Explain the role that memory plays in the short story “Fritz” by Satyajit Ray.
Memory has an important role in Satyajit Ray’s story “Fritz”. Major elements in the story including the plot itself are directly connected to the memory and feelings of Jayanto, the protagonist. It was his memory of the place named Bundi that was behind Jayanto’s decision to make the trip to Bundi and not to the other popular places in Rajasthan like Jaipur, Udaipur or Chittor. Then, while staying in the circuit house in Bundi, his old memories were slowly coming to his mind.
Now some of my memories are coming back slowly. The bungalow certainly appears unchanged. I can even recognize some of the old furniture, such as these cane chairs and tables.
Thirty one years before when Jayanto was just six, he visited the place with his parents. Now he is nostalgic remembering those days. He remembers his favourite doll Fritz and his obsession with it. He used to spend a lot of time with that doll, playing and conversing with it. He also remembers how sad he was when two stray dogs had killed Fritz, his only playmate. He then buried Fritz under a deodar tree in the garden of the circuit house.
Now, returning to the same place again after 31 years, Jayanto is lost in thought and his friend Shankar is well aware of this change in his behaviour. That is why he asks —
“Are you well? You seem to be in low spirits today,”
This is where the story begins, highlighting the gravity of the nostalgic feeling in Jayanto’s inner self aroused by his past memory of the place. Moreover, he was constantly trying to remember some missing links from his memory.
While walking in the garden, Jayanto suddenly remembers a deodar tree in the garden but is troubled trying to remember, in vain, what had actually happened there.
No, I can’t recall anything at all. Memory is a strange business …
Thus, throughout the story memory is the thing that haunts him down. Though Jayanto later knows why he remembered that deodar tree, the memory of his doll Fritz doesn’t let him enjoy his holiday. In the night he awakes from sleep horrified with a feeling that something has just walked over his chest. After a thorough search when they do not find anything, Jayanto concludes that it is his doll Fritz that has come alive to him. Though Shankar readily dismisses his unrealistic claims, he agrees to have the ground under the deodar tree dug up in order to find if the remains of his doll are still there. To their utter shock, they found a twelve-inch long white human skeleton there under the ground.
Irrespective of the ending of the story and its open-ended finish, the plot development is directed by Jayanto’s memory. If it were not for his past memories of the doll Fritz, the thought of the doll coming alive had not been possible for him. He could then simply think that it was just a small creature like a rat which ran over his chest. In that case, the supernatural element that the author introduces would not have been feasible.
Thus, memory plays an important role here in the story “Fritz” for setting the tone of the story by causing the nostalgic feelings and lost-in-thought mood in Jayanto and also for defining the entire plot.