The poem “The Stone Age” by Kamala Das is about the poet’s failed marriage, her slavery in her new house, her extra-marital relationship and her failure in achieving the love that she desired.
Like most of the other poems, this verse too throws light on the effect of a patriarchal society on a woman and the reasons that force her to attain illicit and socially unacceptable steps.
I have divide the poem into three parts – In the first part (Lines 1-10) the poet tells her experiences as the wife of a lustful and emotionless husband. In the second part (Lines 11-16), the poet tells about her extra-marital affair and in the final part (Lines 16-22) the poet grieves over her failed love.
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The Stone Age Poem Summary
The poet says that her husband is fond meaning either foolish or empty (emotionless). Next, she calls him an ancient settler. Settler here means coloniser. The phrase suggests that since time immemorial, the men have colonised the minds of a woman and dominated them.
According to the poet, her husband like all the men (from part to present) has colonised her mind and made her his slave. He is thus an old fat spider who is weaving webs of bewilderment and pretending to be kind.
He is called old fat spider probably because he is an old man, as ugly as a spider (as she tells in The Freaks). He is weaving a web of bewilderment i.e. he has confused her mind by pretending to be kind (web here symbolises sweet talks, as the men do) like the spider which weaves a web to confuse the prey which ultimately gets trapped. The poet is too trapped in the confusing words of her husband.
He has turned the poet into a bird of stone, a granite dove. The line means that she has become like a stone bird (toy or ornament) like a granite dove kept in the house for its decoration. Hence she is not a human in her house but a piece of decoration.
In addition, he has build around her a shabby room. Shabby means in poor condition because of lack of care. The line either means that she has been kept in the room which is in poor condition or he has kept the poet in poor condition because of his emotionless nature and lack of care for her.
The poet then tells how she is disturbed by him on a daily basis. He absent-mindedly strikes the poet’s depressed face while reading. In addition, he takes away her sweet sleep (pre-morning sleep) by talking loudly and also always sticks a finger into her dreaming eye i.e. he has made her incapable of dreaming or desiring.
In the next line she says that the men are strong enough to cast their shadows on daydreams of women. Hence, her she hides her desires (to have an illicit relationship) in her Dravidian blood. Dravidian blood here either simply refers to her race (In India there are two races – the Aryans and the Dravidians, she is a Dravidian) or it refers to her lost identity like Dravidians who are fighting for their identity.
Whatever the true meaning may be, the line means that she hides her secrets in the swell of her blood like the White Sun hides in the swell of ocean. These dreams flow through her body like the dirty water flows beneath the sacred cities. The dream is compared to drains because they are illicit yet they flow like the drain water.
Now the poet starts telling about her escapism from the problems of her marital life. She says that when her husband leaves, she drives her blue battered (painted) car along the blue sea. to the house of her lover. Reaching there she takes forty noisy steps to knock at another’s door.
She emphasizes on the number of steps she takes probably to show that she has to walk by foot to reach him. Another’s door here means her lover’s house where she goes for love and se x.
As she often goes to her lover’s house, the neighbours watch her going and coming back through the peep-holes of their houses (doors and windows).
The neighbours and all others (I think she herself) ask her what makes his husband to look at her with lustful eyes. Why he is like a lion (dominating and lustful because whenever they start love-making, his hand (like the snake with its head up) moves towards her breasts and vag ina (revealing that he has no love for her but desire to enjoy her physical se xual body parts).
She again questions herself why he suddenly falls on her breasts, like a great tree falling down, and sleeps on her (i.e. he comes and quickly fornicates and then goes to sleep, without making her feel loved).
The poet then wonders why life is short and love is shorter i.e. life is short enough to enjoyed and love is even shorter than it hence no chance of getting it. She asks herself if nothing can be achieved, then what is joy and what is the price of that joy.