Tongues, Meat and Corpses: Fragmentation and Disembodiment in Suleri's Meatless Days

Rachel Aviv '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

In Meatless Days, Sara Suleri explores the implications of her fragmented identity: she is a woman from the third-world, and yet, as she puts it, "There are no women in the third-world" (20). Her motherland is Pakistan, and yet her own mother -- White, Welsh, representative of the colonizer -- can barely speak the mother tongue. In a particularly telling passage, Suleri has a dream about her mother's death in which the various fragments of Suleri's life interact in an eerie but provocative way:

And then, when I was trying to move away from the raw irritability of grief, I dreamed a dream that left me reeling. It put me in London, on the pavement of some unlovely street, an attempted crescent of vagrant houses. A blue van drove up: I noticed it was a refrigerated car and my father was inside it. He came to tell me that we must put my mother in her coffin, and he opened the blue hatch of the van to make me reach inside, where it was very cold. What I found were hunks of meat wrapped in cellophane, and each of them felt like Mamma, in some odd way. It was my task to carry those flanks across the street and to fit them into the coffin at the other side of the road, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Although my dream will not let me recall how many trips I made, I know my hands felt cold. Then, when my father's back was turned, I found myself engaged in rapid theft -- for the sake of Ifat and Shahid and Tillat and all of us, I stole away a portion of that body. It was a piece of her foot I found, a small bone like a knuckle, which I quickly hid inside my mouth, under my tongue. Then I and the dream dissolved, into an extremity of tenderness. [44]

In Meatless Days, Suleri's relationship with her mother calls into question the naturalization of the metaphors motherland and mother tongue. In what way does her dream -- in particular, the placement of her mother's foot under her tongue -- enact a critique of the metaphors? How does Suleri's dream relate to her claim later on that "It is not merely devotion that makes my mother into the land on which this tale must tread" (164)?

From the book's title to its countless descriptions of meals, cooking, and consumption, food figures as a prominent motif in Meatless Days. In what way does the appearance of Suleri's mother as a piece of food -- a hunk of meat -- play off of and contribute to the motif?

In Meatless Days, Suleri avoids physical descriptions of her own and other women's bodies. For her, the body always exists as a metaphor for something else -- a nation, a text, a history. Why does Suleri consistently deny the physicality of the female body? How does her treatment of her mother's body in the dream relate to this theme of female disembodiment?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified December 2003