Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

A title such as The Bride at first might suggest a happy story, but it soon becomes evident that it contains an ironic twist. The novel opens with the wedding of the central character, Qasim, and an account of his and his bride’s shared humiliation on their wedding night. He is only ten, and his father has married him to a woman twice his age. The novel records with swift movement his maturation, the developing relationship between husband and wife in spite of their age difference, the deaths of his wife and children, his move from the Himalayan mountains to the Punjabi plains, and his life as a bank guard in that unfamiliar territory. Then what little security Qasim has found during his four years in the Punjab vanishes when independence comes to India and the subcontinent is divided into India and Pakistan. After murdering a man who has humiliated him, Qasim decides to flee India and take his chances in Pakistan; he boards a train loaded with refugees bound for Lahore, one of the major cities given to the newly created nation.

At the border, a group of marauding Sikhs attacks the overcrowded train and murders most of the refugees. Qasim manages to escape, and in the chaos he rescues a young girl whose parents have been slaughtered. With the help of Nikka and Miriam, a couple he meets in a refugee camp, he settles in Lahore and rears the child, whom he has named Zaitoon for his dead daughter. Mothered by Miriam—who has not borne children and thus is something of an outcast—Zaitoon rehearses the role for which she is destined: to become a bride. As well as receiving instruction from Miriam, Zaitoon spends much of her time in various zenannas—women’s quarters—where...

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The Bride Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

There is no tradition of women’s literature in Pakistan; in fact, the country has no tradition of English-language literature. Sidhwa can only be considered a pioneer in both areas. Whether The Bride has had any dramatic impact on the treatment of women in Pakistan remains doubtful, for it is altogether possible that each bride represented in the novel still exists, whether in the zenanna, in the mountains, or in the drawing rooms of wealthy, Westernized Pakistanis. Perhaps, though, a woman—Western or Asian—reading the novel might realize at last that she need not acquiesce, that she need not accept her victimization.

Sidhwa’s work was somewhat slow to establish itself internationally. Once The Bride has been fully discovered abroad, however, it will certainly find a place in women’s literature. In the 1990’s, plans by the Ivory-Merchant company to film the novel seemed likely to win for it a wider readership.

Sidhwa based The Bride on an actual story she had heard about a Punjabi girl like Zaitoon who had entered into an arranged marriage with a Himalayan tribal man, attempted to escape, and after fourteen days of wandering in the mountains was found by her husband; he cut off her head and threw her body into the river. That Sidhwa allows her heroine to escape is significant. By altering the original story, Sidhwa sends the message to women that they must rebel no matter the consequences. Further,...

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The Bride Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Afzal-Khan, Fawzia. “Bapsi Sidhwa.” In International Literature in English, edited by Robert L. Ross. New York: Garland, 1991. Provides a detailed biography of Sidhwa. Focuses on The Bride and Cracking India (referred to by its original title, Ice-Candy-Man). The writer takes a strong feminist view and through a detailed discussion of the two novels concludes that they both stress the “anti-victim stance that Sidhwa advocates for women.”

Collins, Larry, and Dominique Lapierre. Freedom at Midnight. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975. Presents a clear, readable, and detailed account of the events leading to the 1947 partition of India and its aftermath. Excellent background reading for The Bride.

Jussawalla, Feroza, ed. “Bapsi Sidhwa.” In Interviews with Writers of the Post-colonial World. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. In this interview, Sidhwa recalls her life in Pakistan, including her partition experiences during childhood. Discusses the subordinate place of women in Pakistan and the way those conditions influence her fiction, which she does not see as “overtly feminist.” Talks about how she views the art of writing and the role a postcolonial novelist plays in the international literary picture.

Ross, Robert L. “Revisiting Partition.” The World & I 7 (June, 1992): 369-375. Focuses on Cracking India, but also looks at Sidhwa’s work in general. Provides historical background material on the partition of India; examines the narrative voice of Lenny, the novel’s thematic aspects, and the role of Ice-Candy-Man; and discusses the novel’s adept use of history.