Suleri's Pay-Off and Set-Up Anecdotes

Charles Vallely '06, English 171, Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists Brown University, 2003

In Meatless Days, Sara Suleri jumps right into her anecdotes, often delivering the pay-off without a set-up. "Dadi behaved miserably at my mother's funeral" (p. 16), she writes, immediately following a story in which her mother appears quite alive. The information jars the reader, perhaps reconstructing the suddenness of Suleri's mother's death. But, more importantly, Suleri's anecdotal structure gives her stories a particular energy: we know what happens, but we don't when it will. In a way, it resembles Alfred Hitchcock's "Bomb Theory": two men sit across from each other on a train and only the audience knows that there is a bomb under the table that separates them. Only with Suleri, we already now that the bomb goes off.

Other examples:

I had strongly hoped that they would say sweetbreads instead of testicles, but I was wrong. [21]

And so we were not really that surprised, then, to find ourselves living through the summer of the trials by fire. It climaxed when Dadi went up in a little ball of flames, but somehow sequentially related were my mother's trip to England to tend her dying mother, and the night I beat up Tillat, and the evening I nearly castrated my little brother, runt of the litter, serious-eyed Irfan. [10-11]


1. How does this technique recreate memory, or stories told from memory? How does the way in which Suleri addresses memory differ from the way Dillard does?

2. The second chapters of both Meatless Days and Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff share the title of their respective books. Is this a matter of coincidence, or does it suggest a similar structuring technique? What is the effect of having the book title also as a chapter title?

3. On page 46, Suleri acknowledges her own text and its devices: "(...Dale: if you will stay now within the privacy of parentheses, then I'll not disturb the ways you are invisible between us. So stay, be gray-eyed among those sentences for a brief time, and then you can go for good.)" What is the effect? Have we seen anything like this in other works?

4. When Suleri begins her stories with the pay-off, how does she end them? With a repetition of the pay-off, or is there another payoff (like the end of the first chapter)?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 2 May 2005