Androgynous Perspectives in Mumtaz Shahnawaz's The Heart Divided.


Byline: Bushra Siddiqui


This research aims to explore the androgynous perspectives presented by Mumtaz Shahnawaz in The Heart Divided(1957).It encompasses the theme of androgyny with the evolution of female characters in the text. "The term androgyny has its roots in classical mythology and literature. 'Androgyny' comes from the Greek word andros meaning 'man' and gyne meaning 'woman" (Parakash J., 2010, p. 119). Androgyny includes the presence of masculine and feminine, both types of characteristics in one person. These characteristics are based on stereotypical image of genders and become a symbol of recognition of the assigned gender roles as masculine and feminine. The Feminist philosophy focuses on these gender roles and their influence on both genders, "Feminist epistemology and philosophy of science studies the ways in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009).

Fluid androgynous identities carry the characteristics of both males and females and they keep on changing with the environment and situations they meet. According to Lott, "Femininity and masculinity are regarded as dual and distinguishable generalized ways of behaving, and persons are said to vary in the extent to which they manifest each mode and both modes, independently of their sex. Persons who describe themselves in terms of some characteristics judged to be associated with their own gender and some characteristics associated with the other gender are labeled androgynous" ( (Lott, 1981, p. 171).

In the Western literature, the theme of androgyny is treated openly as a multidimensional concept; the Eastern literature carries the same theme within its restricted boundaries. The Heart Divided (1957) by Mumtaz Shahnawaz portrays the Modernist trends through the struggle of independence of the sub-continent from the Britishers. In the aforementioned primary text, both Hindus and Muslims strive hard to get independence from the foreign usurpers which also influences the lives of the individuals to get liberation from the restricted societal norms. The story moves on with the gradual transformation of female characters due to the return of male head of the family after completing foreign education.

With her modern perspective in The Heart Divided (1957), Shahnawaz criticizes the restricted role of females in the Eastern society and its effects on the development of characters. The Western influence and higher education brings a change in the females' perspective. They retaliate to the existing Eastern trends for the females and stand side by side with men in the independence movement. The western feminist wave also influenced the Eastern authors and they generated the characters raising their voice in its favor. In the patriarchal Eastern society, social norms not only suppress female characters but the male characters also display their discomfort and frustration in the fixed traditional system without any ventilator of open-minded traditions. Shahnawaz's male characters are the center of all power and strength. The female characters extract their power from the support provided by the male characters and develop androgynous characteristics.

In the Western literary representation, Plato focused on the concept of androgyny and different Eros in his Symposium. Aristophanes describes the start of human life with the birth of human beings, "the form of each human being as a whole was round, with back and sides forming a circle, but it had four arms and an equal number of legs, and two faces ... there was a single head for both faces, which faced in opposite directions . . . they rolled in a swift circle" (Allen, 1993, p. 130). The physical appearance of human beings and Plato's use of symbol of circle reflects the androgynous circle of life. Plato's focus on androgynous physical appearance of males and females claims their external androgyny which is later reclaimed by the Modernists as internal androgyny through the technique of psychoanalysis. Later due to the disobedience, the gods dissected humans into two pieces, men and women. So "male members became weak and female members became weaker" (Allen, 1993, p. 131).

Since then, the negativity or weakness became an essential element of womanhood.

Plato also emphasized three gender roles assigned to humans and their origins, "male originally was the offspring of the Sun, the female of the Earth, and what has a share of both of the Moon, because the Moon also has a share of both" (Allen, 1993, p. 131). These opposite forces of sun and earth, male and female, work as catalyst for each other, "In early Christianity, good and evil, body and soul, heaven and earth were set against each other and One defined as the ontological and moral basis of the Other" (Farwell, 1975, p. 438). Apparently all these are opposite forces but they are complementary to each other and work as a foil for the accurate definition and a clear understanding of the other which is present on the opposite realm. Traditional Greek distinctiveness has been developed through "binary oppositions, primary ones being Greek/barbarian, then free/slave and male/female" (Stevovic, 2015).

Nevertheless in ancient literature the gender roles are assigned to the power positions instead of a person of specific gender, "For example, femininity is not necessarily attributed to a female, but more often, to the person who is seen as submissive. The same logic is used also for masculinity, but it is attributed to the person in the dominant role. Women who accept the 'masculine' modus of behavior and thinking, and that develops a certain 'male gaze' (in the Lacanian sense), often end up losing their identities as females"(Stevovic, 2015). This also refers to the Eastern symbol of Yin and Yang. "That Taoist symbol reminds us there's a little black in the white. Much of existence resides beyond polarizing opposition - the grey is where many play" (Beres, 2017). The aforementioned symbol reflects the presence of oppositional binaries in our personalities and our transformation into androgynous identities.

The debate on androgynous characteristics grabbed the attention of all the noted scholars, critics and writers. Coleridge claimed, over a century ago, that the "great mind is androgynous" (Farwell, 1975, p. 433). Androgyny remained a debatable topic and also grabbed the attention of the twentieth-century writers. Virginia Woolf worked on the theme of androgyny and made it an epicentral topic in her works. In A Room of One's Own (1929), "she fashioned it into a critical tool that has earned the interest of many modern scholars" (Farwell, 1975, p. 433).

In Pakistani literature in English, The Heart Divided (1957) manifests feminism as its auctorial discourse. Mumtaz Shahnawaz' empathetic attitude towards the Eastern women by raising their stature and giving them...

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