How might one compare the theme of gender in the short stories "Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies" by Rashdie and "Giribala" by Mahfouz?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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I will concentrate mostly on "Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies" because the only "Giribala" I can find in my world literature books is by Mahasweta Devi.  My guess is that particular story is the one you mean and you were simply in error about the author?  Regardless, there is a lot to say about gender in both stories.  What is important, of course, is to realize the exact definition of gender so we can discuss it at length:

Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex, ... social structures, ... and social roles.

Gender in "Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies" is complex in the character of Rehana who is the ultimate feminine character, but who refuses to conform to the usual social roles and structures of her feminine gender.  Why is Rehana the ultimate feminine character?  Her beauty surpasses all others.

[Rehana's eyes were] large and black and bright enough not to need the help of antimony.

This statement in itself is enough to cement Rehana's beauty in the eyes of the reader.  Why?  Because antimony refers to metallic quality; therefore, if Rehana's eyes have no need of that quality to "help" her beauty, her eyes already far surpass any other that Ali has ever seen.  This ultimate beauty and femininity is the one and only way that Rehana conforms to her gender.  It is Rehana, herself, who admits that "good advice is rarer than rubies."  At the same time, Ali admits defeat.

I have been drawn to you by Fate. ... For you my advice is free. ... I am going crazy.

In looking at Rehana's actions, it is there that she departs from the usual weakness of her prescribed gender roles.  First of all, she beguiles a con man, Ali, who is used to cheating the "Tuesday women" out of all of their money!  Rehana does this with ONLY her looks!  The power and control of this measure, even without her knowledge, separates her from the usual gender roles.  Next, we have to note her actions as she arrives at the consulate.  She is "not at all alarmed."  She is unescorted.  She is self-assured.  She is confident.  She truly has no need of Ali's "help."  Ali, of course, enticed by her beauty, decided to "help" her anyway.  In the course of his offers, Rehana is offended that Ali is about to help her do something illegal (obtain a passport to England).  Rehana storms away, enters the consulate, and exits as confident as before.  Ali assumes Rehana was given permission to visit her fiance in England; however, Rehana was NOT given that permission, and is quite happy to remain in India away from a strange man, an arranged husband, who is decades older than her.  Rehana, departing from all of the social structures of her sex, has conned a con man!

In regards to "Giribala," we have a completely different situation in that the author, herself, is a woman!  As a social activist, Devi is trying to show the horrors that exist for women who DO conform to gender role.  Why?  Because this story is about the suffering that results from an arranged marriage.  Because she marries above her caste (and completely for money), there are issues with that as well.  Further, Giribala is regarded as useless because she is married only to keep the house and to provide children.  Devi shows that conforming completely to Indian gender roles can lead to a life of misery for the women involved.

We can conclude, then, that both authors would suggest departing, at least a bit, from traditional gender roles is important for the happiness of Indian women.

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