In “East, West” by Salman Rushdie the collection of short stories “Good Advice is Rarer Than Rubies”, “The Free Radio”, and “The Prophet’s Hair”,all portray beautiful women in different ways ranging from an independent yet naïve beauty to a woman perceived to destroy and control all of the men around her.
In “Good Advice is Rarer Than Rubies” the character Miss Rehana is described as a beautiful, confident independent woman. Unlike the other woman who are waiting outside the Consulate, Miss Rehana is confident, and does not look timid or afraid. The fact that the speaker is drawn to her is surprising because he usually goes after the intimidated and vulnerable, but he finds himself drawn to her eyes and her beauty. While at first he plans on deceiving her, because of her beauty and confidence he ends up telling her the truth. “But once again his voice betrayed him, and instead of starting his customary speech it began to reveal to her his greatest secret.” (p.11). In this particular story, the woman’s beauty helped her to hear the truth, but the beauty of her soul and her inability to break the law left her empty handed. This story portrayed beauty as an asset, as it brought out the good in a corrupt man. “Old fool, he berated himself. The oldest fools are bewitched by the youngest girls” (p.11)
Moving away from this positive portrayal of beauty, the story “The Free Radio” portrays the lead woman at first as the root of a young man’s destruction, but in the end we see the young man’s pride and dreams has the cause of his destruction. The first description of the widow by the speaker describes her as “certainly attractive, no point denying, in a sort of hard vicious way she was all right, but it is her mentality that was rotten” The diction of the words “vicious” and “rotten” depict what the speaker believes to be her eternal character which is masked by her outward beauty. He believes that she is the reason why Ramani is following down a bad path and claims that through her beauty and temptation because of that beauty has made Ramani into a thief. “…to understand that the thief’s widow had turned him, before she married him, into a thief of a stupid and terrible kind, because she had made him rob himself.” (p.28) Here the speaker describes her beauty as turning Ramani against himself, robbing him of his future, his manhood, and his identity.
Contrary to this depiction of women, in the following story “The Prophet’s Hair” the main female character Huma is described as an “exceptional beauty” (p.37) as she is covered in bruises and in a bad part of town searching for a thief. Unlike the other stories, her beauty works for her as she takes control of her family’s destiny. It is because of her character, bravery, and strength that she is able to attempt to save her family. Her plan would have worked had it not been for her brother’s screams. In this story all of the evil characters are men, who abuse and under appreciate the women. She is a confident young girl who stands up to her father and the conventions of her religion and culture.
In these three stories, the women are described as beautiful, and that beauty greatly affects how their characters are perceived either negatively or positively. While women are portrayed as strong beautiful figures who have a commanding role over the men in the stories. While portrayed as rational, they are underestimated in their intelligence and ability to make correct decisions. All of the stories are told from the point of view of an older man, which also may play a role in the depiction of women. It causes one to think...how much of ones identity is wrapped up in ones appearance, or ones sex? How often do we judge or underestimate or misunderstand people for the way they look?