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00242-- 'Night of the Scorpion' by Nissim Ezekiel.[English literature free notes]

Nissim Ezekiel
 "Night of the scorpion" is a brilliant narrative poem.  The protagonist might be  the poet himself or a narrator who is the creation of his imagination.  The mother is  stung by a scorpion on a rainy night.  The mother is the most prominent figure in  an Indian home.  So all the attention is focused on her.  They are simple and good and believe in the efficiency of prayer.  They believe that prayer can ward off the evil influence.  They are a set of superstitious people.  They search for the scorpion but in vain.  

They believe that if the scorpion moves, its poison in the victim will also move and spread all over.  The words they speak to console the woman are also related to their superstitious beliefs.  Her suffering is caused by the sins she committed in the previous birth.  Her endurance will reduce the effect of her sins in the previous birth and it will also make her life happy in the next birth. 

 The good and evil in the world has to be balanced and therefore her endurance of pain will reduce the amount of evil.  This also reminds us of the peasants' belief in rebirth. They are illiterate, ignorant and superstitious and they do not know anything other than turn into ritualistic practices and incantations.
The narrator's father presents before us a striking contrast.  He tries modern scientific treatments.  He applies powder, herbs and hybrids.   He does not interfere with what the peasants do.  He does not object to the curses and blessings.  He is quite perturbed and tries every possible remedies.  Finally he pours some paraffin in the affected area and applies a match to it expecting the poison to burn off.  Even when he does this a holy man goes on performing his rites to remove the effect of poison with an incantation.  The scientific remedies tried by the father become as ineffective as the rituals and the incantations of the peasants and that of the holy man.  After twenty hours the pain subsides and the woman speaks.
The last part of the poem upholds the dignity of the Indian motherhood.   The mother's comment:  "Thank God the scorpion picked on me  and spread my children" is typical of an Indian mother.  She is relieved to find 
that the scorpion let her children alone and thanks God for it.  The entire poem may be taken as a tribute to the incomparable love of a mother.  The mother's malady  causes considerable disturbance not only to the members of the family but to the whole neighbourhood.  All are anxious to alleviate her pain.  Different attempts are made by different people.  All these go to prove that the poem is woven around the theme of reverence to the mother.
"Night of the scorpion" is typically an Indian poem by a typical Indian poet whose interest in the Indian soil and its ordinary human events of day-to-day Indian life is superb.  A good many Indians are illiterate and are blindly superstitious.  But they are simple, loving and lovable.  They attempt to save the victim by doing whatever they can.  But they do not succeed.  The father who is not superstitious and is educated tries his own scientific ways; he too, does not succeed.  There is the holy man who performs his rites with incantation.  He also fails to find a cure.  Finally the cue comes by itself.  This can be taken as a proof for the belief in 'fate'; everything in a man's life is pre-destined and man has no role in changing it.
The poem is interpreted as a symbolic juxtaposition of darkness and light. The night, the scorpion, the poison and the suffering represent darkness.   The incessant rain stands for hope and regeneration.  Candles, lanterns,  neighbours and ultimately the recovery of the mother represent light.   The poem can also be thought of as symbolic of Good and Evil too.


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