Two Burning Stories: the role of the body in the first two chapters of Meatless Days

Quinn Kenworthy '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

In the first two chapters of Meatless Days, Suleri literally and metaphorically takes the skin off of her past, leading the reader through events and places filled with deep realizations about life, death, and everything in between. Suleri moves quickly, stopping only for brief and poignant reflection, giving us breath only when she takes it. She introduces us to a time and place, to complicated characters at times bound to their culture, and to herself as a young girl in Pakistan and as an older woman in the United States. In the first two chapters Suleri tells two stories about burnings, both revealing much about the body, gender, and personal realizations for the author. Suleri describes the first:

The bowl of water emptied onto him, and with a gurgling cry Ifran leapt up, tearing at his steaming clothes. He clutched at his groin, and everywhere he touched, the skin slid off, so that between his fingers his penis easily unsheathed, a blanched and fiery grapeWe spent the next few days laying ice on Farnis wounds: half the time I was allowed to stay with him with him, until the doctors suddenly remembered I was a woman and hurried me out when his body made crazy spastic reactions to his burns. Once things grew calmer and we were alone, Ifran looked away and said, I hope I didnt shock you, Sara. I was so taken by tenderness for his bony convalescent body that it took me years to realize yes, something female in me had been deeply shocked. [11-12]

A few pages later Suleri tells the story of her grandmother Dadi's burning and the aftermath and the taking care of her wounds:

After six weeks at home, she [Dadi] angrily refused to be lugged like a chunk of meat to the doctor's for her daily change of dressing: "Saira Begum will do it," she announced. Thus developed my great intimacy with the fluid properties of human flesh. . . .I learned about the specialization of beauty through that body. [14]

In these two passages Suleri makes deep claims about the body, the female body, and her connection with the flesh. In the first passage Suleri claims that "something female" in her had been "deeply shocked." This is one of many comments the author makes about gender and the female body in the first two chapters, but this one comment seems to hold a lot of weight, though she states it and then quickly moves on in the text. Why does she drop such a loaded statement and what is she saying about gender or the female body? Why does she drop this statement and then quickly move on? Does this make the statement more or less important?

In the second passage Suleri concludes with stating, "I learned about the specialization of beauty through that body." What does she mean by this? How does this event inform the reader about her relationship with Dadi?

The title of this chapter is "Excellent Things in Women." What, of anything, do these two stories tell the reader about excellent things in women?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 1 December 2003