The poem “Happy Marriage” by Taslima Nasrin is filled with irony, beginning at the title. It is a first-person account of a woman devotedly loving an abusive husband. The speaker invokes sadness and indignation by providing a snapshot of an abusive, submissive relationship, filled with allusion, metaphors, anaphora, and imagery.
The tone of the first stanza of “Happy Marriage” is one of simultaneous pleading and resignation. The speaker is almost removed from the retelling in the way that she alludes to her body as a piece of meat in the second half of the first stanza (“…sprinkle salt in the open wound / throw ground-up black pepper in my eyes / with a dagger slash my thigh / [he] can string me up and hang me…” (15-18)), yet she invokes strong feelings in the reader with her diction, using words such as “whip” (13), “spit” (5), “slap” (6), and “pinch” (7), which all have strong negative connotations. The tone of the second stanza changes somewhat, with a shift into hyperbolic and almost sarcastic language, as the speaker describes how she longs to serve her husband: “…I would wait for him and sob… / tears rolling down, I would bake homemade bread / would drink, as if they were ambrosia / the filthy liquids of his polygynous body…” (24-27). Overall, the reader is left with a feeling of disgust with the husband and pity for the wife.
This tone is achieved with the use of several metaphors and similes, starting from the first two lines of the poem. The first line uses the simile, “My life, like a sandbar,” (1), and the second describes her husband through metaphor as “a monster of a man” (2). Later, she uses the simile, “…as if they were ambrosia / the filthy liquids of his polygynous body” (26-27). The metaphors and similes are a concise and accurate method for the speaker to illustrate this relationship to the reader in a way to which he or she can relate. Hyperbole is used in the section in which the speaker alludes to her body as a piece of meat which is her husband’s for the taking. It allows the reader to understand not only how she and her husband view her body, as property, but also how the husband treats her body, without even describing real physical actions that he has taken against her.
The author has also chosen to use anaphora and imagery throughout the poem. In the first stanza, she has chosen to use anaphora with the repeating phrase, “so that, if he wishes,” in lines 4, 8, and 11. This phrase speaks volumes with only five words. The phrase, “if he wishes,” communicates that not only does the husband have the right to “rob [her] of the clothes” (9) or “chain [her] feet” (12), but he can take advantage of these rights at his leisure, whenever it may please him. Additionally, part of the phrase, “so that,” is repeated in lines 20, 28, and 31. These two words convey the intentional thought that the speaker has put into her actions, and what she hopes to receive in return. In the second and third stanza, the repeated phrase is, “I would”: “love him” (20), “wait for him and sob” (24), “bake homemade bread” (25), “drink” (26), “melt like wax” (28), “give proof of my chastity all my life” (30), and “commit suicide” (33), all for him. She also uses concise but effective imagery in the first stanza, such as, “spit on my face” (5), “slap me on the cheek” (6), and “throw ground-up pepper in my eyes” (16).
The purpose of this poem is to give the reader a peek into the mind of a woman in an abusive relationship, and to point out the flawed thinking and tragic mentality that lays behind her submissive behavior. It also raises the questions, who told the woman that this was the proper way for a man to treat her? Is it her culture, her society? Was it someone in her own personal life? Does she simply believe whatever her husband is telling her about her own self-worth? Additionally, it challenges the reader to think about how he or she has seen this kind of thinking and behavior in his or her own life, and ask what makes it seem okay in anyone’s eyes.
This poem was carefully constructed and organized in such a way that it invoked the proper feelings of pity and anger through the author’s diction, repetition, and imagery, and the poem fulfilled its purpose of allowing the reader into the mind of an abused woman. This poem should encourage others to question the ideals in any culture that have made this acceptable to the husband, the wife, or anyone else.