World Literature in English, Spring, '98

Students' Final Take-Home Exams
Spring, 1998

Analyze some  central symbols, such as house, body/bone/meat, map, the use of weather, food, etc.
Connie Tseng
(Connie Tseng:)
In Meatless Days, meat is used to worship the God; in the form of human flesh, meat is the initiation of the girl¡¦s growth. Dadi is the grandmother whose traditional thoughts still attach greatly to religion. In Eid, a Muslim festival, animal sacrifice is the ritual to worship the God. The God is powerless for the next generation. They are not so active in term of responding to the ritual. If the meat is the symbol of the power of their religion, then those are really meatless day for them. With Dadi¡¦s force, the goat is sacrificed at last. Dadi becomes the important role that can still pass the religion on reluctantly. The religion it self can attract believers no more. ¡§ For Dadi had successfully cut through tissues of festivity just as the butcher slit the goat, but there was something else that she was eating with that meat. I saw it in her concentration; I know that she was making God talk to her as to Abraham and was showing him what she could do-for him-to sons. God didn¡¦t dare, and she ate on alone¡¨ (5).

In the process of burning her brother and taking care of Dadi, the narrator learns the mystery of male body and the power of human flesh. ¡§ I was so taken by tenderness for his bony convalescent body that it took me years to realize yes, something female in me had been deeply shocked¡¨ (12). Dadi¡¦s pink scar and recovery symbolize life to the narrator. Through it she realizes the sacredness of human flesh, the meaning of sacrificing the meat to God. ¡§Dadi was growing pink and livid tightropes, strung from hip to hip in a flaming advertisement of life¡¨ (14).

The bones in the Disappearing Moon Cafe symbolize the spirits, the souls of Chinese railroad laborer. Even when the flesh is gone and all they left is broken bone, they still want to go home. In this rootless situation, they can only attach their souls to their only remaining-bones; Gwei Chang¡¦s job is to take them home. Because of the job, Gwei Chang sees himself as hero; they are going to carring the bones on the boat and take them home. Chinese bones and Gwei Chang accomplish each other¡¦s dreams. Through Gwei Chang, those wandering souls can rest peacefully in their own soil; through accomplishing the job, Gwei Chang becomes a hero, though in fact he is powerless.