Romance and Family

Xiyun Yang, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

Sara Suleri's intricate, dense prose presents her family, her country and its history with the sagacity of retrospection and the originality of individual autonomy. Meatless Days is stream of consciousness not in style but content, leaving a winding narrative trial of bread crumbs for the reader to follow; each chapter follows a structure of free association, exploring a plethora of loosely configured stories. Each sentence, a mental and intellectual rumination, is constructed as a self contained epiphany. The end of every chapter is a miniature conclusion: the narrative line rounding back to its original subject and subtly tying together the chapter's main theme. From the title "Goodbye to the Greatness of Tom," one would predict that the chapter is centralized with describing the dissolve of a great love. The chapter is indeed anchored by Suleri's relationship with Tom. However, Suleri devotes just as much time to her family and Pakistan as she does to her doomed love affair. She weaves stories of empty phone calls and failed promises with the creation of the state of Pakistan and her sister's and mother's graves.

What an irritant I was to my intimates in those times. "Leave," they would conjure me and then, with angry impatience, "Leave." " Yes" I'd answer with alacrity." I will!" But barely had the conversation turned its back than I could feel my mind rise up like a supplicant and say, " Give me a habit; let me wear the same clothes from season to season." Or I would wince to admit that my rash claims had failed to acknowledge the precision of things, which left me with nothing worth leaving. And so I never knew quite how I should have responded when Tillat, gazing sorrowfully away from me and out upon the arid stretch of desert-land, said, "Sara, you must learn how to settle now." She was talking about the stringent graces of monogamy. " Oh sister most monogamous," my brain groaned, "how can I tell you what it is to have a hand upon your head that shapes itself unwittingly to someone else's cranium, so that every nerve end of fidelity in you leaps up to exclaim, 'This is not the cup my skull requires'?" [83]

In this passage, Suleri blends her reaction to her deteriorating relationship with a conversation with her sister. The seamless transition between the two scenes mirrors that of the natural progression of thought.

The line between romantic and family life is usually one that stays fairly stark and obvious for most people. Why does she juxtapose the intensely personal and individual experience of dealing with a deteriorating relationship with stories of her family?

He is the only western individual outside of her family to whom she devotes an entire chapter. Why does she do this? Is it simply to provide a foil for her family?

Suleri gives the reason for her attraction to Tom as that "He made things: that I think was it, in the early days of my lack of custom with such prodigious tangibility" (73). Later on, she states that "Ah god, I thought, the man is dying, dying of invention" (89). What do these two observations say about her relationship with Tom? What do they say about the idea of construction and invention? How does it relate to her perception of her family?

In the above passage, Suleri speaks of having "a hand upon your head that shapes itself unwittingly to someone else's cranium, so that every nerve end of fidelity in you leaps up to exclaim, 'this is not the cup my skull requires'?" How does Suleri view the confines of marriage and her cultural expectations? How does this relate to the statement from the first chapter that "There are no women in the third world" (20)? What is her tone when disagreeing with the cultural norm of marriage?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified December 2003