The Shame of Motherhood

Corey Binns '00 English 27, 1997

"He had been named The Woman by the street urchins because, being a widower, he had been obliged to act as a mother to Bilquis ever since his wife died when the girl was barely two. But now this affectionate title came to mean something more dangerous, and when children spoke of Mahmoud the Woman they meant Mahmoud the Weakling, the Shameful, the Fool. 'Woman,' he sighed resignedly to his daughter, 'what a term! Is there no end to the burdens this word is capable of bearing? Was there ever such a broad-backed and also such a dirty word?" (Rushdie, 58).

Rushdie affirms masculinization by feminizing shame. Mahmoud takes on the role of both parents, shifting into unfamiliar repercussions of playing the part of a woman. As a man Mahmoud recognizes the change of the public's attitude towards him; once the "street urchins" nicknamed Mahmoud "The Woman", children assumed his maternal role signified shame and senselessness. Mahmoud ironically chooses to moan at his daughter about the dread of his heavily burdensome and dirty, female nickname. Like the term woman, motherhood carries burdens reflective of the chiding of the street children, such as weakness, foolishness and shame. Literally, motherhood is the bearing of a great burden: the carrying of and caring for one's offspring, a feat of that kind of importance and responsibility refutes the previous weakness and foolish castigations. However, in their novels, Rushdie and Swift repeatedly correspond shame with motherhood. "That one of the three nose-in-air girls had been put, on that wild night, into the family way. O shame, shame, poppy-shame!" (Rushdie, 9). Rushdie postulates shame to be an appropriate emotion with which a woman addresses an unwanted pregnancy. The act of premarital sex requires both man and woman to play, and yet the aftermath of ridicule, shame, and possible pregnancy evidently lays down heavily and solely upon the woman. After hypnotizing Farah Zoroaster, Oscar has sex and impregnates her. "An outraged headmaster called her into his office and expelled her for calling down shame upon the school." (Rushdie, 48). Not only must the unsuspecting mother shame herself for committing the outrageous act of pregnancy, but the headmaster claims she burdens his school with shame-- rather he is shamed, having schooled an unwed, teenage mother.

In the novel Waterland, Tom impregnates Mary at the age of sixteen. In order to rid herself of the unwanted baby, Mary submits to the Witch doctor who proceeds to suck a fetus out of Mary's body, while damaging Mary and leaving her sterile. Afterwards, Mary announces to Tom that they must part; she locked herself away from Tom and everyone else. "Some would say that this withdrawal of hers was not so much a voluntary act of penance as a punishment inflicted by her shamed and angered father." (Swift, 118). However, Tom Crick knew she chose to lock herself in her "farmhouse cell"; Mary's retreat into the farmhouse marked the end of her curiosities-- her pregnancy, abortion and their associated shames eradicated all of Mary's former inquiring desires.

Indian Subcontinent Gender OV Meatless Days Shame OV Waterland OV

Last Modified: 18 March, 2002