Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(Dis)Comfort at Home

The unnamed narrator of “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” reflects, “‘Home’ has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails” (93). I think it is safe to say that when one attempts to define home as the word is generally used, he/she might say something to the effect of “a person’s house, a physical location.” But, if one is asked to define “home” as his/her personal home, would that answer still be the same? As the narrator points out, there are many, varying definitions of home, and not all of them lead to a location. This particular narrator’s home is in his cousin (yes, his cousin) Gale’s...well, her “lady parts.” He hopes to outbid movie stars, “memorabilia junkies,” philosophers, scientists, exiles and even orphans for the slippers, the magical lure of which has drawn a large crowd of people who just want to go home. He thinks that perhaps giving the slippers to Gale can win back her love so that ultimately he can return home. Of course, Gale’s “home” is only one of the many “metaphors of homeliness” present in the minds of the crowd, each metaphor different and unique. However, the narrator fears the slippers may be “literalists” who cannot comprehend these metaphors and will ultimately take their possessor to his/her literal home, or place of residence.

Why is it that the physical home has lost its grip on “home” as a feeling of comfort? While I know that for me my house is still my home, my place of security, this is not the case for everyone, as Rushdie illustrates in his story, most especially “The Prophet’s Hair.” After Atta and Huma’s father Hashim discovers a stolen vial of the Prophet Muhammad’s and becomes fervently religious, to point of burning every book in the house except the Qur'an and abusing his family verbally and physically, their home represents a type hell for the siblings. Religion can often be a type of symbolic home for believers; yet their father’s newfound devotion, which is actually more of a wicked possession than honest piety, terrorizes the young people so much that they leave their home to enter the unsafe streets of the criminals, hoping to find a thief to steal back the Prophet’s hair. However, what is interesting is that even prior to the father’s madness the family does not even seem comfortable in their large house by the river. Their breakfast conversations are filled with “expressions of courtesy and solicitude,” expressions “on which the family prided itself” (42). Atta and Huma’s definition of home rests fragilely on manners and appearance, and the narrator foreshadows its destruction: “the glassy contentment of that household [...] was to be shattered beyond all hope of repair” (42). Through his narrator, Rushdie as author suggests that “home” is a place of safety and joy. One’s true home can certainly be his/her physical residence, but for that to be the case he/she must be comfortable there. The siblings are not comfortable at home because they are not free to be themselves, to speak openly and personally or to express their feelings. Instead, their father raises them to be civil and detached, and when this facade of “home” breaks with their father’s possession, putting the pieces back together is impossible. Instead, the family destroys itself, with all of them dying except the mother, who instead goes crazy and must leave the house for an asylum.

Physical objects themselves do not dictate “home,” and they are not appropriate means of finding one’s home. Atta and Huma make the mistake of believing removing one particular object from their house will return them home; they are blind to the fact there is no home to which they can return since their idea of home was never real. The narrator of “Ruby Slippers” thinks Dorothy’s slippers can bring him back to his home, a return which me recognizes could be impossible because after years of separation the Gale he remembers probably is not the same as the real Gale of the present (96). He found his home is a person. This in itself is not a problem, though the problem arises in this case because Gale, his home, is changing and moving while he stays static. For “home” to exist in another person, both people together must be moving and growing, always willing to find their comfort in one another.

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