Miss City Discovers: "Year of the Elephant" Thoughts

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Year of the Elephant" Thoughts

As I began to read “Year of the Elephant”, I was struck by a particular paragraph in the second chapter on page fifteen. Leila is reciting a piece of knowledge passed down to her by her grandmother, whom she was raised by. The guidance has lived inside of her for as long as she can recall, and she now reflects on it as she faces a difficult time in her life. “No woman sells her property-so tradition dictates. I grew up among such words and deeds, and from my earliest consciousness I remember my grandmother’s constant admonition that a woman has nothing but her husband and her property, and that husbands cannot be trusted.”
The very first sentence of this paragraph, ‘no woman sells her property’, speaks mountains about the way Leila has been raised. Why has this specific sentiment stayed with her? The idea that no man should sell his property is not introduced to her, nor is there any restrictions on the male behavior in general. Does she believe that a woman must always hold onto what is given to her, because women can’t accumulate anything of worth on their own? It is seen as a ludicrous and unheard of idea to give up what is so graciously inherited by a woman from a man.
Tradition must have been a great influence throughout her life, as she blatantly recites ‘so tradition dictates’. Maybe at this point in her life, she’s starting to see that tradition is something she doesn’t agree with. But nonetheless, the notion that women must hold onto their inherited property with all their strength as an enduring tradition, suggests that anything that goes against the norm in her culture is a horrifying occurrence. This could very well be why she is so heartbroken and destroyed by the turn her life has taken as she finds herself getting a divorce. Even if she herself wants to try to look outside the world she’s grown up in, there is something so engrained in her being that to end a marriage seems like there is nothing left for her. Nothing left, in fact, except for her property that her father has left her.
Leila’s grandmother is an outwardly significant person from her past who presents the lasting advice about women having only their property and their husband. What role did her grandmother and grandfather play in her life? Certainly she grew up at least slightly different than her other siblings since she was not raised in her parents’ household. Is there an underground, hush-hush institution of women passing down the knowledge of being weary about men and women’s role in society? Leila’s grandmother instilling this principle in her head for as long as she remembers may be an indication of that. With Leila believing that she ultimately only has her property, as husbands are not reliable or trustworthy, she may have always questioned the men around her, and in turn, never sells her property.
Leila offers the information that she remembers her grandmother’s ‘constant admonitions’ ‘since her earliest consciousness’. Her very first memory about the world and a woman’s place within it is that husbands are not to be trusted, women have nothing to earn through their own merit and this tradition is unalterable.
Leila was educated that a woman has nothing but two tangible objects. A man and a house. What does that mean for her? Even the first half of that sentence, “a woman has nothing” should be taken into account. That’s a sentiment she’s heard for as long as she can possibly remember. To have nothing outside of a palpable entity taught Leila that there is no worth to her as an individual, without a man or property. As she journeys into the next part of her life, without a husband, she will most likely face the harsh realities of tradition and discover a way to find the character within herself, someone who has stayed dormant for the better part of her life.  


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