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Meaning of Grandmothers in Lives of Family Members

Every society has fixed cultural practices for the elderly and the senior members more popularly termed as grand parents. While there may be few differences, in most societies, the elderly and the aged play the role of welcoming and loving grandparents who love to spend time with their children’s families, especially their grandchildren. This paper aims to explore the role and place of grandmothers in the different cultures of the world, through a study of North Indian, traditional Chinese and American cultures.

The paper investigates the meaning of grandmothers in the lives of family members of different societies through the study of short video films and 2 stories revolving around the life of the elderly women, functioning in families from different societies. As such, the paper aims to find out whether there are any differences in the cultural practices of these elderly women and the roles they play as grandmothers in their later lives.

Grave, Lamb’s, “Green Earrings: A Widow’s Tale” is a poignant tale of a widow and the hardships she encounters through her early marriage. Her problems continue as she is unable to bear a child to her husband and have a household of her own. Her life becomes even more miserable after the death of her husband, due to her “widowed” status which segregates her from society and makes her life even more miserable.

In ‘Dadi’s family’, Dadi or the mother in law and the senior most lady of a traditional north Indian family, plays an important role in all the activities of the house including financial and daily chores. Dadi works hard and is actively involved in the cooking and cleaning chores and strives to keep all the members of the family united and together by treating them equally and humanely. She is the bearer of the traditions and culture and maintains that “one shouldn’t forget old laws” (Dadi’s family).

Through Trujillo’s “In Search of Naunny’s”, which includes letters by Naunny and interviews of family members, the life of Naunny is illustrated which serves as an exploration of the role played by the grandmothers in American culture and helps in the analysis of age, class, gender and ethnicity to compare the lives of these grandmothers with those in different cultures and societies of the world.

Similarly, in “China from the Inside”, grandparents play the crucial role of looking after their grand children while their parents migrate to big cities for jobs and livelihood. The grand children stay in the villages with their grand parents and are looked after them and can see their parents only once a year when they return for a holiday. Thus it is apparent that in Indian and Chinese societies, the primary role of the elderly is related to their children and grand children. This importance on parenthood is emphasized through the absence of children in the life of the married widow, Kayera Bou (Grave, Lamb’s “Green Earrings: A Widow’s Tale”)due to which she has to suffer physically and psychologically at the hands of the society. The importance of having a family and bearing children in these societies can be gauged from kayera Bou’s mother’s anxiety and her desire of cutting Kayera’s stomach to “put a child into it” so that her daughter would have “a family, a household”.

However, in western societies, old age initiates different problems similar to the ones experienced by Naunny, who is an old grandmother and loves her family. Naunny is an old widow who experiences loss and grief after the death of the husband, and members of the family believe that “Naunny changed after the death of her husband” experiences widowhood which is “devastating, especially for the elderly”. The loss of the male partner in the later stages of life is believed to be a major problem in such societies since they are “structurally isolated and feel psychological abandonment”.

Kayera Bou (Grave, Lamb’s “Green Earrings: A Widow’s Tale”) faces “the suffering of her life” as a widow and is “structurally isolated” due to “psychological abandonment” from society. She suffers much and is allowed to have only “dry puffed rice at night and vegetarian rice in the day”. She is “guarded by her husbands kin” who treat her as a “slut” and is not allowed to even look at a male, abstain from wearing colorful clothes and “eat an austere diet to control her sexuality, making her thin and “cool without sexual appeal or desire”. While this control of the relatives is not apparent in the western societies, Naunny illustrates the life of most elderly staying as “residents in nursing homes” which are no better than “jails” and “experience detachment from others as well as isolation”.

While the manner in which the elderly face loneliness and societal detachment varies in every society, the final stage of psychological distress due to isolation is the same. While the Indian system of isolating widows reflects inhumanity, the same system works excellently for women who have their husbands as partners and are heads of their households. In western cultures as depicted in “Trujillo’s In Search of Naunny’s”, old age is a troublesome period in life, much like the widowhood experienced by Kayera Bou. However, Kayers Bou is forced to accept her loneliness as a societal norm while Naunny chooses to stay lonely for the sake of autonomy, respect and dignity, which is prevalent in the culture and society which she fucntions.

For all the women in their old age, especially women, the final stage of life is no different from the rest, but the factors leading to it may be different. In the case of Kayera Bou, widowhood is a social stigma and is thrust upon her, irrespective of the fact whether she like it or not, while in the case of Naunny, her loneliness in widowhood is her personal choice to stay alone and independent from her sons. In “Dadi’s Family” being a Dadi, an elderly woman and the mother in law “saas” of the house is not a pleasure trip, with all the psychological tension she has to face from running a joint family system and ensuring that all the members of the family are treated equally. Similarly, in the Chinese society as evident from “China From the Inside” the grandparents are thrust with the responsibilities of their grandchildren and do not have a choice, so there is a role reversal, with the parents acting like grandparents visiting their children once a year while the grand parents function like the real parents and have to assume the responsibility of their children.


Grave, Lamb’s, Green Earrings: A Widow’s Tale Nick Trujillo. In Search of Naunny’s Grave: Age, Class, Gender, and Ethnicity in an American Family. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 2004.

Film Dadi’s Family and China From the Inside. Web.


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