The Metatextual and the Hermeneutic in Meatless Days

Jennifer Hahn, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, Autumn 1997

Two things, in particular, struck me about Sara Suleri's Meatless Days. The first is the author's attempt to purposely confuse her readers, to perplex them into a state of suspense. Often, I found myself rereading a sentence or paragraph over and over again, hoping to find the symbolic key to its hidden meaning. But, as I read on, I realized that Suleri had left me with something tantalizingly nonsensical, a riddle she refused to answer until later in her story. The following passage, epigrammatic of the novel as a whole, coaxes the reader into a state of mild, perhaps pleasant, confusion:

It is hard to believe today that I thought the dream too harsh a thing. As parable, the kapura does not dare to look much further. It wishes to take the taste of my imagination only quite so far and, like my mother, makes me trebly entranced; had I really been perplexed at such a simple thing? Or perhaps my mind had designed me to feel rudely tender. I had eaten, that was all, and woken to a world of meatless days. (44)

Suleri's use of the hermeneutic code is both frustrating and engaging. Is Suleri merely trying to entice her readers to continue, promising answers to these unsolved mysteries later in her text? Or is she using this technique for another effect? Suleri's title, Meatless Days, like all titles I suppose, is itself a hermeneutic code, forcing the reader to ask, "Why is the book called Meatless Days?" Does Suleri's technique of withholding information work for you? What are the dangers of this technique? How and why does Suleri use it?

I was also struck by the many moments in the text where Suleri seems to describe her own project. The following are examples of this metatextuality:

When we lived in Pakistan, that little swerve from severity into celebration happened often. [31]

When I teach topics in third world literature, much time is lost in trying to explain that the third world is locatable only as a discourse of convenience. Trying to find it is like pretending that history or home is real and not located precisely where you're sitting. [20]

I can understand it, the fear that food will not stay discrete but will instead defy our categories of expectation in what can only be described as a manner of extreme belligerence. I like order to a plate, and know the great sense of failure that attends a moment when what is potato to the fork is turnip to the mouth. It' shard, when such things happen. [29]

How do these quotes describe what Suleri is doing in Meatless Days? Do you think I am reading too much into them? Do they really represent the author's attempt to self-consciously comment on her own writing?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 25 April 2002