[This answer is longer than required.  Please choose the points you think relevant]

 Nomita is the central character in the story 'Matchbox' by Ashapurna Debi. The story revolves around a small incident in Nomita's life and her reaction to it both immediate and subsequent.  The author tries to delve deep in to the issue of empowerment of women through this character.

Nomita is from a poor family.  She is married to Ajit, who is from a wealthy joint family.  She is young and beautiful.  In fact, the author says that her widowed mother was able to marry her off to this wealthy family on the strength of her looks alone.  

Ajit has the habit of opening and reading the letters of Nomita.  Often, they are from her own mother seeking financial help.  Ajit has only contempt for her.  One day Nomita discovers a letter in Ajit's pocket.  She is sure that he has hidden it from her on purpose.  She questions him and a quarrel breaks out.  

Ajit remains adamant and sticks to his guns.  Nomita is provoked when Ajit exploits her helplessness.  He says, "I'll do what I want.  What will you do? Can you do anything?"  Pushed to the limits she explodes, takes a matchbox and sets fire to her sari.  This frightens Ajit.

Nomita's helplessness is primarily due to her financial dependence on Ajit. If she had education and employment, she would be much more confident.  But even now she has enough courage in her to confront Ajit.

Nomita has great love for her mother.  She is aware of her poverty and wants to help her.  In the face of the insults from Ajit she temporarily thinks about telling her mother not to expect any help from her.  But she cannot do that.  

She is also a clever girl who tries different ways to get the better of Ajit.  She tries anger, taking offence, bitter reproaches, shaming, and sarcasm.  But nothing works with Ajit.  She is aware that Ajit is challenging her dignity and self-respect.  So, she is not ashamed to express her anger violently.  This even surprises Ajit.  "A woman, and such anger!", comments Ajit.  Obviously Nomita doesn’t fit into the traditional conservative framework of a meek and submissive woman who never raises her voice.

Another aspect of Nomita's character is that she speaks her mind.  She is bold enough to give a proper reply to anybody trying to deride her.  So no one attacks her outright.  They can only pinch her with sharp words or innuendos.

Nomita is very adaptable.  Coming from a very different background, she is able to mingle well with the big joint family.  Nomita's casual conversations with her in laws after the confrontation shows this.  She is also very resourceful.  When the Boro-wife discovers the burnt anchol of her saree, she quickly cooks up a story to explain it.  

What Ashapurna Debi is trying to focus more on is her attachment to her projected image.  Back in her village, people think about her as living like a queen in a wealthy family.  They think about her husband as high-minded and large-hearted.  Although the reality is far from it, she is not ready to shatter that image.  

The author presents Nomita as a representative of the majority of Indian women who are not ready to venture out of their comfort zones.  Although they have the potential to burn the colourful shells in which they are trapped, they are not ready to do it.  That is why Nomita pretends before the others as if nothing has happened even after the bitter quarrel with her husband.  

Even though Nomita appears to be a strong character in the story, the author indicates that she is not an example for other women to emulate.  She is a typical Indian wife who silently suffers the domestic injustice and does nothing fundamental to change the narrative.  She serves the purpose of showing why things are not changing in favour of women in our society.


E M Forster in his book "Aspects of the Novel" defines two basic types of characters; flat characters and round characters.  Flat characters are two dimensional, lack depth and don’t undergo development or change during the course of the story.  Round characters are three dimensional, complex and they develop or change.  Nomita belongs to the former category as she is back to square one after the fierce quarrel.  She pretends as if everything is fine. She is not ready to shatter her fake image and thereby start a social change. The character is consciously fashioned that way by the author to prove her point.

Character Sketch of Nomita (Points)

Main character in "Matchbox"
Married to Ajit who is from a wealthy family
Good looking
Live in a joint family with more than 50 members
They live on the third floor of their three storied house


From a poor family
Widowed mother
Married on the strength of her good looks
Financially dependent on Ajit
She has great love for her mother
Unable to send her any money without Ajit's consent
Husband embarrasses / ridicules her about her background

She speaks her mind
Nobody attacks her outright
They use only indirect comments to hurt her

Her reaction of setting fire to her sari frightens Ajit
If she dares, she can make some change
According to the author, how she behaves after this incident is disappointing
Doesn't want to come out of her colorful shell
Not ready to come out of her comfort zone (Ref to 3L's)
She enjoys the false image of a queen in a wealthy family and the wife of a large hearted, broadminded husband
Unless she dares to let others know about the reality, no change will happen
Nomita is a representative of Indian women
Not ready to shatter her fake image, and without it change in society is not possible
Like matchboxes, women do not utilize their full potential.