Sara Suleri's Characterization of Dadi

Katie Reynolds 06, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

In her autobiography, Meatless Days, Sara Suleri brings the reader right into her family's life in Pakistan from two intertwined perspectives. At times she has the eye of a child growing up in Pakistan, at other times she speaks from the more distanced eye of an adult living in the United States. She begins with her adult view which helps ease the reader into her story because it is a perspective closer to our own. Later she moves into descriptions of life in Pakistan with her siblings and grandmother told from a child's point of view. It is interesting to note how Suleri develops the character of her grandmother from an adult perspective and what her childhood memories add to the picture of Dadi the reader gets.

Suleri uses short sentences when first introducing Dadi to get across information about Dadi's history; where she was born, when she married, when and why she moved to Pakistan. Much is left to the reader's imagination early on, and specifics get filled in as the story progresses. The fist physical description we get of Dadi is much more lyrical than our initial introduction.

By the time I knew her, Dadi with her flair for drama had allowed life to sit so heavily upon her back that her spine wilted and froze into a perfect curve, and so it was in the posture of a shrimp that she went scuttling through the day.

The description is seemingly from her perspective as a child when she thought of her grandmother as scuttling like a shrimp, but she is reflecting as an adult on how her grandmother had allowed life to sit heavily upon her spine.

As the narrative progresses Suleri shares some of her grandmother's little idiosyncrasies such as the walking sticks she would cut down from the garden even though Suleri's father would buy her dozens. We become familiar with Dadi's traditional values through Suleri's description of her grandmother sitting in the courtyard in the late afternoon winter sun.

With her would go her Quran, a metal basin in which she could wash her hands, and her ridiculously heavy spouted waterpot, that was made of brass. None of us, according to Dadi, were quite pure enough to transport these particular items, but the rest of her paraphernalia we were allowed to carry out. These were baskets of her writing and sewing materials and her bottle of pungent and Dadi-like bitter oils, with which she'd coat the papery skin that held her brittle bones.

Not only does Suleri convey Dadi's values and personal character but the reader also gains a sense of Dadi through Suleri's extremely effective physical descriptions of her grandmother which often seem influenced from her childhood mind.

Questions

1. We have discussed in class that what is left out in a story is as important as what is put in. Suleri gives us lots of anecdotes and descriptions to characterize her Dadi, but of course there is no way she could have included every detail about her grandmother. How does this affect the narrative and Suleri's creditability?

2. Suleri's opinions come across when she says things like "her ridiculously heavy spouted waterpot" and "none of us, according to Dadi, were quote pure enough to transport these particular items." How does this affect how the reader sees Dadi? Is it and injustice to Dadi if the reader sees her through Suleri's eyes?

3. Is Suleri's combination of childhood memories and more distanced adult perspective effective? Do you think it would be more effective if she only used one of them?


Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 1 December 2003