The Story and Storyteller in Shame

Irene Tung, English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, Autumn 1997

As the officially designated poor-thing, Bilquis was also obliged to sit each evening at Bariamma's feet while the blind old lady recounted the family talkes. These were lurid affairs, featuring divorces, bakruptcies, droughts, cheating friends, child mortality, diseases of the breast, men cut down in their prime, failed hopes, lost beauty, women who grew obscently fat, smuggling deals, opium-taking poets, pining virgins, curses, typhoid, bandits, homosexuality, sterility, frigidity, rape, the high price of food, gamblers, drunks, murders, suicides and God. Bariamma's mildly droning recital of the catalogue of family horrors had the effect of somehow defusing them, making them safe, embalming them in the mummifying fluid of her own incontrovertible respectability. The telling of the tales proved the family's ability to survive them, to retain, in spite of everything, its grip on its honour and its unswerving moral code.

This was when Bilquis knew that she had become a member of the family; in the sanctification of her tale lay inistiation, kinship, blood. "The recounting of histories," Raza told his wife, "is for us a rite of blood." [73-74]

Incidentally, this litany of Hyder family tragedies, has numerous parallels in the stories that Rushdie, in his novels, favors telling. What is Rushdie saying about his own role as storyteller, as reporter of the happenings in Pakistan to the rest of the world? What of the "effect of somehow defusing them, making them safe, embalming them in the mummifying fluid of her/[his] own incontrovertible respectability"? This seems somewhat contradictory; how does this phenomenon interact with his other agenda of exposing and focusing attention on the problems of Pakistani society? Furthermore, how do these conceptions of storytelling relate to the notions set forth in Waterland and some of the African novels that we have read? [Irene Tung]

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