Qaisra Shahraz

A Pair of Jeans

A Pair of Jeans 3

If we put our focus on the other characters, that means apart from the main character Miriam, we must say that they are all types, flat characters without a development (this is at least true for the first ending.) Probably this is also true for Miriam, at least in the first ending.

Fatima:

She is probably a first-generation immigrant, who attempts to adjust to the new culture, but is still closely influenced by the old traditions:
„When she saw her daughter hovering behind the two guests, Fatima received a shock“ (176/25f)
And later on: She was not able to reveal what she had learnt. „She was still reeling from the shock herself“. (188/17f)On the other hand she obviously tries to adjust to western traditions and western culture:
„Normally she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if her daughter had turned up at her door at 11 o’clock at night…“(176/28f) But the feeling of insecurity prevails:
Fatima couldn’t quite make herself understand why she felt ashamed of her daughter’s clothing and why she was suddenly angry with her, for being seen like this. (177/38ff)

The pressure that is put upon her is seen at the end of the first part:
Unable to control herself any longer, Fatima bitterly burst out with „She said that your engagement had to be broken off!“ (188/22f)
„Why, mother?“ (188/25) Miriam’s question does not simply refer to the reason, why Ayub and Begum break off the engagement. It goes deeper, questions the tradition itself. But here she is without an answer.

Let’s remember how easily Fatima got intimidated by the authoritarian cultural heritage inside and outside herself at the beginning of the story:

  • she was ashamed of her daughter
  • felt the urge to get her out of sight
  • communicated to her daughter to change her into something respectable
  • sent her away

In the second ending of the story, Fatima seems to become a bit rebellious, but she is still mainly influenced by the old traditions in her culture, e.g. that the parents should try to solve the problem or that the whole thing is mainly a question of honour. (192/14ff)

Begum: refer to step 2

Ayub : refer to step 2
He is a very dominant character, very authoritarian, very convinced of male supremacy.
At the same time he is unable to take the responsibility for his decisions, he is unable to communicate his decision to Farook whereas he proves to be a rhetorically skilled person.
He seems to be emotionally deprived and probably insecure.

Farook : He is actually not there. He comes home at the end of the conversation between Begum and Ayub, but he is invisible and unheard. Nobody asks him for his opinion.
He is mainly presented in the second ending. Here he seems to be very cooperative, but he still doesn?t know that his parents prevented the marriage.
At the same time he seems to be used to, probably adapted to the old traditions in which he lives and according to which he seems to be treated. E.g. his mother prepares his dinner when he gets home at the end of the ?secret?conversation between Ayub and
Begum.
In the conversation with Miriam in the second ending he is ready to meet Miriam, he also seems to be puzzled, of course because he is not informed, but probably he is surprised because he would never have expected an initiative like Miriam’s from a woman.

Task:

  • Play the scene: Miriam and Farook meet with the parents.

What constitutes this scene?: – what happens right before Miriam enters the house?
– can we imagine how the parents expect her?
(a lot has happened before / the girl, the rebellious girl, tries to take the initiative: all traditional rules are overthrown. Miriam is wearing the ominious clothes!)

If we have come to a result in this conversation: How is it communicated to Miriam’s parents? How will they react?

We must also have a closer look at the motives and symbols in the short story:

Clothes.
If we take into consideration the imagery of clothing in many other works of literature, this one is ironically different: Whereas we know clothing as something that doesn’t fit because the clothes are too wide (or the wearer too small, e.g. Macbeth) which means you are dressed in borrowed robes symbolizing that you try to get into a position that is too high for you or that you aren’t allowed to get into from some other reason, here the clothes are too small.
What does it mean? Miriam doesn’t try to get into a position out of arrogance or hubris, she acts (at least at the beginning) in a naive way, rather from an attitude that shows how innocent she is.
She is clearly shown as a victim by the fact that she is punished without having been guilty, without having tried to overcome her background. She hasn’t done anything she can, with some justification, be accused of.
Ironically, these too small clothes become a mighty gesture in the second ending, even a uniform, in which she is going to attack the fundamentalist enemy. So this ‘girlish uniform’, designed to attract people, becomes a weapon in Miriam’s decisive battle of cultures in the second ending.
The armor of the crusader, being too short, is ironically offering a part of sensible flesh in the fight for human rights, especially in the fight for the rights of women against medieval intolerance and bigotry. (c.g. Siegfried’s unprotected spot)

Opening and closing doors
Miriam walks to the door of her house at the beginning.
She arrives at the gate of the semi-detached house.
She opens the gate and turns round.
Ayub pushes the gate open.
He is knocking on the front door.
Miriam’s mother opens the door.
Miriam shuts the door of her room behind her.
(When she is traditionally dressed, the door is not mentioned. (e.g. she entered the living room)).

These doors and gates symbolize the idea of accessibility and inaccessibility, of openness and a hermetic view of life. It indicates how threatening it can be if somebody like Ayub knocks on a door.

  • Here the hermetic newspaper-reading-scene of Ayub (he is hiding behind it, he is also protected by it) has its place, too.

The Peak District
What can be associated with walking on and over mountain “ tops“:  Freedom!
Should we recall Martin Luther King’s famous statement, shortly before he was killed, when he said that he had lost the fear of dying (as the absolute epitome of freedom) after he had been on the mountain top and seen the promised land?
From the mountain top you could also bring back new laws according to which you can live.
Miriam has experienced freedom in the Peak District, but this freedom is not a new state of being, a new way of life, it is only an illusion. It soon has to give way to the feeling of embarrassment and guilt.
The freedom of the walking tour is associated with the clothing (jeans, vest) she wears on the tour.

Communication, contacting people

Communication in the story is very authoritarian, one-sided. This motive is very closely connected to the symbolism of doors. In the conversation between Ayub and Begum there seems to be no way out of the traditional view. They sit opposite each other and there seems to be a wall between them. She doesn’t actually take part in the conversation.
Communication comes to an end already at the beginning of the story, when Begum greets Miriam, but Ayub just looks over her head and passes by.
People don’t say the truth. Reasons for leaving the house or breaking up the engagement are lies.
Even the conversation between Fatima and Miriam consists of secret gestures rather than of open words.
Silence is a constituent.
This includes telephone-calls. Miriam’s defeat is most obvious when Begum doesn’t want to talk to her on the phone but wanted to talk to Fatima.

Task: Compare the two endings. Are there advantages or disadvantages in each; and which is,
in your opinion, the better ending?

Task: Develop a dramatic concept for the short story: transform it into a scene with
or without text and with an appropriate setting.

A Pair of Jeans 2

In her room, Miriam reflects on her split personality (page 178):The person they have happily chosen as a bride for their son in their household and, on the other hand, the western person, „The other person“. When Miriam is in her „refuge“, her room, she gives a report on the idea „they“ have of her, a view she is familiar with:

  • they met her in a traditional shalwar kameze suit.
  • she is docile
  • obedient
  • she is a sweet daughter in law
  • now the western fashion is connected with western morals
  • she is seen as a threat / a rebellious hoyden
  • as a consequence she will not show any respect for husband and „in laws“

When Miriam has changed her clothes, she feels at home in her traditional dress which also symbolizes her traditional side:
there is a new personality and she reflects on her role she is playing in it:

  • her body is modestly covered
  • it is descreetly draped (178/32f)

Now she is a confident woman in full control of herself : She is acting out a role (179/2ff)

  • she is swapping one identity for another (179/49)
  • she was part and parcel of another identity (179/50)

Anyway, the „in-laws“ flee with a “lousy excuse”(180/29)

Task: acting a scene:

„A wanderer between two worlds:“

Imagine the following situation: The next day, Miriam talks with a British friend from college about what happened. We work in groups of four. We need one person to take the part of Miriam, another to take the part of her friend and two people to note down the most important arguments in the conversation

So we get closer to

  • Miriam’s problems and
  • possible solutions

The way back home of the „in-laws“ could be called the silence before the storm.
In the one-sided conversation that follows, Ayub talks, whereas Begum just thinks, anticipating the outcome of the conversation:

Ayub:

  • refers to her dress (183/41)
  • returns home late (183/42)
  • He suspects Miriam of being rebellious, she can’t be controlled.(183/44ff)
  • she might have a boyfriend and take drugs.(183/44ff)

„Can you guarantee that she will make our son happy?“(183/47f)

Ayub strategically plans his argumentation appealing to Begum’s feelings concerning her son.

His body-language shows his position in the family:
authorative swing of his hand (183/63).
His aggressive, unemotional attitude is indicated by the thin line of his mouth. (183/63f)

Begum (plays a role she has to play inevitably in his drama 186/24)

  • Begum (now it was her time to play) (182/2)
  • Secretly in her own heart she agreed with her husband (183/58)
  • She defends Miriam, excuses her for herself and him.
  • Begum anticipates the outcome of the discussion (184/2)
  • Regrets it because she has chosen her (184/20f)
  • She herself had fallen in love with Miriam (184/37f)
  • She also had a real liking to Miriam’s parents(185/41ff)
  • Begum tries to hold on to Miriam
  • She has fallen in love with her own idea of Miriam
  • for her Miriam is the „epitome of tradition“ (184/15)

In the end she is overpowered by her husband’s resolution (186)
Ayub: „I thought I have already made myself obvious“ (186/31)
„He was enraged and let her know it“ (186/32)

When Farook comes home her husband leaves everything to her and hides behind his newspaper.

The focus is then on Miriam again (187)
She comes home from university indicating her integration in her western lifestyle.
The telephone call between Begum and Miriam then signals the sudden distance between the individuals: Begum doesn’t want to talk to Miriam but asks for Fatima.

Begum’s reaction to the phonecall:

  • she hates the role she had been forced to play (188/4).
  • she is able to feel the pain of Fatima.(188/5f)

In contrast to Ayub she is confronted with the emotional side of the decision and she is capable of an emphatic reaction.

Fatima’s reaction:

  • Fatima is shocked. (188/18)

Miriam’s reaction:

Miriam runs into her room and throws the clothes to the ground and kicks them. (189/33ff)
Her anger turns towards the clothes that have caused the problems.(189)

Tasks:

  • Discussion of the ending of the story
  • Is the ending appropriate? Does it fit to motives given in the
    short story?
  • Is it inappropriate? Why has the writer written a second ending?

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