Bad Arranged Marriage
Isn’t a bad arranged marriage just like the passage quoted in this post? I asked readers a question here and now I return to the answers that were a provocation to the writing from ‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood.
The relationship between the woman and her husband made me very uncomfortable because he was consistently overbearing and she so trapped and vulnerable put into a situation by faith and her upbringing that made it virtually impossible for her to take a different action from the one she does. Reading how 18 year old Iris agrees to marry 35 year old Richard I was horrified and quite disturbed, mainly because she didn’t seem to have much of a choice. Her mother died when she was a child, her by now bankrupt father broken by the horrors of war and his own missing eye and limbs, in the same business of making buttons as Richard has struck a deal with the man. Isn’t that what a bad arranged marriage is? Families arranging an alliance that benefits everyone while the bride herself with her wishes and aspirations is expendable. Iris has no way of getting out of this arranged marriage. She isn’t particularly rebellious, she loves her father and is aware of the financial situation. So she marries Richard, ignoring her spunky younger sister’s appeal not to. Iris is a good girl who wouldn’t dream of putting herself first.
We’re no stranger to bad arranged marriages in India. If its for the greater good of the families involved a large number of young Indian women would allow themselves to be sacrificed on this altar, taking cold comfort in the luxury of expensive clothes, perfume and the status that comes with being the wife of a powerful man. They don’t think about love, being brought up as they are to do their duty.
Another sad fact I’ve observed is that the husband in a bad arranged marriage often has a sense of entitlement (like Richard here) that goes beyond what men feel is their due in the sexist society we live in. Richard doesn’t love Iris or understand her. He’s bought her simply because of the advantage of the business alliance and her youth which he finds sexually attractive. Are you shuddering yet? Love is not part of the picture. Is marriage only about sex and money? Without love and respect its merely a deal. An alliance. Richard takes over the ailing business and is given his father-in-law’s tacit approval to marry his teenage daughter. She wasn’t asked, hasn’t been educated for a profession and is much too immature at 18 to take an informed decision. She’s a child whose character can be formed to make her into the person Richard wants as his wife. Isn’t this an argument we hear often in India when people talk about marriage – “She’s young enough to learn to adjust. When ‘girls’ get older they’re set in their ways and don’t want to adapt to their in-laws.” These sweeping generalisations make me seethe as they show me how much people believe a woman’s only virtue is in adjusting to her husband and in-laws. Valuing her for any other contribution she can make to life or society is largely unheard of outside the urban centres and often not even there.
Later Richard goes on to betray Iris again and again – beginning with his keeping her father’s death on their honeymoon a secret from her. This is preposterous but again not if you set it in India. I can just hear the comments – “He’d spent so much on the honeymoon – poor man deserved to have a good time instead of cutting it short and rushing home with a weeping bride. It’s ok because ‘girls’ must learn to make their husband’s family their own.”
Richard and his sister choose the décor for Iris’s home, order her clothes and even decide which museums she should visit on her travels. You can see that they control every aspect of her life. They also take her daughter away from her and put her sister Laura into an asylum.
Its interesting that this story is set in Canada. Its this location that makes it remarkable. If it were set in India, and the characters Indian, there would be nothing unusual about it. In fact in an Indian context people would say –
“How nice it is that he’s having a drink with his wife.”
“How lovely that he’s caressing her.”
“No, there’s nothing sinister about the hand on the neck.”
“You’re imagining things. Why do you always have such a negative world view?”
When Iris writes about her bewilderment at the difficulty of untangling the gigantic tangle of string that is her husband and his annoyance with her for being unable to do so despite her efforts, her fear and her bafflement which he interprets as ‘a wilful and aggressive lack of attention’ I saw how nervous she was and how little he understood her. He didn’t even notice that she was trying.
The novel was not an easy read for me, particularly because of how badly Richard treated Iris. For him she was disposable in every way possible. I spent quite a lot of time imagining ways to get Iris out of her predicament but there weren’t any.
The only way to prevent women from living such a life is to give them a good enough education to support themselves and a strong sense of who they are so that they can quickly leave a man like Richard should their families force them, however subtly, into an unwanted marriage with an uncaring, rich, older man who doesn’t know the meaning of love.
Thank you to those who commented on the post. All fo you could see clearly that she was in a subordinate position. That isn’t the position of a wife. A wife is an equal. Some men do think of a wife as their property, bought by them to be moulded to perfection, with whatever means it takes, which is what happens in a bad arranged marriage.
Are you surprised by this ‘arranged marriage’ in Canada between white Canadians?
Did your flesh crawl, as did mine, when you read the passage?