Marmalade Squirrels: A Love of Language

Ann Pepi, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, Autumn 1997

For Sara Suleri language is life. She relates to the people and history through food metaphors. She structures her days and life as if they are sentences and stories. For Sara a name contains "jewels and tiny serpents" and a sentence can seem like a surviving part of a dead sister. Many writers we have read enjoyed language and played with it as John McPhee did in his many lists of names and places, and as Lawrence did with his unique descriptions of nature. Not one of them embraces language as passionately as Sara Suleri does in Meatless Days. Sara depicts her love of language at infancy in the passage, on p. 155, that follows.

It made me the quaintest baby that she had -- as an infant I was absorbed with grammar before I had fully learned the names of things, which caused a single slippage in my nouns: I would call a marmalade a squirrel, and I'd call a squirrel a marmalade. Today I can understand the impulse and would very much like to call sugar an opossum; an antelope, tea. To be engulfed by grammar after all is a tricky prospect, and a voice deserves to declare its own control in any way it can, asserting that in the end it is an inventive thing.

Perhaps Sara's quest for independence within voice and language explains her horror when on p. 68 she discovers her own inventive speech stolen by her eccentric friend Fancy Musgrave.

She had pilfered my voice! In my absence, ventriloquized me to a T! I was the man making foolish faces, while she was the chatterbox on my knee! I was astonished, feeling like an organ-grinder who had woken up to discover that the monkey had run off with his machine.

And then there are the concluding words on language on p. 177:

Speaking two languages may seem a relative affluence, but more often it entails the problems of maintaining a second establishment even though your body can be in only one place at a time...Living in language is tantamount to living with other people. Both are postures in equilibrium that attend upon gravity's capacity for floatation, which is a somber way of looking out for the moment when significance can empty into habit.

The questions I have concern Sara Suleri's relation to language within Meatless Days. Did her growing up with two languages affect her writing style and how? What methods would one use to learn how or why she related to/embraced English enough to teach it and how does she treat it in opposition to Urdu? How does the conflict between the language of her father and the language of her mother present itself within the novel?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 24 April 2002