In the wake of Indian Independence, the short story emerged as the most active genre in both Hindi and Tamil literature, establishing new representations of selfhood and citizenship that would shape popular expression across India for decades to come. This genre thus provides an important window into the cultural production of enduring paradigms of Indian modernity and citizenship in the context of national efforts to create an all-Indian identity after decolonization. My dissertation is motivated by an interest in explaining how post-Independence Hindi and Tamil short stories mobilized and constructed representations of the "Indian citizen," locating them within a regionally specific cultural context, as well as the broader imaginings of a modern India. I ask: what was literature's role in establishing universal understandings of the Indian citizen in the postcolonial moment?
I address this question through an analysis of tropes of the feminine ideal in the state, public, and literary spheres in North and South India to illustrate the relationship between these tropes and popular understandings of the Indian citizen-subject. Focusing on the short stories and critical writing by six canonical post-Independence Hindi and Tamil authors, I juxtapose the tropes of the feminine ideal they invoke with those generated by state discourses on law and the public debates surrounding them. Through this juxtaposition, I show that the same tropes - such as the widow, the virgin, the concubine, and the good wife - carry saliency in all three spheres (state, public, and literary). In this way, tropes of the feminine ideal provide the platform for a cohesive articulation of modern Indian citizenship across these discursive arenas. Despite their similarity in form, however, the manner in which Hindi and Tamil short stories supply these tropes with meaning reveals fundamentally distinct regional articulations between gender, caste, and religious structures, as well as divergent points of alignment and conflict with pan-Indian struggles for equality. This comparison reveals the heterogeneous perceptions of gendered subjectivity comprising postcolonial Indian citizenship, as well as the instability of the category of "Indian Literature."