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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Semiotic Significance of Alter Ego in Girish Karnad’s “Broken Images”

Semiotics is the study of signs. It involves studying representations and the processes involved in representational practices. Semiotics represents everything which has meaning within a culture. When we analyse a text on the basis of semiotics our “initial analytical task is to identify the signs within the text and the codes within which these signs have meaning.”1 The codes may be specific codes, non-specific codes, and mixed codes. Semiotic analysis also focused on the structural analysis like syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis. Another significant aspect of semiotics is intertextuality, which means to identify the relation to one text with the historical significance, where this text applied before etc. Theatricality is the next major concern in semiotic analysis. Theatricality is how the audience feel the acting as their’s own experiences. It can be through body politics of the actor, power of communication or art, visual or written representation, social acts etc. In other words we can be said it as method of exaggeration. “Finally you need to discuss the ideological functions of the signs in the text and of the text as a whole. What sort of reality does the text construct and how does it do so? How does it seek to naturalize its own perspectives? What assumptions does it make about its readers?”2

Girish Karnard’s monologue Broken Images takes up a debate, the politics of language in Indian literary culture, specifically in relation to the respective claims of the modern Indian language and English. This we can see as in the stream of social semiotics, because it is mainly focused on the writers who attempts to write in both languages, vernacular and in English also. In this novel Manjula Nayak ia appreciated for her achievement for writing a novel in English. She in the beginning of the play speaks the two major questions about the writers who were writing both in vernacular language and in English also. She says that the English novel

“that transforms her into the Literary Phenomenon of the Decade, the breakthrough arouses admiration, but also dismay and resentment that she has ‘betrayed’ Kannada for the sake fame, fortune and a vastly expanded audience. Manjula’s conversation with her own television image soon reveals that she is an impostor who has passed off her dead Malini’s novel as her own. The switch to English, hailed as an inspired act of self-fashioning on the author’s part, turns out in reality to be an act of dishonesty, desperation, and cowardice, the implication being that the material lure of English as a medium can only lead the Indian – language author to prostitute herself.”(xxvii)3

This may be implication for the title Broken Images. Her ‘image’ in one level well appreciated. But in her actual life she steeled her sister’s work. So she is having a ‘broken image’ throughout the play.

Girish Karnard’s Broken Images explores the dilemma of Indian writers who choose to write in English. When we analyse the play in the light of semiotics, we can see the different approaches of semiotics through out the play. This monologue it self stands as a syntagm. “A syntagm is a collection of interrelated parts. The parts and relationships that comprise the system are distinguished from the rest of the world (or the environment) by a boundary”.4 The different paradigms used to make the syntagm are the title, Broken Images. It is a sign which signifies dilemma of Indian writers who choose to write in English, and signified is Manjula the protagonist. Again Manjula itself is another paradigm. She signifies the inner conflicts of writers, who were appreciated for others work. Here it is important because the novel which she written is actually her sister’s. The ‘image’ is again a sign which signifies the inner consciousness of a writer and the signified is again Manjula.

Another important aspect of semiotics which is prevailed in Broken Images is rhetorical tropes or figures of speech. In this play we can see Manjula stands as a metaphor for all those writers limited to their native language (Kannada), not out of responsibility, but due to lack of choice. The image of Malini, her sister projects the Indian English writer who is ostracised for his stupendous success because the native writer (Manjula) has to settle for second place. Given an opportunity, Manjula steals Malini’s work in English, though she pretends to be addicted to the Kannada language. The sisters’ rapport with Pramod (Manjula’s husband) symbolises their bond with their motherland. Manjula is with him out of the matrimonial ties of responsibility, and fails to live up to her responsibilities of a wife, as Pramod continuously pines for attention. “Finally, the image on the screen becomes real in comparison to the deceptive human being on the other side. The image of Manjula morphs into Malini at a climatic juncture in the play.”5

When we consider the ‘codes’ of semiotics, specific, non-specific, and mixed codes, the opening of the play itself is described through codes. Codes are interpretive frameworks which are used by both producers and interpreters of texts. The description of the television studio, the red bulb, and different television sets etc. are example for space related codes. The description of Manjula Nayak, her gestures, etc. stands for actor related codes. This actor related code that is Manjula undergoes transformations and we can see that this code produces different texts which in turn modifies the code. This is clear when in the middle and then throughout the play, Manjula speaks about her inner conflicts which the ‘image’ calls as Freudian Unconscious6 is another concept in semiotics called intertextuality.

Poly-functionality is another major concern in the play. The ‘image’ in the play stands for many other things. It may be for Manjula who now wrote in English which was originally her sister’s work. Image may be for Manjula’s years of revenge for her sister Malini. Another symbol of image is her stolen identity of her sister. Another symbol of image is “the age-old conflict between writing in one’s own language and a foreign language, through the objective correlative of the writer’s confrontation with her own image”.7

When we consider the theatricality of the play, there are good examples. Theatricality is how the audience feel the acting as their’s own experiences. It can be through body politics of the actor, power of communication or art, visual or written representation, social acts etc. In other words we can be said it as method of exaggeration. In Broken Images, body politics can be seen how a vernacular writer expresses her views about the modern technology. How she says about her husbands relation with Malini. Most importantly to show Manula’s inner consciousness Karnard used the technique, to create a character which is her image itself. This theatricality we can see when the image asks about her husband’s relation with Malini. Then Manjula becomes very angry to ‘image’. ‘Image’ calls it as Freudian Unconscious. This mention we can consider as the concept called intertextuality in semiotic analysis.

Broken Images is enriched with the semiotic constructions. The larger syntagm ‘broken image’ is made of paradigms like Manjula, ‘Image’ etc. The signs in the play for the writer to echo that those who write in their mother tongue also do accept royalties and trade their creativity, rather than wield the pen for social service. The ‘image’ in the play stands for the identity crisis of the writers who were writing both in vernacular language and also in English. This is the syntagm of the play.


Karnard, Girish. Collected Plays.vol. 2. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Identity Crisis in Broken Images, by Girish Karnard.

as on 29 Aug. 2009.

M K., Rukhya. Girish Karnard’s Broken Images. as on 29 Aug. 2009.

Girish Karnad's 'A Heap of Broken Images’. 7 Sep 2008 as on 29 Aug. 2009.

A Heap Of Broken Images – Girish Karnad. Tuesday, 01 January 2008, as on 29 Aug. 2009.

Dharwadker, Aparna Bhargava, Diaspora, Nation, and the Failure of Home: Two Contemporary Indian Plays.Theatre Journal - Volume 50, Number 1, March 1998, pp. 71-94. as on 29 Aug.2009.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. Coursr in General Linguistics. Wade Baslrin. Trs. New York: Mc Graw- Hill. 1959

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