The two female protagonists from “Veronica” and “A Stench of Kerosene” have several similarities as well as differences. Their lives are very different, mainly due to where they live, and the amount of wealth they possess. Money, in general plays a key role in the outcome of Veronica and Guleri’s lives. While Guleri seems to live in abundant wealth, Veronica is living in acute poverty. However, both women were born into their wealth, i.e. Guleri could not help being born into a rich and well off family, and Veronica, too could not do anything to help her situation. This shows that each writer has created a character that has to, in a way, adapt to the circumstances they find themselves in, and learn to make best of these situations.
There are several prominent themes in “A Stench of Kerosene.” The most evident is culture. It plays a key role in the story because it acts as a plot device e.g. Guleri going to the annual fair. It also lets the reader see how the characters react to difficult situations e.g. Manak marrying another woman so that she can bear his children as Guleri is barren. Culture and tradition may be important in “A Stench of Kerosene,” but in “Veronica” there is not much evidence to show that culture was important. This may be because their community lived in such destitution that they could not afford to follow customs. The reader can see here that because Guleri’s community is considerably richer, they are able to pay attention to following traditions and customs, but Veronica’s community is far too poor to follow some customs, like the fair. Despite this, Veronica’s community do follow other social customs, for example they don’t get involved when Veronica is being physically abused by her father. Culture is significant to the stories because it gives the ability to show some events in a different, and new light e.g. the idea of Manak getting married to another woman, may seem strange to some readers, but from the mother-in-law’s point of view it is a chance for Manak to become a father at last.
Another less evident theme in both stories is the loyalty that the characters have to their family, or certain members of their family. The writer may have included this as a theme in the stories to show how “culture” and “family” are closely connected. In Veronica, this is shown when she refuses the offer from Okeke to move to the city. Even though, her family have never helped her, and her father physically abused her, she still declined the offer, saying that her “own place is here.” The writer may have included this to show that in Veronica’s community, loyalty to a person’s family was very important. Another example is in “A Stench of Kerosene” where Manak does not refuse his mother’s suggestion of getting another wife. Although he does not want to upset Guleri, he still maintains his loyalty to his mother by marrying a second wife, and eventually having a son.
The writer gives no description regarding Guleri’s appearance in “A Stench of Kerosene.” Nonetheless, the writer does suggest that she must have been very attractive, as Manak fell in love with her, when he first met her, at the fair. Veronica’s appearance is outlined more. The author describes her as “shabby.” This could refer to the state of her clothes, suggesting that they are maybe dirty, and scruffy. On the other hand, it could indirectly apply to her unwillingness to make herself look attractive – “…she still had certain attractiveness…” This indicates that Veronica had the potential to be appealing in a certain way. She is very fatalistic and therefore suffers. Her suffering is also caused because of her loyalty to her family. Despite this, the reader can tell that Veronica is emotionally strong because she has been physically abused by her father, and yet she still maintains her duty to her family. Guleri’s sense of loyalty is inclined more towards her husband, rather than her family. She shows what could be defined as an “extreme” case of loyalty to her husband, when she soaks her clothes in kerosene and sets fire to it. Readers may also interpret it in another way. They could call it a case of “extreme foolishness,” as her death was a tragic loss of life. Guleri’s’ behaviour throughout the story is very childish and immature. She argues with her husband and disobeys him, when he tells her not to go to the fair, although this could be described as loyalty to her village and their customs. She then commits suicide when she learns of his second marriage. However, it could also be said that Guleri was very emotional at that time and was driven to kill herself, because she found herself in a position where she was not in control; a position that might be very unfamiliar to her.
In “A Stench of Kerosene,” it is more of a personal conflict. The cultural background in this story is more defined. This gives it the sense that it is a more distinct culture. Names of places are given e.g. Chamba, Lakarmandi, Khajiar etc. And there is also a glossary of foreign words and their definitions. All this emphasize and outline the culture and setting at that particular time. From the story “Veronica,” the reader learns that a war disrupts her life, although there aren’t any specific details about it. The village where she lives, is disease and poverty-stricken. The narrator describes Veronica’s family as one of the most destitute in the entire village. There are no place names given to outline a more specific setting. This gives the impression that a story like “Veronica” could occur anywhere and at anytime.
There is no actual mention whether Guleri ever had an education, but as the readers already know that her family were well-off, they can presume that she probably would have been educated. Also, Guleri’s father is described as “prosperous” and “he lived in cities,” which suggests that he must have been educated to become so wealthy, as is the case with most rich people. In addition to this, Guleri’s parents were very caring towards her, and would probably have wanted her to receive a proper education, which could be useful to her. Veronica, on the other hand, admits that she does not have “Standard 6” i.e. no qualifications. The village where she lives has a limited range of educational opportunities. Moreover, Veronica was a girl, subsequently giving her a smaller chance of receiving an education, whilst living in a poor village. She did not have the money, or the means to get herself into studies. Her opportunities were limited and therefore her education suffered.
Veronica’s relationship with her family is not specified in the story. This gives the effect that her family are less important, in that story. However, readers will know that Veronica’s father was physically violent towards her. The narrator, Okeke, described himself as “physically inadequate,” which shows that he feels unable to help her during those times. The custom regarding marriage was not strict, maybe because of their financial state, so that Veronica could get married without any involvement from her family. We also learn that Veronica has one son who dies later in the story. Guleri’s relationship with her father is totally different to that of Veronica’s. Guleri’s father wanted her to marry a “worthy” young man, and therefore accepted Manak as his daughter’s husband. It was a social custom to have an arranged marriage, and more pressure was put towards this. Readers will also see here that the reason why Manak had a second marriage is because Guleri was barren.
One of the main similarities between Veronica and Guleri is that they both die in the stories. Veronica dies in poverty. She waits patiently for her death and accepts it willingly. Even though life has been so hard for her, she does not complain or cry. She does not even let Okeke help her when she was dying. Guleri, on the other hand, causes her own death by soaking her clothes in kerosene and then setting fire to them. She does this because she finds out about her husband’s second marriage. The reader finds this out indirectly – from another character’s dialogue. Her death was sudden and violent – which could, in a way, reflect her character. At times she was sudden and angry e.g. when she gets angry at Manak for asking her not to go to the fair. Veronica experienced a very tough life, and she endured it whilst waiting for her demise. However, Guleri appeared to have a relatively easy life, compared to Veronica, and yet she was the one that decided to commit suicide. This could show a poor decision on her part, as she never had to tolerate the problems that Veronica had to.
I believe that Veronica and Guleri have several differences. To some extent they are very similar e.g. they both die, out of their own will, both are given hard situations to cope with. However, their differences lie in how they react to these situations. Guleri’s reactions mostly involve violent, spontaneous events, while Veronica usually remains calm and tolerant towards circumstances that are harder to endure. This gives the effect that although Guleri may have been richer than Veronica, her characteristics lacked, and while Veronica may have been brought up in a poor community, she had good characteristics, including perseverance, patience and loyalty.