CULTURAL THEORY.docx

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22 Apr 2012
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CULTURAL THEORY, COLONIAL TEXTS: READING EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS OF
WIDOW BURNING
- Sati = predominantly high caste Hindu practice of the burning of widows on
the funeral pyres of their hubbys
- Eyewitness descriptions organized around 4 moments:
o 1. The narrator hastening to the sport on receiving info that a burning
is about to occur
o 2. The monitoring of the widow’s demeanor and the attempts to
dissuade her
o 3. Details of the practices that precede the burning
o 4. The setting alight of the pyre and the death of the widow
- most of the narrative is given over to a scrutiny of the widow
- despite tht the prohibition of sati is a British colonial accomplishment,
widow burning legalized by the East India Company 1813 as long it was
based on the widow’s consent not coercion
- to make sure they it was their consent, they were crossed examined at the
pyre
- there is insurmountable evidence that women were coerced, drugged and
tied to the pyre
- within the discourse of sati, women are represented in two mutually
exclusive ways:
o 1. Either as heroines able to withstand the raging blaze of the funeral
pyre
o 2. Or as pathetic victims coerced against their will into the flames
o * prelude the possibility of female subjectivity that is shifting,
contradictory, inconsistent
Constrained and reductive notion of agency discursively
positions women as objects to be saved, never as subjects who
act, even if within extremely constraining social conditions
This representation of Indian women has been fertile ground
for the elaboration of discourses of salvation, in contxt of
colonialism, nationalism, and western feminism
^all 3 have constructed the Indian women not as someone who
acts, but as someone to be acted upon
- Suttee went through the performance of various preparatory rites:
o Conversed with the Goroo, washed her hands in the Gunga water, etc
o Son sets the pile alight and then cry “Hair Bol”
o Concluded that a suttee had been the result not of choice, or of any
notion that by so doing she would escape some undefined misery in
some future state, but fear of personal obloquy and neglect from her
friends and of bringing disgrace on them and her son, (her want to
firmness would prejudice the boy’s interests and succeed in life)
- an apparently voluntary act (resistance to dissuasion, her ostensible
composure, being unassisted at every stage) turns out to be the effect of fear
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