In our discussion this week we explore Shahrnush Parsipur’s Women Without Men, a short, but intriguing work of magical realism. Magical realist fiction can be used to explore difficult situations and can have a powerful political effect. Parsipur’s novella explored matters relating to the oppressive conditions for women in the Iranian theocracy, and the response to both the text and its writer was swift and harsh: the book was banned, and Parsipur imprisoned (yet again). Read through the prompts below carefully, and then post your comments. Remember the following ground rules for the discussion:
Post one comment in response to one of the prompts below. Your comment should be at least ONE paragraph (6-8 sentences).
Respond to comments posted by TWO class members. Each response should be at least ONE paragraph (6-8 sentences)
Your first comment should be posted on Wednesday, February 23. All comments and responses should be posted by Saturday, February 26 (at 11.59 pm). Please remember to indicate clearly which prompt you are answering. If you are enjoying the conversation and feel inspired to contribute more than the minimum number of posts required (i.e. 1 comment, 2 responses), you can definitely do this and earn yourself some extra credit in the process.
1.In his short but very readable article, “So What is Magical Realism, Really?,” Bruce Holland Rogers explains the identifying characteristic of magical realism:
[M]agical realist writers write the ordinary as the miraculous and the miraculous as the ordinary. (2)
Discuss this statement in relation to Parsipur’s Women Without Men. Choose a scene, event or section from the novella, then explore the way in which the ordinary and the miraculous are connected in the narrative: the ordinary as miraculous, and the miraculous as ordinary. Consider the effect of bringing together the miraculous and the ordinary in this manner. What is achieved by doing this? How does this help the reader understand the concerns of the narrative? (Remember to indicate clearly which scene, or event, or section of text you discuss, as well as its specific concerns or focus.)
2.Discuss the importance of the garden in Parsipur’s Women Without Men. The women make their way to this garden, and use this man-free space as a place of refuge, away from the chaos of the city (Tehran), and their former lives controlled by men. Could we consider this man-free zone a women’s utopia of sorts? What does the garden offer the five women whose lives are strangely, perhaps even magically, brought together? What do the women achieve through their experience of the garden? Why do you think that not one of the women wants to remain in the garden-space indefinitely?
3.Discuss the role and function of the “kind gardener” in the man-free zone of the garden-space. We know the names of each of the five women who gather together at the garden, and the narrative supplies information about each woman and her life experience before her arrival. But we know nothing about the kind gardener, his name, or his life prior to his sudden appearance. He simply asks to be called “kind gardener” and claims he can work in the garden and do any other sort of work that needs to be done. Why do you think he is accepted into the community so easily when all other men are excluded? He doesn’t live in the same house as the women, but he is there, in the space of the garden, amongst the women, every day. Who or what do you think this kind gardener might be, and why? What is his function in this world of women? How does he relate to the women gathered there?
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