The poem The Sunshine Cat by Kamala Das is about cynic nature of men which makes them see the woman as merely an object of lust. They do not have any emotional attachment with the woman. Rather they use the woman for satisfying their sexual lust.
In this poem, the poet is trying to expose how her husband, as well as her so-called lovers, used her for satisfying their lust. While she carved for emotional support, love and care, they remained cold to it and remained cynic until she became a cold and half dead woman… and of no use at all to men.
In order to make the poem easier to understand, I have divided it into four parts.
- In the first part (lines 1-4), she tells about the cold nature of her husband.
- In the second part (lines 4-10), she talks about the lustful nature of those with whom she was having extra-marital affairs.
- In the third part (11-14), she throws light on her sorrows and griefs.
- In the fourth part (14-22), she describes how she became a half-dead woman and useless to men.
The Sunshine Cat Poem Summary and Analysis
The poet begins the poem with the words they did this to her. The very first line of the poem indicates that the poem is about a victim who is a female. The further says that she loved the men who knew her i.e. her husband and her lovers. However they never loved her enough.
She says that her husband was selfish and coward. He neither loved not used her. We do understand the meaning love but the word not used her is confusing. It is either acting as the synonym of love (because for loving one needs to use his/her body physically) or it means he never considered her as his partner but rather an object for satisfying his lust.
He was just a ruthless watcher. Ruthless means lacking compassion. The lines suggest that he never abused her physically (i.e. punished or harmed her) rather he failed to love her. He could not provide her with emotional support.
Rather he was cold to her emotions and remained emotionless to them. The line also suggests that he might be seeing her looking out for love from other people and was quite jealous of it and hence emotionless for her.
According to the critic, Dhar T. N.,
The husband is not merely a cowardly and selfish person, but a jealous and ruthless watcher. When she goes out in search of love to young people. She is frankly told by them that they cannot give love to her, but only lust. The husband punishes her brutally till she returns into a “cold and halfdead woman”. Whether she is in a house or on a corridor, acutely conscious of her need for loveDhar T. N.
Now she turns to the people with whom she had extra-marital affairs. One thing worth noticing here is that she was never loved by her husband which made her look out for other men who may fulfil her emotional as well as sexual desire. However, all of them turned out to be “the band of cynics“. Cynics are the people who believe in doing everything for their own benefits. Thus her lovers were no different from her husband.
According to her, she went to other men for love. She was clinging to their chests where new hair sprouted like great-winged moths. The word “cling” means “holding tightly”. The lines mean that in pursuit to forget or ignore their lust in the guise of love, she submitted to them who used her body (they clung her on their chests meaning that they used her body without any compassion).
The chest hair of men is termed as geat-winged moths. I think it symbolises the patriarchal dominance over women. The poet felt being lost in that hair and their smell and tried forgetting their real motives (the word forget is repeated 3 times to show how much she tried to forget all this).
The lovers who used to have sex with her simply said that they cannot love her when she begged for it. One said I do not love, other said, I cannot love and another said It is not in my nature to love. All of them then said the same thing that they can be kind to her.
The word kind is problematic here. The same “kindness” is shown by her husband as well. Hence their kindness is not something which Kamala needs. Moreover, their kindness reflects that they are just like her husband.
All of them let her slide from pegs of sanity into a bed made soft with tears and she lay there weeping. Pegs of sanity here means that she was quite wise and thinking being. She was happy and hopeful.
However, their cold behaviour towards her made her so sorrowful that her wisdom, health and all the good things withered away and she kept weeping which made even her bed wet and soft with tears and she never sleeps because sleep had lost its use.
She says that she will weep enough to build walls with tears, walls in which she will shut herself in. I think the wall means an external protection against those who desire her body. She is probably trying to say that she will give up all her sexual desires and her emotions and thus alienate from the world, especially men.
Another important thing to note here is the use of shutting herself in. The poet has used the word like moths and burrowing previously. Hence like the silk-moth (which dies in its own saliva), she wants to get imprisoned in the walls build out of her tears and thus die.
The poet again returns back to her husband and her life in her house. According to her, her husband shut her in, every morning. She was thus locked in a room in which there was none to give her company but books and a streak of sunshine (rays) lying near the door like a yellow cat.
There is no cat but rays which she imagines in her thoughts to be a cat (hence the title of the poem is Sunshine Cat). In a way she has made the books and the sunshine her companions.
Everything has a limit. Her imprisonment in the room (by her husband) had adverse effect on Kamala. She says that finally one day winter came. Winter here not only symbolises the cold season but the winter or death of herself as well.
On that day, her husband found that the rays which used to spread in that room grew thinner. There was only a line, a half-thin line. Here Kamala’s life and the thickness symbolically become one. And like the rays, the life or youth or liveliness in Kamala was also shorten.
When he returned back home, he finally took her out (probably because he feared that he won’t be able to quench his sexual thirst). But Kamala was a cold and half dead woman, now of no use at all to men.
Like the moth or the rays, she was dead now because she remained confined in the thick walls of her tears. She lost her liveliness, her hope, her desire, her sexual power and even her life.
The poem also throws light on the condition of woman in the society in general.