Artists of the Floating World – Chapter 4

The reading this week got me thinking a lot about patriarchal societies. For so long, I believed that as a country, we could move away from the idea of having a patriarchy, but recent events have left me a bit hopeless. I was really fascinated by the idea that Mukherjee was moving from one patriarchal society into another. I never really looked at it that way until the text stated, “Contrarily, there are critics who decry Mukherjee‘s turn towards an ―assimilationist‖ standpoint. Her characters, in the process of becoming Americanized, lose agency and power; indeed, at worst, she has merely swapped one  form of patriarchal embrace (that of her native India)  for another  (that of  her  adopted  United  States)” (84). It’s even more fascinating to me to think of it in terms of The Holder of the World where the reverse seems to happen and Hannah’s journey starts in America.

Mukherjee’s characters are floating between seemingly different worlds, but they are worlds more similar than we believe them to be. I did think it was fascinating when Burton pointed out that, “Similarly,  in  her  story-lines,  patriarchal  figures  are  deliberately murdered  or  renounced,  as  the  following  brief  plot  summaries  will demonstrate” (85). There is a clear rejection of patriarchy on her part. Burton goes on to point out that Mukherjee went through a rejection in her own life as she moved away from being under the patriarchal thumb of her father and moved on into adulthood.

I’m also liking that Burton’s work is reintroducing theoretical approaches, such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak, that I have learned, but in a new, understanding light. I do have to wonder about whether or not the “subaltern” can speak and the type of power they have if they do.

The section on terrorism was interesting, too, and it raises a point of whether or not violent acts of terror can accomplish the same thing as textual expressions and where the line is for subaltern nonconformity. I think, although one end is extreme, that it is an interesting area to explore and I will be curious to see what our class does with it.

 

The Holder of the World

The Holder of the World has been a very intriguing and different read so far. I love how it plays around with perspectives between Beigh’s story and the history of Hannah.

What strikes me the most about Bharati Mukherjee’s The Holder of the World is the beautiful, descriptive language. The opening alone, “I live in three time zones simultaneously, and i don’t mean Eastern, Central and Pacific. I mean the past, the present and the future” (5) draws readers in. There is no way anyone can put the book down without figuring out what that means. When she starts delving into her family’s past and Hannah’s story, we realize how passionate she is about it. We get the sense that she truly feels like she lives it. There are so many moments when we are in Hannah’s story and we are brought back to first-person Beigh for just a second.

The language surrounding Hannah’s embroidery and medical skills was also beautiful. One passage that really stuck out to me was, “In the evenings, she embroidered landscapes – frost stiffening blades of grass, pumpkins glowing like setting suns, butterflies dusting colors off their pastel wings against cassocks of black silk and breeches of velvet, In fact, there was a wildness about Hannah. People sensed it” (62). The imagery evoked some sense that embroidery was Hannah’s rebellion. It was her way of expressing herself in Puritanical America.

It is pointed out that since Hannah embroidered such beautiful things, she had to have such a vivid imagination even before she traveled. It was here that I saw her story relating to Beigh’s the most. When Beigh tours the Fort St. Sebastian ruins we see her imagination run wild here. Although it’s her perspective, as opposed to a narrator’s perspective of Hannah’s embroidery, it seemed similar to how they described Hannah’s embroidery taking on a life of its own. When she says, “I can imagine the customs master, Mir Ali, one of Haider Beg’s appointees, spyglass in hand, noting the names and descriptions of all the ships and cargo that sailed into and out of the Bay of Bengal” (96) I am right there with her. Similarly, I can picture the beautiful pieces that Hannah has embroidered.

Although it’s a little thing, I really loved that Beigh is a graduate student in this book. It makes me feel like I understand her process and her research much more. I definitely connect with this character.