To be masculine is to have the attributes and characteristics that make up a “man.” However, everyone defines masculinity in their own way. In today’s world, masculinity comes along with stereotyping, both good and bad. The stereotypical view on men is that they are the “bread-makers,” or the ones doing all of the hard labor and bringing home the money. To be masculine, men must not cry or show fear, but instead be courageous, risk-taking, and protective. Throughout both Shakuntala and Sultana’s Dream, masculinity is explored and defined through the use of different kinds of powerful flower and animal imagery.
First off, in Sultana’s Dream, the story begins with Sultana and Sister Sara having a conversation where Sister Sara informs Sultana, “’You need not be afraid of coming across a man here. This is Ladyland, free from sin and harm. Virtue herself reigns here.’” This quote suggests that the women of Ladyland view men as the cause of sin and harm. Without them present, no sins or harm is done. It is important to note as well how Sister Sara reassures Sultana that she “need not be afraid of coming across a man,” as though having to encounter one would be a frightening experience. Furthermore, Sultana goes on to say, “The whole place looks like a garden,’ said I admiringly. ‘You have arranged every plant so skillfully.’” In reply to this, Sister Sara says, “’Your Calcutta could become a nicer garden than this if only your countrymen wanted to make it so.’” The flower imagery used throughout the story shows how nice, beautiful, and peaceful “Ladyland” is. The place “looks like a garden” and as suggested by Sister Sara, that is only possible because there are no men. The hidden meaning behind Sister Sara’s reply goes to show that the “countrymen” could provide a better loving, safer, and more beautiful “Calcutta” or home, if only they put the effort into doing so as expressed by Sultana when she states, ”They would think it useless to give so much attention to horticulture, while they have so many other things to do”. Therefore, this quote is saying that men have ruined the “Calcutta” or homeland by not giving it the proper care such as by a lady. The girls discuss the men and how they are kept away while reflecting on the beautiful and serene world around them. Throughout the dream, the beautiful flower imagery, and talk of the ‘peacefulness’ says without saying, how different the world is without the men, and how through the eyes of Sultana, the world is better for it.
Along with Sultana’s Dream, flower imagery is used in Shakuntala to explore masculinity. “King (observing Shakuntala: To himself.) As my heart ponders whether I could ever have wed this woman that has come to me In tortured loveliness, as I endeavour to bring it back to mind, then like a bee that hovers round a jasmine flower at dawn, while frosty dews of morning still o’erweave it, and hesitates to sip ere they be gone, I cannot taste the sweet, and cannot leave it.” The King states this upon seeing Shakuntala after the curse has been put into place. Due to the curse, the King is unable to remember Shakuntala without the ring he gave her. Later on, the ring is found and returned, leaving the King to be consumed by his guilt, shame and regret of his treatment of Shakuntala. There is another story being told however, throughout this whole scene of the King rejecting Shakuntala and sending her on her way. Shakuntala is addressing an idea or presumption about some men which is that a wealthy man could never actually willingly be in love with a lesser woman and would rather take advantage of her and disown her later. It speaks to a much more negative outlook on masculinity and showcases misogyny. The women of the story are married off, and usually the suitors are hand-picked by their father. There are no rights, or very little for women compared to the men of the story who are in charge and know it. It dives a little into “toxic masculinity,” which is defined as, “a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health”(Toxic Masculinity Definition & Meaning). The King thinks he is better, if not because of his power and wealth, then simply because he is a man.
Furthering it’s exploration of masculinity, Shakuntala uses animal imagery to showcase masculinity. When the King first sees his son, he states, “He drags a struggling lion club, the lioness’ milk half-sucked, half-missed, towzles his mane, and tries to drub him tame with a small, imperious fist.” Here the imagery of a lion being punched by a three year old child is painted for us. According to The CatNip Times, lions symbolize strength and are a “symbol of authority and command over subconscious thought.” The way Shakuntala defines masculinity through this scene is by showing a three year old boy, unaware of his true heritage, yet still knowing he is powerful (royal) as his fathers (a male) genes are strong. He is literally trying and succeeding in beating a lion. The King even describes him as a “seed of fire.” The seed is strong. This young child knows who he is, as he has “command over subconscious thought” as symbolized by his dominance over the lion. This shows masculinity as being powerful, strong in the literal sense and in the way the lineage is passed down, and in being fearless. As the meeting progresses, the King notices that the child has webbed fingers and a marking. He calls it an “imperial birthmark.” The irony of the excitement the King is feeling and the pride that consumes him on recognizing the birthmark is obvious to readers nowadays as having webbed fingers would be considered a disability. Within the time frame of the story however, the boy having webbed-fingers is just another way of showcasing his power and strength. It proves his right to the throne and further encourages the idea of the men having all of the power, without even having to earn it.
In conclusion, through Sultana’s Dream and Shakuntala different kinds of imagery such as flower imagery and animal imagery are used to define masculinity. In Sultana’s Dream, the flower imagery is used to show the contrast between a world such as “Ladyland” and the reality Sultana lives in, co-ed and overpowered by men. In Shakuntala, the King shows a more clear, negative picture, demonstrating “toxic masculinity.” As the story progresses, readers witness his change as he experiences remorse, guilt, and shame, but better yet, readers witness the masculinity that is emulated through his son. Provided through these stories, masculinity is defined as men having all of the power and strength, overpowering women, and doing any and all of the work. Sultana’s Dream throws an interesting twist and shows almost a utopian world to Sultana where the men were hidden and the women did it all. Somehow, someway there needs to be a balance of coexisting, succeeding genders, but literature tells us the stories of a one-sided race.
Hossain, Rokeya. “Sultana’s Dream.” Sultana’s Dream., https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/sultana/dream/dream.html.
Ryder, Arthur W. Kalidasa Shakuntala. https://www.yorku.ca/inpar/shakuntala_ryder.pdf.
“Symbolic Meaning of Lions.” The Catnip Times, 4 Apr. 2020, https://www.thecatniptimes.com/learn/cat-science/symbolic-meaning-of-lions/.
“Toxic Masculinity Definition & Meaning.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/toxic-masculinity.
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One thought on “Representation of Masculinity Through Imagery in Sultana’s Dream and Shakuntala”
This is a fantastic project. Really, truly well-done. I cannot even express how well-planned and thought out this project was. You really seemed to take Sultana’s dream and break it down in just the right way so that it made sense. I absolutely agree with the already existing preconceptions of “masculinity” and “men being breadwinners” and this is why the workings in Sultana’s dream stuck out to me as something refreshing. Really a great piece and project. So glad you chose to write about this!