Marriages Are Made by Eunice De Souza

My cousin Elena
is to be married
The formalities
have been completed:
her family history examined
for T.B. and madness
her father declared solvent
her eyes examined for squints
her teeth for cavities
her stools for the possible
non-Brahmin worm.
She’s not quite tall enough
and not quite full enough
(children will take care of that)
Her complexion it was decided
would compensate, being just about
the right shade
of rightness
to do justice to
Francisco X. Noronha Prabhu
good son of Mother Church.

Summary

The occasion of the poem is the marriage of Elena, a cousin of the narrator of the poem. The poem is narrated in an ironic tone, and in the passive voice indicating that the girl concerned has no say in the matter. The “formalities” that have been completed are actually a series of humiliating and embarrassing scrutiny: first her family history is examined to ensure that there is no case of T.B. or madness in the family. Further, detailed enquiries are made to find out whether her father is in a financially sound position or not. As it happens in Indian marriages, the identity or the feelings of the girl who is to be married are not taken into account at all. Rather, she is regarded as a commodity, or an object or a tame animal that needs to be clinically examined. While her inner feelings are ignored, her physical aspects are focused upon (presumably by the elderly relatives of the prospective groom or the middlemen who are trying to form an arranged matrimonial alliance). They suspiciously scrutinize her eyes to ensure that they are perfectly normal and there is no squint in her eyes. Even her teeth are checked to rule out the possibility of cavities. With heavy sarcasm the poet says that even the stools of the prospective bride are examined to rule out the possibility of worms.

Those conducting the negotiations of this matrimonial alliance are forces which uphold the principle of a male-dominated society. The groom is presumed to be good in all respects, and, the poem seems to suggest, it is not necessary to conduct any kind of enquiry or examination regarding him. This clear gender bias is typical of a patriarchal society, a society where men hold most of the power.

In Lines 12-18, the girl’s physical appearance is taken into account. She is neither considered to be suitably tall, nor shapely. However, her fair complexion makes up for her so-called lesser attributes. Thus, Elena is chosen as an appropriate bride for Francisco Noronha Prabhu, a “good” match from a Goan Catholic community. The expectations of rightness” and “justness” on the part of the groom’s family highlight the predominant attitude of male superiority and gender injustice, whereby it is always the girl who has to live up to high expectations, whereas none considers it necessary to think of equality between the genders and dares to question the traits of the groom and his family.

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