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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Jat masculinity and deviant femininity in a punjabi romantic epic : exploring gender through Waris Shah's Hīr Mann, Gurinderpal


This thesis examines the representation of gender in Waris Shah’s Hīr, a romantic epic (qissā) composed during the late 1700s in Punjab. The author, Waris Shah, a Sufi of the Chishti tradition, lived during the eighteenth century. Hīr portrays the tragic story of the love between Hīr, a young woman of the Siyal clan, and Rāṅjhā, a young man known by his clan name; the story is sometimes called the “Romeo and Juliet” of Punjabi literature. This qissā is set in the rural, feudal plains of Punjab, where multiple clans strove to maintain or improve their status. In the qissā, Hīr, Waris Shah portrays gender through poetic metaphor, dialogue, character, and plot. I focus primarily on his protagonists, treating each of Hīr and Rāṅjhā as pivotal male and female characters, and secondarily on the character of Sahiti, Hīr’s sister-in-law in the story. I interrogate the gender representation of each character to uncover the social constructs to which Shah subscribed. I will argue that through the plot of the story, the dialogue, and the exchanges between the characters, a multiplicity of forms of gender is articulated. The portrayal of Shah’s main characters forces us to question the idea of gender norm, while recognizing how it functions as a social force. Through his complex characters Shah demonstrates the unorthodox gender is normal in this text. In Part I, I propose an overarching meaning for Shah’s multi-vocality of femininity as tied to the character of Hīr (and secondarily Sahiti), by paying close attention to the language Shah uses in describing her, the arc of her plot which ends in her murder, and her interaction with other women characters. In Part II, I propose an overarching meaning for Shah’s multi-vocal portrayal of masculinity as tied to the character of Rāṅjhā, by attending to descriptions of his appearance, his loss of property and arc that ends in his death, as well as his interactions with other characters. Through these two figures, Hīr and Rāṅjhā, Shah articulates a range of gendered forms, while ultimately adhering to patriarchal norms that are presented alongside other models.

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