Literature is an exercise in trying to understand the human condition. Women, who comprise half of humanity have historically been silenced and stifled. In this respect, a feminist take on select literary works is both a worthwhile and interesting exercise. Adapting the feminist approach to literary studies to The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Enchantress of Florence, one can generate interesting inter-disciplinary correspondence. This essay will argue that separated in time between the imperial reign of Akbar the Great and the musical reign of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the two characters of Qara Koz and Vina Apsara are united in their emancipated and empowered expression of womanhood. It is hoped that an analysis of the two novels through the feminist lens would lead to a better understanding of broader humanity.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Salman Rushdie revolutionized the art of fiction with his breakthrough work Midnight’s Children. As the role and viability of literature as a medium of education and entertainment came to be questioned during the 1980s, Midnight’s Children sprung like a fountain of elixir and brought freshness and vitality to English Literature. Hence Rushdie could rightly be regarded as an eminent postmodern and postcolonial master of words. This essay will be dealing with two of his lesser acclaimed works – The Enchantress of Florence and The Ground Beneath Her Feet – and make observations on the treatment of gender. The two books are particularly suitable to gender study for they feature strong, bold, ebullient and beautiful female characters.
The very title The Ground Beneath Her Feet stands in tribute to the woman being loved. The phrase represents the feelings of adoration and sanctity that the narrator feels toward the woman he loves. In this case, Vina Apsara is the object of love and Umeed ‘Rai’ Merchant is the narrator, although the latter’s love would prove futile in the face of Ormus Cama’s (the protagonist) charm and talent. Only a writer who’s in love with the character could take it to great heights of self-expression. This is amply evident in the elaborate manner in which Rushdie sketches Vina’s character through the course of the novel. Not only is she musically gifted, she has traversed several continents and overcome arduous circumstances on the way to super stardom. During her formative years, her journeys between America, India and Europe were full of threats and disasters. Yet, through some hidden mechanism of nature and unaccounted fortitude she marches on in life to fulfill her artistic destiny. The strength in Vina’s womanhood is borne by the manner in which she withstood the series of misfortunes visiting her life. When she was a child, Vina only nearly escaped abandonment by her biological father. Though she was fortunate to evade the maddening murder spree of her mother, the loss of her siblings is a real tragedy. Although an element of divine plan is implicit in such a life course, the derivation of strength from inner resources is also present. (Mishra, 1999, p.42)
To understand the feminism of Vina Apsara, one has to look at the traits of her eventual replacement, Mira. This younger, steadier avatar of Vina proves to be quite the opposite of her predecessor. In Vina’s case, the chief antagonist is herself, as her tendency to blow up all of a sudden has led to many troubles. The iconic Vina is someone who collapsed under her own weight – further burdened by “her own unattainable, constantly transforming image”. In contrast, we have Mira, who represents an ““ordinary human love beneath one’s feet” (575), that is, the kind of stability and wherewithal that can ensure longevity without the sensationalist, self-destructive trappings of Vina Apsara’s radicalism”. (Pirbhai, 2001, p.54) In this regard, Mira’s feminism is not in any way deficient than that of Vina’s, only more powerful. The word Mira could be construed as a pun on “mirror” and it stands to expose “the often false image one has of oneself: “Reflected in the circular mirror is a rectangular mirror containing an image of Vina Apsara. No, not Vina, but the greatest of the not-Vinas…. Mira, Mira, who is the fairest one of all?” (541)”. (Pirbhai, 2001, p.54) Hence, through Vina and Mira, Rushdie is sketching rich and varied multitudes of the female psyche.