As we head to the end of the quarter, Out of Print editor, Leela Levitt has some comments on Miss Tapna.
A Thought Piece on Miss Tapna
Miss Tapna, or our heroine, first strikes us as innocent. She has no strong desire for marriage, no strong desire for the attention of men, in fact, her every action is designed to win her independence.
Her single-minded goal will make her, or allow her, to do many things, and in Thus the Tale of Miss Tapna, we follow her as she decides to enter a beauty contest, which will win her fame and money if she comes in first place, and less money if she does not. To her, and perhaps to many readers, it seems like the logical, necessary thing to do, and her single-minded goal, forever in her sights, and perhaps her innocence, allows her to ignore the advice of her friend and ignore any negative repercussions she should have thought of. In the end she did win her freedom, so her decision was logical and necessary. But was it right?
As an editor, one has to read each story over and over again, first initially to select it, then again through various edits, and then a few times more as the final version is checked. On the first few readings, our heroine struck me as innocent. She didn’t seem to have much consideration as to how her male audience would receive her. Perhaps, I thought, she was too naïve to understand this. Male attraction was also never a consideration to her. She did what she did to win her freedom. We can view this as strength and determination, and we can admire this.
However, after reading her story again and again, I was also struck by how she could be viewed as calculating, and as lacking in empathy to others. Just before she agreed to go out onto the stage in swimwear she simply observed her sobbing fellow contestants. If she was too naïve to understand how her male audience would receive her, and any other implications, for example of how it would affect her family, she had no excuse now. These other sobbing girls were telling her, albeit indirectly. She did not seem moved or understanding, or even sympathetic. She merely saw an opportunity. Her single-minded mission for independence would make her do almost anything.
On the one hand we can admire this drive and resolve. Life had pushed her into a corner and she probably would not have had many opportunities to get out. We can also disregard her male audience because in fact, she was exploiting them by walking onto that stage in swimwear. Their foolish need to see the bare legs of a girl was what bought her freedom. Surely this can be called empowerment. Perhaps she can laugh at them, money and new found fame in her hands and think ‘you fools! Look at how rich your idiocy has made me!’
On the other hand, she did what no other girl would do. We might construe the reasons why the other girls were so steadfast in their resolve not to get up on that stage were that they were anxious or afraid for their dignity, their reputations, their futures. They were being thrown money at, as if they were strippers. By walking onto that stage once more, they would bring shame on their families and sully themselves in society, and make themselves un-marriageable, which was of course, not a concern for our heroine. That evening, what our heroine’s actions came down to was taking her clothes off for money. Society made her fall into the trap of selling her body and she became an object to be ogled at and disrespected.
In the end, for her, everything worked out well; she did live happily ever after (as far as we know), not with a prince, but with a growing business. But I am not so sure I believe the means justify the end, and I am not so sure I can justify the means. Would I have done anything differently? I am not sure. But this story made me question morality, and now I open the discussion up to the floor.