The target of feminism as a discourse can be said to be social structures that enforce a patriarchal mode of thinking which quite evidently dominates the social sphere and contributes to the subjugation of the female sex. Tejaswini Niranjana in her essay “Feminism and Culture Studies in Asia” sheds light on the problematized state of feminism in terms of its reception. She says:
A standard criticism of feminism across Asia derives from a charge that it is disconnected/alienated from ‘our culture’. This is a charge that is seldom made against any of our other political frameworks which are far from having a clearly identifiable ‘indigenous’ source. The implicit accusation seems to be that feminist demands are modern demands, and modernization means the erasure or giving up of Indian culture and the adaptation of western values and ways of life. (3)
It is in this space, where the objections are many, that the female self through representation should write its way into history and eliminate the haunting tag of ‘the other’ that has come to characterize it due to the dominance of what feminists call a male centered literature. Sarah Jospeh’s short story The Scooter translated by Gita Krishnakutty tries to portray the female self and its intricate idiosyncrasies which constantly negotiates with the roles assigned to it by society and with the whole process of reciprocity which is fundamental in marital relationships.
Disillusionment as a phenomenon is ever present in the narrative. The negotiation of the female protagonist with the harsh reality that exists all around her heightens and sustains a deep sense of un-fulfillment which is visible throughout the journey presented in the story. The narrative begins by giving the reader subtle hints regarding the real journey represented through the use of a metaphor induced narrative.
The start of the journey was, naturally, very enjoyable. They were filled with expectations about the extremely beautiful part of the world they were going to. But scooters cannot be relied upon for long journeys to distant places. Before they had gone very far, a screw came loose and the scooter stopped on the highway!
The journey being referred to in the opening line of the story quite explicitly suggests the nature of relationships in a social setting and its limitations. The scooter then stands for the phenomenon of marriage as a social practice, as an institutions and as an agent of legitimization. The fact that such themes are induced into the story highlights how Sarah Joseph’s work can be understood as a text that fall under both categories i.e a work written by a woman and female literature. Elaine Showalter in her book Literature of their Own while discussing “The Female Tradition” quotes the distinction G. H. Lewes makes with regard to books that are written by women and female literature. Lewes defines the latter as something “which purposefully and collectively concerns itself with the articulation of women’s experience, and which guides itself ‘by its own impulses’ to autonomous self-expression.”
The short story brings to light the perspective of the woman substantially even though it employs a third person narration. This can be seen as a conscious attempt by the writer to induce into the literary tradition the tale of the woman and in the process write one’s body. The notion of writing the body made popular by Helene Cixous is mostly seen as a form of writing that explicitly deals with the female sexuality and the body in which both categories try to mark out space for itself. However what one needs to note is that such an approach is not really limited to the physical. The attempts of writers like Sarah Joseph through such narratives also write the female body in terms of the female perception and self which in turn constructs the physical self.
“But scooters cannot be relied upon for long journeys to distant places.” This is a recurrent imagery that occurs thrice in the story and marks the collapse of the moments of intimacy experienced by the man and the woman during their travel. The sentence used in repetition creates an air of inevitability. On inspection of the events that follow after the scooter breaks down one can quite clearly see that external forces help bring it back to life and ensure that the man, woman and child continue in their destined journey. The role of marriage, the importance inscribed to it, and the role of social structures in enforcing it is brought to light, questioned, critiqued and turned to satire here.
The role of the child as a uniting factor in a marriage is also questioned. The text not just questions it but also problematizes the whole concept. The struggle between the calm and loving mother figure assigned to the female protagonist by social structures and the female competitor in the relationship is brought to light. The roles assigned, be it arbitrary have normalized itself and hence creates conflict and ultimately brings alive a negotiation.
The scooter slipped from his grip and overturned and the child fell from her hands! The two of them looked angrily at each other.
Their eyes met and blazed in the hot noonday sun!
The child wailed loudly. Neither he nor she paid any attention.
When the scooter falls for the second time, the man and the woman mock each other and laugh at each other. This momentary sense of dominance and a sense of liberation combined with a heightened sense of individuality leads to the fall of the child and neither pays attention to it.
The story critiques gender roles with regard to marriage as a form of relationship. Simone de Beauvoir, borrowing from the prevalent ideas posited by the existential school of thought asserts that the idea of existence precedes essence is quite important in the feminist discourse and that there exists no such thing as ‘femininity’ if we were to understand it as an essential attribute. Rather such a notion of femininity exists only as a constructed structure enforced by patriarchal norms. The end of the story serves also as a thesis to the general idea. In end the scooter breaks down for the third time due to a petrol leak and because the leak causes a nauseating odour the villagers make the man, woman and child carry the ‘decaying corpse’ on their heads. The collapse of a social institution or a signification of its inadequacies can be implied.
Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of Medusa” Print
Joseph, Sarah. "The Scooter." The Daily Star 5 (2004): Web.
Niranjana, Tejaswini. "Feminism and Culture Studies in Asia." Print.
Showalter, Elaine. "The Female Tradition." A Literature of Their Own. 1977. Print.