Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ramayana, chapter 4

Love in this chapter, as in the rest of the book so far, is portrayed as purely physical and based on appearance. This is why Soorpanaka feels she needs to lie with her appearance to be loved by Rama. The "love" wouldn't be based on some kind of soul connection, it's depicted as purely lust and so she needs to change her appearance. (Side note: I love his line about building "her edifice of falsehoods higher and higher." Certainly a cooler phrase than the common "web of lies.") In a way, I sort of admire Soorpanaka's determination to get what she wants -- she doesn't care about the class system, her ugliness in her normal form, or anything else that would get in her way. It's kind of cool that she isn't, like probably other women of the time, willing to be submissive or just follow the rules. Of course, this very quality leads to her getting her womanhood ripped from her, in a way -- way earlier in the book, it's established that you can be violent to a woman once she has stepped out of the bounds of what a woman is "supposed" to be like. Soorpanaka has done this by wanting something (or someone) and trying to get it. She's defied what she's supposed to be by virtue of her gender, and therefore she's no longer considered a woman. This is shown when Lakshmana is violent to her and in fact chops her breasts off, which is sort of symbolic since breasts have been the defining characteristic of women in this book so far, and now that they're taken away from her it shows she's not considered a woman.

Soorpanaka is shown as the outlier in a graph of "ideal" women. If Rama is the ideal man, then Sita is the ideal woman--one who cleaves to her husband, who during times of stress or trouble simply clings to his side and is willing to be "protected" by him. Soorpanaka is punished for not being this ideal, for going after what SHE wants, rather than what someone ELSE wants for her.