The Female Landscape

Corey Binns '00 English 27, 1997

Female body shapes provides descriptions of landscapes and metaphors for natural scenery and space in Meatless Days, Shame, and Waterland. Common phrases such as "mother earth," "motherland," "mother country" and "mother tongue" exemplify the prevalence of conceiving one's place and space in maternal terms. Titles within the novels reaffirm the individual author's gendering of land and place, like Swift's "Unknown Country" and Rushdie's compilation, "Escape From the Mother Country". In the three novels, the maternity of home repetitively appears in different forms as gendered landmarks, means of sustenance and descriptions of fertility.

In Shame, Rushdie illustrates the surrounding countryside of Q. as a thoroughly infertile spread of land, save the good orchards in the estate of the three mothers' deceased father, which they sold immediately after his death. The references of the land's infertility suggest the countryside appears desolate and implies the poverty of the town. Nishapur, the grand home of the three mothers and their son Omar Khayyam, develops into an "infertile and time-eroded labyrinth" (Rushdie, 24) after the women lock themselves into the expansive building. The home is infertile because Omar's mothers partook in a so-called immaculate conception. Omar blames the unchanging atmosphere of Nishapur and the lack of knowledge and growth within the building on the sterility of his mothers. He "wandered for some four thousand days in the thing-infested jungle that was 'Nishapur', his walled-in wild place, his mother country; until he succeeded in getting the frontiers opened." (Rushdie, 24). The three sisters built a fortress of motherhood around their son in order to perfect and retain him within the walls of his mothers' country.

Graham Swift sets his novel, Waterland, in the moist fens of England, where water drives the daily work of men. As the title suggests, water is prolific in the novel and acts as the strong force of wilderness upon the civilized. The repetition of water: its fluidity, direction, force and female correlations appear throughout Waterland and intermittently in Meatless Days. Swift and Suleri specifically feminize water as sexual and maternal; Suleri envisions herself "laying hands upon the body of her [mother's] water". (Suleri, 159). The author uses the characteristics of both body and water to depict an image of maternal comfort.

Intensity of any kind made her increasingly uneasy, and as a consequence she worked at all hours to keep her connection with her children at low tide--still a powerfully magnetic thing, but an ebbing tide, so that there was always a ghostly stretch of neither here nor there between her sea and our shore. (Suleri, 159).

The imagery of water clearly describes the balancing act with which Suleri's mother held her children at length. The pull of the tide and the pull of her children sway carefully before the reader as a gentle yet forceful equilibrium of a mother's strength. Water and mother fuse into one body of power; the imagery makes real the delicate intricacies of mothering.

Indian Subcontinent Gender OV Meatless Days Shame OV Waterland OV