The inevitability of change is an underlying them in the first two essays of Sara Suleri's Meatless Days At times she describes positive changes. These positive moves often involve birth or resurrection. A particularly arresting passage is one in which Suleri describes the regeneration of her Grandmother's flesh after a particularly heinous burn.
Thus developed my great intimacy with the fluid properties of human flesh. By the time Mamma left for England, Dadi's left breast was still coagulate and raw. Later, when Irfan got his burns, Dadi was growing pink and livid tightropes, strung from hip to hip in a flaming advertisement of life. And in the days when Tillat and I were wrestling, Dadi's vanished nipples started to congeal and convex their cavities into little love knots.
At times Suleri describes entirely negative changes. These negative moves are infused with dark imagery and death
I think we could have mourned Dadi in our belated way, but the coming year saw Ifat killed in the consuming rush of change and disbanded the company of women for all time. It was a curious day in March, two years after my mother died, when the weight of that anniversary made us all disconsolate with quietude. "I'll speak to Ifat, though," I thought to myself in America. But in Pakistan someone had different ideas for that sister of mine and thwarted all my plans. When she went walking out that warm March night, a car came by and trampled her into the ground, and then it vanished strangely. By the time I reached Lahore, a tall and slender mound had usurped the grave space where my father had hoped to lie, next to the more moderate shape that was his wife.
And sometimes Suleri merely describes changes. She doesn't ascribe positive or negative values to these changes, she merely shows the inevitability of movement.
We knew there was something other than trying times ahead and would far rather hold our breath than speculate about what other surprises the era held up its capacious sleeve. Tillat and I decided to quash our dread of waiting around for change by changing ourselves, before destiny took the time to come our way. I would move to America, and Tillat to Kuwait and marriage. To both declarations of intention my mother said "I see," and helped us in our preparations: she knew by then her elder son would not return, and she was prepared to extend the courtesy of change to her daughters, too.
1. In the first passage, Suleri specifically describes the regeneration of skin around her grandmother's breasts. In the next essay, Suleri talks a great deal about her sister's failure at breast feeding. Why is Suleri so fixated on the breast as a symbol of rejuvenation and life? How does this play into the title and theme of the first essay, "Excellent Things in Women"?
2. In the second excerpt, Suleri emphasizes the fact that she is in America when her sister dies in Pakistan. In Meatless Days, Suleri talks about the disconnect she feels when her mother dies, illustrating the distance with the international date line as a marker. "Sitting in the American Midwest," Suleri writes, "I thought of all my brothers and sisters, who watched my mother die in the jaunty dawn of a March day and who -- fatigued and uncaring of the delicious respite of the dateline -- gave me eight hours when Mamma was historically alive." Suleri tells us that she is multi-racial and multi-national early on in her first essay. How does her global scope play into her grief? Is part of the disconnect she feels in her mother's death attached to this varied background?
3. Suleri talks about the "dread of waiting around for change." Why does she feel this dread? What does it say about her environment growing up? What other thread does she weave into this essay that illustrates the same kind of feeling?
Last modified 1 December 2003