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SHORT STORY : LEAVING

By M.G. Vassanji

THE AUTHOR : M.G. VASSANJI

Born on 30 May 1950 in Nairobi, Kenya and raised in


Tanzania.
Received a Bachelor of Science from Massachusetts
Institute of Technology.
Moved to Canada in 1978 where he became the
research associate in the University of Toronto.
Published his first novel, the critically-acclaimed The
Gunny Sack, in 1989.
Since then has written six novels, two collections of
short stories, a memoir and a biography.
A member of the Order of Canada.
Has won several writing awards.

SYNOPSIS OF THE STORY

Aloo and the narrator of the story are the


youngest children in a single-parent family.
Their older siblings have all left home. Their
mother is a widow who has raised five
children on her own.
Aloo wants to study medicine, not
agriculture. He harbours the ambition to go
to America to study. He writes to some
American universities hoping to get a
scholarship. When a well-known American
university offers him a scholarship, Aloo's
dream looks set to come true.

SYNOPSIS OF THE STORY

However, his mother says that she


cannot afford to send him to America.
Aloo is very upset. Mother seeks advice
from Mr Velji, a school officer. He tells
her that getting the scholarship is good
for Aloo's future. He also cautions her
that she may lose him if she lets him
go so far away. Seeing her son's
disappointment, Mother decides to let
her son go in the end.

PLOT

In the short story Leaving, the main


character Aloo dreams of going to
America to study. The events leading to
the realisation of his dream are
revealed through the eyes and mind of
Aloos elder sibling, the narrator of this
tale.

Exposition
After Aloo's sister Razia gets married and leaves home,
their mother sells her shop and they move to Upanga, a
remote part of town. She wants her two youngest children
to have a better life instead of helping in her store.

Climax
Mother says that there is no money to send him to
America. She accuses Aloo of being a disloyal son for
wanting to leave her. Aloo is very upset.

Rising Action
Aloo spends time with Mr Datoo, an
ex-teacher at their local school who
moved to America and returns for a
visit. Aloo starts dreaming about
going to study in America. He writes
to American universities to apply for a
scholarship. A famous university
offers Aloo a scholarship.

Resolution
Falling action
Mother goes to Mr Velji for advice. He confirms that the
scholarship is a great opportunity for Aloo. After thinking
about it. Mother relents and finds the money to send Aloo
to America. Before giving in, she makes Aloo promise not
to marry a foreign wife and to stay away from bad habits.

Aloo writes home from London


where he has stopped to visit an old
schoolmate. The letter reveals his
fascination with the foreign land.

SETTING- PHYSICAL SETTING


PLACE

Kichwele Street/Uhuru
Streetnoisy, busy part of
the town
Central part of Dar es
Salaam, the commercial
capital of Tanzania
Upanga - a very quiet
place, countryside, only a
few houses, no
streetlights, a 'lonely,
frightening' place (p. 32)

KEY EVENTS

where Aloo's family


lived before his sisters
left home to be married
Aloo's mother has a
shop here.
where Aloo's family
moved after Mother sold
the shop

SOCIAL SETTING
PRESENT DAY TANZANIA, AFRICA

In this society, education is highly regarded.


School officers and school teachers are
respected and influential eg; Mr Velji and Mr
Datoo.
The education system does not allow
students to choose their course of study
'nobody could change the list' (p. 33)
Life was hard for women and children. If a
woman remarries, her children from the first
marriage cannot stay with her but are sent to a
children's home.

CHARACTER

Aloo
The youngest child in the family
Finishing secondary school
A smart studentachieved all A's in
the school exam (p. 37)

ALOO
CHARACTER TRAITS

Obedient dutiful child

EXAMPLES OF TEXTUAL EVIDENCE

Ambitious
Determined
Resourceful

Adventurous
Emotional

Prepared to give up his dream to study


in America when his mother says there
is no money to send him (p. 36)
Wants to study medicine (p. 33)
Writes to universities in America (p.
32)
Looks up names of universities in
books to apply for scholarships on his
own (p. 32)
Wants to go to another country, likes
travelling (p. 32)
Cries and shouts when his mother
does not support his decision to study
in America (p. 36)

Mother
Became a widow at the age of thirtythree
Ran a shop business in the town
Changed with agefrom a smiling
and pretty woman to one who is
worried and unsmiling, deep lines on
her face, less hair, a rounder body and
a voice no longer soft (p.38)

MOTHER
CHARACTER TRAITS

EXAMPLES OF TEXTUAL EVIDENCE

Strong and independent

Responsible mother

Loving, protective

Possessive of her children

Self-sacrificing

Traditional-minded

Raised five children without a


husband (p. 38)
Reminds Aloo not to smoke or
drink when he is away from
home (p. 40)
Refuses to remarry for the
sake of her children (p. 38)
Does not want her son to
leave her (p. 34)
Lets Aloo go to America even
though she knows that he may
not return to her and that she
may lose her youngest son (p.
40)
Makes Aloo promise not to
marry a foreigner (p. 40)

Narrator
Aloo's elder sibling (it is not revealed
whether the narrator is a boy or a girl)
A university student

NARRATOR
CHARACTER TRAITS

Understanding

Caring

Responsible,
mature
Observant

EXAMPLES OF TEXTUAL EVIDENCE

Quiet, passive

Understands mother's struggles


and sacrifice for the children
when she chose not to remarry
(p. 38)
Plays card games with Mother
when she is sad (p. 32)
Mother looks to him/her for
confirmation about the
scholarship offer (p. 34)
Notices when Mother is sad (p.
32)
Watches what happens but does
not interfere

MINOR CHARACTERS

Mr Velji
A school officer, he has a large head, a
small neat body, looks clever (p. 36)
Helpful, understands Mother's concern - 'if
you send him, you will lose your son...' (p. 37)
Mr Datoo
An ex-schoolteacher who went to America
Influences Aloo to dream of going to
America to study

Mehroon and Razia


Aloo's married sisters Firoz
Aloo's older brother, a school dropout

THEMES

Leaving and letting go


This storys title Leaving reveals the
theme of the story.
Aloo wants to pursue his dream to
study medicine in America. To realise
his ambition, he has to leave his
country, his home, his family and his
mother. For him, leaving is his desire,
but for his mother, letting him go is a
sacrifice.

Mother has never believed in leaving


her family behind. When her husband
died and left her alone with five
children, she chose to stay with her
children rather than remarry and lose
them. This was her sacrifice. She is
angry that Aloo wants to leave her and
she is worried that she will lose him. He
may never return.

In the end, her love for her child wins


over her need to keep him at her side.
She finds the money and lets Aloo go to
America. She could have made Aloo
stay, but she chooses to let go because
his happiness is more important than
hers.

THEMES

Ambition
Aloo is a very ambitious boy who wants a
better life for himself. Instead of being content
with the offer to study at a local university, he
seeks a better opportunity and is ecstatic to
receive the scholarship to study in America.
He has a hunger to learn more than what his
little town has to offer and seems to soak up
all the new things he sees and experiences in
London.

THEMES

Fear of the unfamiliar


Both Mother and Mr Velji seem to have
great suspicion of the unknown, especially
the Western countries and people.
Once Aloo has been accepted into the
American university, both Mother and Mr
Velji believes that he will never return.
Mother also fears that Aloo would pick up
the negative habits such as smoking and
drinking, and makes him promise that he
would never marry a white woman.

MESSAGE

Love means letting go


Aloo wants to go to America to
study but his mother does not
want him to leave her. She knows
that once Aloo goes to a foreign
land, he may not return home.
However, when she sees how
disappointed and unhappy her son
is, she decides to support his

She gives up her own selfish hopes


for her children and raises the
money to send Aloo overseas. Out
of love for her son, she lets him go
and trusts him to keep his
promises to her.

MESSAGE

The support of family and


community is important
When Aloo receives the scholarship offer,
he is very excited. However, his dream is
in danger of being destroyed because his
mother says that she does not have the
money to send him to America.
She also does not support his plan to
leave because she wants him to stay by
her side.

Seeing his unhappiness, Aloo's mother


seeks the advice of a school officer, Mr
Velji. He helps the boy's mother
understand that getting the scholarship
is good for him.
This makes Mother think about it
seriously and she decides to support
her son's dream. Without Mr Velji's
advice and Mother's support, Aloo
would not be able to achieve his dream
to go to America.

MORAL VALUES

It is important to seize opportunities given


to us.
In the story, Aloo studies very hard and does well
in his exams. He also applies to many
universities in America in the hope to further his
studies there.
His hard work is not in vain as he receives an
offer to study at the prestigious California
Institute of Technology on scholarship.
Knowing how precious the opportunity is, he tries
his best to convince his mother to let him go. He
knows that this is an opportunity that he must
not pass up.

We must respect our elders.


When Mother first objects his decision to
study in America, Aloo does not pursue the
matter further and seems resigned to study
agriculture at the local university.
Out of respect, he does not rebel against his
mother's decision and only speaks of the
matter again after she asks him about it.
Both the narrator and Aloo's respect for
MrVelji is apparent when they stand up as
he enters the room.