Morality and Mirror Imagery in Salman Rushdie's Shame

Corey Binns, English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, Autumn 1997

1. And one last word about Omar Khayyam's peepings: because of course his three mothers had begun to live vicariously too, they couldn't help themselves, in those days of their weakening resolve they quizzed him eagerly upon his return from the Outside about ladies' fashions and all the minutiae of town life, and had he heard anything about them; from time to time they covered their faces with their shawls, so that it was evident that they could no longer seal themselves off from the emotion they had anathematized . . . spying on the world through unreliable eyes of their son (and naturally he did not tell them everything), their own voyeurism-by-proxy had the effect that such things are classically supposed to have: that is, it weakened their moral fibre. Perhaps this is why they were able to contemplate a repetition of the crime.

How are the "moral fibres" (or more likely, the morales) of the mothers strengthened by having a second child? Is it the success of an imaculate conception? Are they empowered by imprisoning a son in their "mother country"? The irony of the word usage is also worth discussion: their "moral fibre" is strengthened by committing a "crime".

He notices that broken pieces of mirrors have been tied to many of the posts with pieces of string; as Farah approaches each fragment she sees shards of herself reflected in the glass, and smiles her private smile. Omar Khayyam Shakil understands that his beloved is a being too self-contained to succumb to any conventional assault; she and her mirrors are twins and need no outsiders to make them feel complete.

On her rare visits to the bazaar she made her purchases without looking anyone in the eye, pausing only to gaze at herself in every available mirror with a frank affection which proved to the town that she regretted nothing.

Although Omar's mothers resemble one another to the point where they consider themselves triplets, they rely on their son to relay the "ladies' fashions", using him to reflect the town--the outside. What is Omar's role as an interpreter of the outside? Could we compare Omar's work to that of Rushdie, both having experienced their "mother countries" and the outside? While Omar's mothers listen to his recount of the outside, the single-child Farah regards her so-called twin in mirrors, and is complete.

Rushdie also uses mirror imagery to describe each individual's reliance on the "outside". Inside their locked fortress, the mothers cower from their interest in the outside, hiding their expressions from one another, whereas Farah openly regards herself and her confidence publicly. Can we discuss the use of mirror imagery, as it reflects the level of self-completion each character expresses and the reflection of the outside according to each character?

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