The Intersection of History, Location, Discourse and Womanhood in Meatless Days

Irene Tung '00 English 27, 1997

Sara Suleri creates a complex web of metaphoric relations between discourse and woman's body in Meatless Days. In the episode when Sara strikes Tillat out of sexual jealousy when she returns home late, she acts as an agent of her internalized patriarchy, even though both knew that she was jealous of Tillat's activities. The bodily violence/violation is coded with a message, an ideology that frames them both within history and makes them complicit with outside violence in their lived experience.

Till then we had associated such violence with all that was outside us, as though somehow the more history fractured, the more whole we would be. But we began to lose that sense of the differentiated identities of history and ourselves and became guiltily aware that we had known it all along, our part in the construction of unreality.

The following passage, which concludes the novel, collects the various themes and interweaves them:

Bodies break, but sometimes damage feels a necessary repair, like bones teaching fingers how to work, to knit. When my bone broke, I was perplexed: was I now to watch my own dismantling body choose to unravel with the cascading motion of a dye in water, which unfurls to declare, "Only in my obliteration will you see the shapes of what I really can be. . . Put upon by sentences galore--like starlings, vulgar congregations! In pale and liquid morning I hold the Adam in me, the one who had attempted to break loose. It is a rib that floats in longing for some other cage, in the wish-bone cracking urge of its desire. I join its buoyancy and hide my head as though it were an infant's cranium still unknit, complicit in an Adam's way of claiming, in me, disembodiment." (Suleri, 186)

At the same time that Suleri feels distanced from her own body, from the male, Adam, in it, she also experiences her placelessness as a woman since she is continually a migrant in the world. She conceives of the body as an entity engaging in discussion. Without the support of her rib, the fluidity of her body mirrors the apparent lack of "scaffold" in her novel, which exists as a collection of integrally connected but "unknit" memories and anecdotes. The fragmentation of her narrative appears expressed in the fragmentation of woman's bodily parts.

Her father, one of the book's central male figures, is aligned with language and discourse in his journalism--and consequently history, and its production. Ironically, Mair, Suleri's mother, as a Welsh woman living in Pakistan epitomizes the theme of woman's lack of place and history. "She let commitment and belonging become my father's domain , learning instead the way of walking with tact on other people's land. . .I'm curious to locate what she knew of the niceties that living in someone else's history must entail, of how she managed to dismantle that other history she was supposed to represent." (164)

In this way, she is a sort of backwards inverted colonial representation. In a passage reminiscent of Rushdie, Suleri writes:

"Mairi, look at the beauty -- the balance--of this front page!" He made each front page fit into his control of the aesthetic of his history. My mother, however, let history seep, so that, miraculously, she had no language in which to locate its functioning but held it rather as a distracted manner sheathed about her face, a scarf. "Mamma was more political. . . She did not have to put it into print--it was the sheet in which she slept. . . " So of course she never noticed the imprint on her face as it wore, for she was that imprint: she was her own dust before her bones had dreamed that they could crumble." (168)

As in Remains of the Day, language signifies belonging to a place or a people. Suleri writes of her mother, "For a woman who liked to speak precisely: she must have hated her sudden linguistic incompetence: languages surrounded her like a living space, insisting that she live in other people's homes." Placelessness is correlated with public discourse and history. Yet, "Men live in places. Women live in bodies." Words, too, can be inscribed onto the body, so that the body carries a message. Suleri writes after her sister's death: "Let us wash the word of murder from her limbs, we said, let us transcribe her into some more seemly idiom. And so with painful labor we placed Ifat's body in a different discourse, words as private and precise as water when water wishes to perform both in and out of light."

Pakistan OV Sara Suleri Meatless Days

Last Modified: 18 March, 2002