EnglishShort Story

The title of “The Property of Woman” by Sara Suleri

A thing that one possesses and can use it on his own, acting within the parameters of the law of the land can be called property. It can be in the form of land, estate, buildings, etc., etc. and other portable and non-portable things that can be valued in form of money.

The title of the story “The Property of Woman” is quite suggestive and symbolic. The property discussed in the story has dual meanings, the literal and the symbolic. So far as the literal level of the title is concerned, both Sara and Halima have their respective properties. This property is in the real sense of the word. It is in the form of their houses. One of them is situated in Gulberg V and the other is in the adjacent Kutchi Abadi. The one is swept and cleaned daily by Halima while the other is washed away almost annually by the rain. This property can be bracketed with social status defined by economic disparities. It can be termed as the richer the owner, the more costly the property. Speaking at the literal level, we can ask which property and to whom it belongs. The answer is the houses that belong to Sara and Halima.

Discussion about the title at the symbolic level changes the meaning of the word. Now the property is not something in concrete form. It is not a house made of mud, wood, and bricks. It is not a land measured by miles and acres. It is not a building valued by its storeys. What is it then? This property is a trait– chastity. It’s a passion too, a passion for sex, if controlled and kept within limits is valuable more than anything under the sun, if let loose, worse than the worst. This very aspect of the property can be taken as one of the themes of the story “The Property of Woman”.

Halima talks about Pather Nadi as her obsession. He has sunlight in his bones and sun in his eyes. His eyes with the sun in them give Halima solace. As she tells the narrator, “When I work hard and my bones ache at night, I like to think that his eyes are the sun.” Sunlight in his bones has quite a magical power. He is able to write lines on the face of Halima’s son, Allah Rakha without touching her. She voices it while talking to Sara, “Pather Nadi has sunlight in his bones, but he is not that infant’s father.” Halima also said: “His bones consist of sunlight. No marrow, no honey, nothing but sunlight in the secrete of those bones.” At this point, Pather Nadi remains no more a man but seems to have got the status of a Greek god for Halima. She wants to keep him in the inner depths of her mind as she requests the narrator not to tell others about him.

One wonders how an uneducated woman like Halima can get so philosophical about this passion of human life. This raises a question about the truthfulness of the first-person narrative. It is often observed that it becomes very difficult for the first-person narrative to stay objective. The careful and metaphorical way of talking sets in the mind that it is Sara who knows more about Pather Nadi than Halima. Though to establish the veracity of her narration, she claims that it is Halima who gave her Pather Nadi “limbs by limbs” but Halima has neither told the narrator about cicadas’ arrival in Lahore for mating and dying nor about ‘bamboo legs’ and ‘lip-disturbing skin of peaches’. Anyhow here we are talking about the property of women, not about the quantity of knowledge the women have about Pather Nadi.

This property is the common object of every human being. Here not only Sara and Halima but also every man and woman owns this property. The main protagonist of the story and the narrator communicates it in league with each other using Pathar Nadi as a metaphor.

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