Monday, April 20, 2009

Sita and Snow White

I was never one for good-girl stories, like Anne of Green Gables, Secret Garden, or The Little Princess. Even female characters like Beth in Little Women irritated me. Jane Eyre had to work really hard to earn my regard and catch my attention, which was hooked on the first Mrs. Rochester. It took me years, decades, even, if truth be told, before I could appreciate the complexity in Sita and admire her for her choices. To this day, my students know of my disgust with Snow White, whom I have confessed to want to slap on more than one occassion.

As a girl, of course, I pretended very well and professed false admiration for the Good Girl Archetype (please note the capitals; they are deliberate). Secretly, I wondered if there was anything wrong with me, because I seemed incapable of admiring true goodness. I worried about the myriad set of connected character deficits this one would mean, especially in regard to my acceptance factor among my friends. While my girlfriends secreted and devoured romances or Mills & Boon (as they were called), I exhibited my Mills & Boon trying to convince everyone around me how Normal I was, and secretly admired Jo and Amy March, Draupadi, Elizabeth Bennet, Portia, Beatrice (as in As You Like It, NOT Dante's Galatea-like figure), Kunti, even Hidimba and Amba.

I wonder if I have carried over these deficits into my life and this has influenced the female characters I create. Here is a sample, one of my characters, the Old Woman, who has haunted me for many years now:

The Old Woman stepped off the falling twilight, from the top of Her hill, directly on to leaves of the old tamarind tree. The ancient clock of the Tower started its chimes, announcing the end of the final afternoon of peace before the festival season. As She descended from the tree, She took care not to touch the earth with her backward feet, the toes facing behind Her. So heavy were Her backward facing feet, one touch and there would be no telling what apocalypse might descend.
Her eyes were red burning coals. But they’d burn out and She knew She’d have to find new coals to replace the ashes in the sockets. Her gaze stopped at Her feet; She considered them while the world around Her held its breath.
When She exhaled through Her red, sharp mouth, centuries might have passed, for the leaves, roads, roofs, windows were now covered with a patina of dust and smoke from Her rattled, fleshless ribs. She flexed Her fingers which faced Her elbow, and unclenched Her palms from which a mixture of kum-kum and ashes forever drizzled. The coal shigri on Her head gleamed orange and black for a moment. Her sari, the sole garment She wore, the color and texture of clouds, settled around Her wrinkled up breasts and pointed shoulder blades.
Finally, the Old Woman turned towards the singing street. The Tower clock finished its chimes and the world exhaled behind Her.


  1. Ah, the Good Girl. How hard it is to escape that archetype!

  2. If I say that Good Girl Archetype does not hold in reality, I will get in big trouble :-) But, I agree with you.



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