmth and care. The use of ellipsis, for instance, “There is a house now far away from where once/ I received love…….”, and “Can you, that I lived in such a house and/ Was proud, and loved….”, in the poem suggests the immense love and care she has got in the house.
Therefore the house represents the source of love and happiness for the poet.
But the house has become desolate after the death of her grandmother. A house cannot withdraw into silence. Here the poet uses personification.
The use of personification suggests that the house also grieves over the death of the old woman. That is why the house lapsed into silence.
After the death, none lives there in the house except pin-drop silence. Snakes move among books in the house. This image of “snakes moving among books” conveys the idea that the eerie feeling about the house.
Das was young to read the books and her grandmother’s death made her depressed. Her blood turns cold “like the moon”. Here the poet uses a simile to convey the coldness of blood with the moon.
The poem from a psychological point of view
Das’s marital life is not satisfactory and the need for physical hunger drives her to find means to escape from her boring life. Her grandmother’s house is one of them.
According to the pleasure principle, when a human being is disturbed or not happy about a certain aspect of life, the mind of the person tries to divert attention to the opposite picture of the reality where the person attains pleasure. These could be beautiful memories of a person or something else.
In Das’s autobiography My Story Das reveals that the anguished persona of her poetry is derived from a traumatic frustration in love, and marriage, finally urges her to “run from one/ Gossamer love to another,’ sadly realizing that “Love became a swivel-door/When one went out, another came in.’” (Naik 219)
Psychological and Biological need
What I am arguing is that her sexual and psychological appetite is the root cause of her mental state. The lack in her enforces her to take shelter in the psychological space and this is attained by dwelling in the memories of her childhood and later tries to cater to her appetite by making love with strangers.
Experience of married life
As Das was not happy with her married life, she often desperately thinks of visiting her grandmother’s house to get rid of the unpleasant experiences of her life. Das describes the house as a shabby house.
The windows have not been cleaned for long and the air in the house has become frozen. Therefore the air in the house described as frozen.
The poet wants to peer through the “blind eyes of windows” or listen to the “frozen air”. Here again, the poet uses personification.
Windows can not have eyes but the windows are personified. It suggests that due to the lack of care of the house the windows have become dusty and dirty.
The “frozen air” could refer to the blocked air caused by the immobility in the airtight room. Both “blind eyes of windows” and “frozen air” suggest the idea of bleakness caused by the demise of her grandmother.
The poet also says that in wild desperation she wants to pick “an armful of/
Darkness” from the dark house to her house and lie behind her bedroom door like a brooding dog. “an armful of/ Darkness” suggests sweet memories of her childhood, this might imply bringing some objects from the house.
Here she uses the simile of a brooding dog. Just like a brooding dog, she can easily get lost in the fond memories that she shared with her grandmother.
By doing this she can always freshen her memories. This shows the solace and peace that she found in her grandmother’s house now lack in her present house.
As it is mentioned that her married life was not satisfactory. Moreover, a glimpse of her married life is seen in “An Introduction”.
After her marriage, she lives far away from her grandmother’s house. Though she is physically disconnected from her grandmother she is emotionally always connected with her.
To escape from the unpleasant reality of her married life, the poet compares her present life with her childhood days and present life and finds her childhood days are much better than her present.
Therefore the speaker often wishes to go back to her grandmother’s house because she wants to vitalize her mind and life. It is memories of old beautiful days of the past which she wants to keep remembering to conceal her harsh reality.
This manifests that she is not happy with her present and she needs psychological company. Therefore the speaker is so nostalgic about her grandmother’s house. The fact of thinking often about the house suggests that Das was not happy in her married life.
While she remembers the past days, she says probably to her husband that she lived in such a house where she has received love and she is proud to say that.
Unfortunately now she has lost love from her life and she is in search of love. In her quest for love, she begs strangers to receive love and compels her to pursue clandestine relationships at least for a little love.
If her appetite is psychological then she would not need any strangers. Since it was her instinctual need therefore she needed someone.
The use of the word love as in “ I received love…….”, “Was proud, and loved….” and “to/ Receive love” in the poem shows her tireless pursuit of love in her life.
If it was not for her ‘id’ then she would not beg strangers for exchange of love. If it was only a psychological need, she would have thought about some other psychological relief.
It is more of an instinctual need than a psychological need. So it can be said that under the veil of grandmother’s memories it reveals her quest to quench her thirst of sexual appetite.
Structure of poem
The poem has only 16 lines, and follows no definite pattern of rhyme. The tone of the poem is melancholic. The moods of melancholy and nostalgia dominate the overall atmosphere of the poem.
The poem ends with a note of autobiographical element as Das confesses her extra-marital relationship. Love becomes an avenue of escape for her. The hopelessness and dryness in her relationship made Das a beggar of love who engages in a relationship with strangers’ to get the vitality of her life back. This is a clear suggestion that Das was not content with her marriage.
- Read 👉 Selected Poems of Kamala Das.
FAQ | My Grandmother’s House Poem
About Kamala Das.
Das hails from Kerala, India. Das is primarily known for her autobiographical and confessional poetry. Confessional poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet deals with the facts and intimate mental and physical experiences of life.
Das has published three books of verse in English Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967), and The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973). The poem “My Grandmother’s House” first appeared in an anthology of verse titled Summer in Calcutta, a breakthrough in Indian poetry.
Why is My Grandmother’s House a confessional poem?
The instances of confession make it a confession poem. The poet’s confession of her extra-marital relationship makes the poem a confessional poem. We have already discussed about it above.
What is the theme of My Grandmother’s House?
The theme of the poem is longing for love and failure to achieve love runs throughout the poem. The poem is an expression of the poetess’ longing for the grandmother’s house where she used to find bliss.
- Brozak, Jennifer, “Characteristics of Confessional Poetry.” Pen and the Pad, 25 April, 2020, https://penandthepad.com/characteristics-confessional-poetry-20492.html.
- Das, Kamala. “My Grandmother’s House.” Selected Poems, edited by Devindra Kohli. Penguin, 2014, p.13.
- Mahanta, Pona, et al., editors. Poems Old and New. Macmillan, 2011.
- Naik, M.K. A History of Indian English Liteature. Sahitya Akademi, 2012.