Meatless Days: a Feminist Perspective Essay
MEATLESS DAYS: A FEMINISTIC PERSPECTIVE By Hadia Khan NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF MODERN LANGUAGES ISLAMABAD November 2012 Meatless Days by Sara Suleri is a brilliant writing as it engages the reader in all the aspects of society. This novel shows the position of female in the society, the political aspects such as the status of Pakistani female and their position in this set up. She very artistically intermingles the culture of two lands and shows the diversity in the modern values and the traditional cultures.
In this book writer presents the American Pakistani community and portrays the development in the contemporary modern society. In an interview she, herself says about this novel that, “the novel is not about getting inside but is about showing what happened, without explanations, with no introductions” Females in the novel are portrayed in a unique way such as the mother is associated with Jane Austen and Mrs. Ramsay (153). Then we see, female characters are always busy in story telling or in doing domestic chores.
In the very first chapter the story revolves around dadi and in the chapter, “What Mamma Knew” and “The Immoderation of Ifat” revolves around her mother and her sister Ifat. This shows that she consciously or unconsciously give importance to the women. She disrupted all the myths about women and talk about all the stereotypical notions that women are equally important as men and they are not at all inferior or weaker than the man. It is considered that men are more wise and brilliant but Suleri in her wok negates this idea and says women also needs an equal chance to learn and are able to perform all the tasks what men think women cannot do.
Meatless Days exposes Pakistani patriarchy wherein women are othered by men’s ruthless exploitation. Man snatches woman’s identity, name, home, social status, right of personal decision, and even children who are derivatives from her body. She is reduced to a mere biological phenomenon functioning before and for man in his hands from childhood to girlhood, to womanhood and to old age. Suleri occupies a unique position as a feminist writer. She has dexterously presented her sense of woman’s miseries and deprivations in Pakistani patriarchy.
She uses her own family as a microcosm of Pakistan. Suleri reveals what happens to woman and what it means to be a woman in Pakistan. Women are subjected to sexual subjection through institutionalization of marriage. patriarchal set-up of Pakistan and the ways women strive to survive in an unaccommodating atmosphere where men grow up with expectation and understanding that women must be obedient in whatever social capacity they exist and work. Suleri is eco feminist as she shows that her mother takes a leaf or a twig and enjoys the beauty of that leaf.
Dadi also make a stick from a branch and this make her realize that “her son could provide her the whole of his life”. Her sister Ifat is following Mary Daly’s advice, ‘wieldiest’ herself against her father. The incidents like the marriage of her grand father and grand mother shows that in male dominating society, no importance is given to the wishes of women. Her father suppressed her mother that shows a typical Pakistani male dominating man and shows that men in Pakistani patriarchy can never understand the feeling of women.
Another approach that can be applied on this novel is psychoanalytical approach, such as the text of this novel talks about body and it reduces the existence of women to nothing rather than mere bodies. In the novel her mother is shown as atypical Pakistani mother who is always worried as if her daughter is beautiful and then she has to pay for her beauty she says that, “a beautiful body has to pay heavily for this ill-affordable luxury and Mamma’s fears prove prophetic”. So, she colludes or gives an opinion that it is a truth that men lives in houses and women lives in bodies.
The character of Ifat is shown in a very dramatically way she was the one who has ahead like her father and always walks in an erect style but soon after her marriage rather elopement she was totally different she has to behave or act like her husband’s demand and change her way of living. Even the greatest freedom of Ifat pushes her into inviolable matrimonial embrace with Javed deceptively termed as love. It is woman’s inability to survive as a woman that she has to take refuge in relationships. Dadi’s social context does not allow her to think of herself as a woman.
She can be a mother, a khala, a daughter and a sister. These are actually social positions meant for service-cum-servitude and therefore are valid to get respect. Dadi’s pathetic communication with the other ladies of the family is one way of compensation for the loss of standing she is burning for. Each time Dadi is given “alu ka bhurta” she asks in complete innocent ignorance as if she were going to taste this dish first time in life: ‘What is it, what is it called? ’ (p. 3). her wailing request to God for tea is again an effort to make herself listened to by the ladies.
But this request for tea is in its implications request for company. She finds comfort in the family gatherings where she is like a bride, a centre of attention of the marginalized members of the family, the women and the children. Papa is too grand to pay any attention to the unsuitable behavior of the second class members of the family. Dadi mistakenly expected any serious attention from her son too grand for a woman whether she is a mother, a wife or a daughter. Dadi’s love for her son is a one sided relationship.
She keeps writing letters to her son, always ending them with her phrase of endearment ‘keep on living’, but these letters were never read even, not to speak of writing answers to them. On certain levels it seems as if this work of Suleri is an autobiography. In her work she presents the imbalance between the relationship of both the men and women, she gives women a significant treatment in the first chapter the title is, “Excellent Things in Women” revolves around her dadi and the two chapters, “The Moderation of Ifat” and “What Manna Knew” revolves around her mother and sister.
Sulheri challenges the stereotypical notion about the eastern women that they are physically and mentally inferior and not able to do things as the man can do. Domestic life is showing that male is dominating and power over all in the society what ever man can not practice in the world he can practice in his home. Suleri embodies man’s dictatorial position in Pakistani patriarchy and as such his attitude towards woman in all her social roles is unaccommodating, uncaring and exploitative.
As a son, he never gave due respect to his mother. Even when he was with his mother living in the same house, there was unbridgeable gap between the mother and the son. Mr. Suleri towards the end of his middle years stopped speaking to his mother (Dadi) and Suleri (Sara) ironically points out that ‘the atmosphere at home appreciably improved’. Woman as a woman has no place in Pakistani patriarchy. She can survive only as a grandmother, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife or a Khala.
She has to be a caring mother, or a docile wife or a submissive daughter. Motherhood is the most prestigious and privileged status that Dadi can think of though her own experience refutes any illusion even about motherhood. Suleri uses a metaphor by concluding the first chapter that ‘… there are no women in the third world’ presents the predicament of woman in Pakistani patriarchy. WORK CITED: * Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days. Chicago University Press: Chicago, 1989.