Bequest Questions and Answers
1. Theme of the Play
[Q. Discuss the themes portrayed in the poem ‘Bequest’.[Bequest Questions and Answers]
In almost all of de Souza’s poems, we find the discomfort of women in the rulebound patriarchal society. As de Souza was herself a Christian, she in her poem ‘Bequest’, has questioned the age-old tradition of the Christian religion.
Eunice de Souza’s notable poem ‘Bequest’ has been taken from her 1990 published collection Ways of Belonging: Selected Poems. As Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for the sake of human beings, their good, faith and rationality, de Souza also compares the women who sacrifice for the sake of their counterparts. Christ is the symbol of unfailing hope in Christianity. Likewise, women are a symbol of unfailing hope in the patriarchal society. As Christ let himself crucified to save humanity, women, too, let their dreams, their passions sacrifice to save the patriarchy or man. The poet has suggested women to stay away from this saviour complex. This pattern should end.
Almost all her poems reveal her strong sense of discomfort with patriarchal institutions. She also questions rigid traditions of traditional Christianity in her work. For instance, in her poem ‘Bequest’ she dismisses one of the most iconic symbols of traditional Christianity, that of Christ sacrificing his blood to redeem humanity. She foregrounds a woman’s sense of self-worth, saying she wants to live not by the sacrificial paradigm or rigid social conventions but by her own terms and conditions. This is evident from the lines:
Some recommend stern standards Others say float along. He says, take it as it comes, meaning, of course, as he hands it out. ir inorgstsm
Religion has been equalised with life in this poem. The reality behind the messiah complex has been smashed by the poetess in this poem. By drawing comparison with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, de Souza portrays the sacrifice of women in the society. This is the real truth behind the lives of women in the present society.
But she wants this to end. Women have been sacrificing themselves for the betterment of men for ages. They have ended their selves, their self-entity under the pressure and rules and regulations of the patriarchal society. But no more. She does not want women to sacrifice themselves anymore. From now on, she wants the women to live for themselves, by their own choice, their own wishes.
Though the poem begins with the religious sacrifice of Christ, then proceeding towards the sacrifice of women in general, the poetess does not call for attention to the sacrifice of Christian women only. Women of all races, caste and class have been talked about in this poem.
2. The Significance of the Title
[Q. What is the meaning of the title ‘Bequest’? Discuss briefly.
Or, Q. What is the significance of the title of the poem? Discuss.]
The word ‘Bequest’ means a legacy or the action of bequeathing something. It is like the act of giving or leaving something by will, something that’s transmitted from the past. It is a religious sacrifice. Here, the poetess talks of the sacrifice of all women, irrespective of their class, caste, religion and race in a male-dominated society.
‘Bequest’ means to give away or leave something willingly. Here the poetess talks about how Jesus Christ bequeathed his bleeding heart under crucifixion for the sake of humanity. His sacrifice is the symbol of unfailing hope. As Christ is the symbol of saviour and sacrificer, women, too, act as saviors to the men in a patriarchal society. They sacrifice their bleeding hearts, their self worth, just as well. But the poetess finally talks about bequeathing one’s heart for oneself only. There’s no one more precious than oneself.
In her poems we find that she shows her concern for w women. She shows the dislocation of mother, daughter, wife in the same way as the different roles of women suffered different problems. She wants to be a device without these particular names as she is created with origin of multiple and diffused points. As she says in ‘Bequest’: “I Wish I could be a Wise woman Smiling, endlessly, vacuously Like a plastic flower. Saying child, learn from me.” (Bequest)
In a patriarchal society, a woman faces tension, frustration and lifelessness because always a question arises in her mind as to what way she has to live rather that what way she wants to live. In her ‘Bequest’ she shows exactly this condition of AUCH woman: “Some recommend stern standards others say float along. He says, take it as it comes, meaning, of course, as he hands it out.” (Bequest)
In the concluding lines it can be said that like other postmodern Indian English women poets, her poetry also reveals the struggle of women to attain freedom and quality. She shows the gender blindness and discrimination in the society and also the struggle to attain selfrealization. Despite being in a situation of alienation her poetry shows the conscious for women and through the use of some devices she wants to raise her voice against those issues.
Actually Eunice de Souza does not only break the so called tradition of previous writers but also explores a new horizon for the upcoming women poets to take these issues in a more vivid way. She is a modern woman full of self confidence and she has the determination to change some of these old primitive issues as far as possible.
3. The Structure
[Q. Comment on the structure of Eunice de Souza’s poem ‘Bequest’.]
One of my favorite de Souza poems is “Bequest.” De Souza’s lyrics resist both excerpting and paraphrase: they have a plenary cohesion. This poem takes the form of a speech–act that dwells on what others have said. Talking and listening are affirmed as humane realities, even when laced with spite or counteraggression:
In every Catholic home there’s a picture
of Christ holding his bleeding heart in his hand.
I used to think, ugh.
The only person with whom
I have not exchanged confidences is my hairdresser.
Some recommend stern standards, others say float along.
He says, take it as it comes,
meaning, of course, as he hands it out.
I wish I could be a
smiling endlessly, vacuously
like a plastic flower,
saying Child, learn from me.
It’s time to perform an act of charity
bequeath the heart, like a
preferably to an enemy.
Each stanza continues the impulse, but from an unexpected angle, fusing reactive aliveness (‘ugh”!) with goffered hauteur (whom,” “preferably”). The poem is avulsive, not linear; it doesn’t babble onward but materializes in so many separate, chary squirts.
To claim de Souza as a poet of speech is not to say she talks too much: quite the opposite. Minimalism borders on mysticism. Creatively sardonic, ever–twitchy, de Souza remains, however faintly, a religious poet, for it is possible to take the ending of “Bequest” at face value, even though the heart to be donated would be a weaponized gift should it ooze poison. (And is “he” a lover, a bully, or Christ as both?) She leaves questions unanswered and feelings suggestively glimpsed.
There are in total five stanzas in the poem ‘Bequest’. In the first three stanzas, the position of women in a conservative male-dominated society is penned down. Whereas, the last two stanzas are depicted on how to be free from this society.
Thus, the use of these techniques help her alter not just the style of writing but also the manner of its interpretation. Her experimental use of irony and ordinariness thus adds new dimensions to Indian English poetry and also offers new grounds along which poetry writing can be further taken. Eunice de Souza’s voice of rebelliousness and bitterness is mainly because of the common parental attitude – unwelcoming towards a girl child and indifference with women in patriarchal society. The mentality of the society towards a girl child and the effort to condition her to fit in stereotypical roles irritates her.
Female subjectivity has been constructed by patriarchy through language. So women should adopt the same strategy and reflect resistance in language. They need to evolve a female centered language to transform the androcentric language. Eunice de Souza uses language to transform her frustration and tackle her depressed feelings through it. She penned her emotions with utmost naturalness and volunteered to speak on behalf of thousands of women. Her bold, frank and honest expressions with rich feminine sensibility are a topic worth studying and analysing. She takes poetry as a means to react to the world around her.
In the concluding lines it can be said that Eunice de souza’s poetry offers two levels of meaning. On one hand she shows the suffering and humiliation of women and on the other hand the complexity and rebellious nature of them. A deconstructive reading of her poetry shows all these. Her dissatisfaction with the society, its rules, its attitude towards women and its gender discrimination makes her poetry confessional in tone, dualism in meaning and rebelliousness in nature.
De Souza’s modes of expression often are satiric, ironic and bitter in meaning as she is saturated, tired and irritated to see how a girl is treated to shape her and mould her to fit in this society. They are made stereotypical and they are bound to behave according to society. She is not like the early Indian English Women poets as she protests against the inequality of women both physically and mentally. Due to his inner anger, suppression, suffering, pain, oppression, humiliation and gender indiscrimination, she often becomes confessional in order to share her experience and also to get some relief. She takes a stand for all the women through her poetry in order to give reaction against all these.
4. The Legacy of Sacrifice
[Q. Why is the picture of Christ referred to in the poem? Discuss.
Or, Q. Discuss the significance of the religious elements discussed in the poem.]
Born in 1940 into a Goan Catholic family Eunice de Souza studied English literature with an MA from the Marquette University in Wisconsin, and received a Ph.D from the University of Mumbai. She taught English at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and was Head of the Department until her retirement. But it is as a poet that Eunice
is better and widely known to the world, for she has emerged as one of the most powerful poetic voices of contemporary Indian English Women’s poetry. Trudging along the path travelled by most of her contemporaries, Eunice de Souza has also treated poetry as an effective medium to translate one’s (woman’s) experiences, and thereby to transform society. She has derived the subject matter for her poems from her own personal experiences, and quite succinctly and poignantly relates and connects herself against the larger context of the political and socio- cultural milieu. Her prolificacy as a writer is attested to by her literary output.
As a poet, she has produced a consistent body of work, and her collection of verse includes Fix (1979), Women in Dutch Painting (1988), Ways of Belonging (1990), Selected and New Poems (1994) and A Necklace of Skulls (2009). She has also edited Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology 1829-1947 (2004). She also holds the distinction of being the only woman poet to be included in Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets (1992). Besides this poetic output, she also has to her credit two novels – Dangerlok (2001) and Dev and Simran: A Novel (2003).
At the very onset of the poem, we come to know about the upbringing of the poetess in a conservative Catholic family. She says that a picture of Jesus Christ is always seen hanging from the wall in every Catholic house. She also says that Christ sacrificed his life, his ‘bleeding heart’ for the sake of humanity. It was his act of a saviour of the failing human race from the hands of evil or bad. But it used to annoy the little poetess.
Similarly, the speaker can also see a sacrificing woman in every conservative family in general, be it a Christian or any other race. The ‘bleeding heart’ of the Christ symbolises here the pain and suffering of women that has been going on generation after generation. They have surrendered and immolated their selves, their self-esteem years after years.
The speaker must have felt unity with those self-sacrificing women in the past. She had thought that she would have to sacrifice her independence, self-worth and identity for the sake of the patriarchal society. This type of traditional thoughts must have come to her mind. But the word ‘ugh’ denies that thought. This interjection proves how disgusting was the act of self-sacrifice for the speaker.
In the second and third stanzas, the speaker talks about the rules and regulations bound by the patriarchy upon women. The poet has not told any secrets to her hairdresser. She doesn’t like people who talk in private about her. So many people have advised her so many things that she is annoyed beyond her limit. Some of them have suggested to sternly follow the stricts rules of Christianity while some advise to go with the flow. The hairdresser has only asked her to adjust with the situation. You need to mould yourself as the situation demands.
In the third stanza, the speaker wishes if she could be the ‘wise woman’ of the society who falls prey to foolery of these men, always smiling and nodding to
everything they say, and asking the future generation to learn the same thing from her Women who are like this, the speaker has called them ‘a plastic flower’. Just as a plastic flower does not bear the look and essence of an actual flower, these women, too, do not possess the quality of an original femininity. They do not care to improve their state, nor do they wish to be wiser. They are inanimate, still, lifeless ke a factory made plastic flower. They are dumb and brainless, ‘vacuous’ and full of garbage in the head. So the poetess decides not to be like these braindead wise women of the society.
Finally, the speaker talks about her decision to sacrifice herself for her own good. The time has come to perform charity for her own benefit. She is not ready to sacrifice her heart for anybody else but herself. She will rather sacrifice it to her own self like a spare kidney. ‘Spare’ stands as an additional noun here. So she says that after sacrificing her everything to herself, if something still persists, she will rather sacrifice it to her enemy but not to the rules and boundaries of the society.
Eunice de Souza?s disillusionment with the follies and foibles of her religious community in fact makes her probe into the traditionally established gender roles and acceptance of value systems that cater only to the male interests. In the poems under study, we find that the poet has focused on the ‘otherness’ of a woman who has no space to lead a life of her own in a spirit of self-assertiveness. It is obvious that Eunice?s interpretation of human society is based on her own marginalised experiences as a girl and later as a woman.
Eunice de Souza’s poetry reveals that her focus is on the Goan Christian community to which she belongs. Her upbringing clashes with received ideas and notions of the Christian faith and gives her poems an unmistakable Christian tinge which cannot be confused with women writers belonging to other faiths. Hence, de Souza writes that her experiences are “the common denominator of humanity.” Eunice de Souza’s struggles to escape from gender expectations, parochial or secular, is reflected in her poetry in order to create an authority for herself. Her struggle for self definition and her signature tune is amply reflected in her poems.
5. As A Feminist Poem
[Q. Consider Eunice de Souza’s ‘Bequest’ as a representative feminist poem.]
The anti-centric and anti-traditional annoyance and fury which is prevalent in many of her poems bear the imprint of her frustration at the binary way of thinking about women in India. She is definitely an Indian voice of feminism which is not too personal and localized rather decentered and disseminated particularly in Indian context. Eunice’s subject is not a particular ‘woman’ suffering instability and slippages; ters is ‘female’ as a cultural performer in a peculiar social context. ‘[F]female no longer appears to be a stable notion; its meaning is as troubled and unfixed as
away woman.’ She contests the inertness of the female ‘other’ pushed beyond and in a problematic matrix of patriarchy, notion and tradition. Eunice de Souza also acknowledges that women have to take it as it comes’.
In her poems Eunice unravels the foundations on which women are laid amid the confused and violent world of human affairs. Here gender has simply a subsidiary role in comparison to the domestic transfixing of women as a natural ‘other’. According to Mohanty: “To define feminism purely in gendered terms assumes that our consciousness being ‘woman’ has nothing to do with race, class, nation or sexuality, just with gender. But no one ‘becomes a woman because she is female”.
The crisis the females face is that of the patriarchal structure which controls domestic and social politics in hegemonic impersonation of reality. She strikes at triple dislocation of women in the particular Indian context, as someone’s daughter, wife or mother, with every re-location renamed at others will. She is much too artificial, a creature created with ‘multiple and diffused points of origin’, a nameless device, a ‘plastic flower’: I wish I could be a / Wise Woman / Smiling, endlessly, vacuously / Like a plastic flower, / Saying Child, learn from me.
The lifelessness reveals the frustrations and tensions which a woman faces in a patriarchal structure dwindling between the way she wants to live and the way she is asked to live in a mode to desexualize her into some prescribed standard: Some recommend stern standards / Others say float along. / He says, take it as it comes, / meaning, of course, as he hands it out.
This lifelessness and inertia of existence, discontinuity and dissonance mark the very nature of the poetry of Eunice de Souza. She is one among the new generation of Indian poets trying to discover their own voice by effectively de-constructing the foundational and hierarchical sexual codes. The codes are related to implicit norms that govern the cultural intelligibility of women in all its aspects.
The poetry of Eunice labour hard to break the shackles of tradition that dictate a culturally constructed body in a hegemonic scheme of society. Her poems express the in stress of desire of a woman to break free from the repressive foundations that have restricted her in a hierarchical frame. To quote Mohanty once more: It is the intersections of the various systematic networks of class, race, (hetero) sexuality, and nation, then, that position us as ‘women’. Herein lies a fundamental challenge for feminist analysis once it takes seriously the location and struggles of the Third World women, and this challenge has implications for rewriting of all hegemonic history, not just the history of people of colour”.
In her poems we find that she shows her concern for women. She shows the dislocation of mother, daughter, wife in the same way as the different roles of women suffered different problems. She wants to be a device without these particular names as she is created with origin of multiple and diffused points. As she says in Bequest : I Wish I could be a Wise woman Smiling, endlessly, vacuously Like a plastic flower. Saying child, learn from me. (Bequest)
Indian woman has to do a lot to satisfy her family, parents and in the same time male are free and only they create the rules where as women are only the follower of those stupid rules. So woman has to face gender discrimination on a large scale In this society. In her De Souza Prabhu, she said about her parents and her efforts to make them happy: My parents wanted a boy. I have done my best to qualify I hid the blood stains On my clothes And let my breasts sag Words the weapon To crucify. (De Souza Prabhu)
In Indian family girl child is less welcomed as everyone needs male child for this is a male dominated society. Girls are only treated as creatures and hence these creatures stat their battle to live a a life among these so called male society. Women are treated like lame ducks and Eunice de Souza showed these in her poems. I agree totally what Simone de Beavoir said in this context regarding the condition of women, There is unanimous agreement that getting a husband or in some cases a protector is for her the most important of undertakings…. She will free herself from the parental home, from her mother s hold, she will open up her future, not by active conquest but by delivering herself up, passive and docile, into the hands of a new master. (Beavouir, 355).
Her poetry can be classed as quest for identity of women in the society both in terms of position and security. She shows how woman rather girls are treated at their teen age and this asymmetry of gender biasness and differentiation in sexual acknowledgements are shown in her Sweet Sixteen : Well you can t say they didn t try. Mamas mention menses. A nun screamed: you vulgar girl don t say brassieres Say bracelets. The preacher thundered Never go with a man alone Never alone and even if you re engaged only passionless kisses. (Sweet Sixteen)
She wants to break the so-called ground for women and often we find her struggle and suffering in doing so as she has been bound and restricted in a cultural construction and hierarchical framework both in mind and body.
In this context Mohanty aptly commented, It is the intersections of the various systematic networks of class, race, (hetero)sexuality, and nation, then, that position us as women. Herein lies a fundamental challenge for feminist analysis once it takes seriously the location and struggles of the Third World women, and this challenge has implications for rewriting of all hegemonic history, not just the history of people of colour.
In a patriarchal society, a woman faces tension, frustration and lifelessness because always a question arises in her mind as what way she has to live rather than what way she wants to live.in her Bequest she shows exactly this condition of woman: Some recommend stern standards others say float along. He says, take it as it comes, meaning, of course, as he hands it out. (Bequest)
Women are always in fear and they can’t even make any kind of self revelation in such a fearful state. She is the victim in this society and she becomes alienated
and loneliness captures her. Actually she wants to show the differences and challenges
that women meet as Susan comments, “(T)he matter of bodies is neither an unformed flesh awaiting human decision, nor the bearer of biological limitations and potentialities. The body is not prosocial, or pre cultural”. For Foucault, the body is that surface upon which society writes, such that it comes to life as discourses appear on its flesh. go In the space between their central longing for a location, transformation of socio-cultural construction and the deep dissatisfaction with the given world order, she undergoes the pangs of gender oppression in the concrete cultural contexts. The women in Eunice’s conceptual imaginings are thus mystified and bewildered as to what are the ‘stern standards’9 and ultimately they tend to re-emerge rather than to be reduced within a critical boundary into a new non-compliant stance. In Butler’s critical argumentation such condition may be explained as a means to ‘radicalize the notion of feminine critique’.
The prime concern of Eunice’s feminist consciousness has been her experience as a woman in a world which allows a woman to grow seamless, battered and bruised. She has seen that in India women are not a coherent and stable ‘subject’. In the context of heterosexual matrix her existence is contested. This contestation is between identity positions to anti-identity position. The self thus developed is divided and displaced failing to negotiate the social norms. She is thus completely decontextualized 13and separated off from the axes of power. It has led to reconfiguring the subjectivities and charting newer modes of self-actualization. De Souza problematises the location of women subjectivity seeking a new interpretation in cultural politics……..
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