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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The transformation of plot in the couplet of the Urdu Ghazal : an examination of narrative Liboiron, Paul Adrien


This thesis examines a selection of verses taken from the Urdu divan of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Ghalib is considered by many to be the preeminent writer of the classical Urdu ghazal (circa 1750-1850). Although the examination is restricted to Ghalib's verse, the problem it investigates is broader in nature and involves questions which some aspects of the ghazal raise with respect to the reader's involvement. An essential feature of the ghazal form is the fact that, although the ghazal poem consists of a set of couplets, each couplet of a ghazal is itself a complete text with respect to its content The question, then, is "how does the reader become involved in a form limited to two lines of text?" This thesis discusses the question from a narratological perspective: the couplet involves the reader by telling a story. The narrative of the couplet differs from what one normally thinks of as narrative in that the significance of its plot is derived, not from a series of episodes arranged in chronological order, but from a thematic continuity which links couplet to couplet within the tradition as a whole. The world of the ghazal is inhabited by a few characters, the principal being the lover and the beloved, whose behaviour and attitudes are determined largely by a set of well-defined conventions. The characters who appear in the individual couplet are already familiar from the dramas to which these characters have been subjected in previous readings of other couplets. However, unlike the characters in a traditional novel whose histories connect a great variety of events within a chronological framework, the couplet is extremely limited in term of the number of chronological connections it can establish. The depiction of time in the ghazal is radically different from the often elaborate histories presented in forms such as the novel. The world of the ghazal is merely suggested. Consequently, the reader's role in reconstructing the world of the text is of particular importance in compact forms such as that of the ghazal. The contention of this thesis is that the restrictions imposed by the couplet on plot structure has been compensated for by the cultivation of a narrative style in the ghazal text which often forces the reader to become aware of the process of discovering the drama of the text. The first chapter begins with an introduction to the thesis, and is followed by an introduction to the formal features of the ghazal text and some of the important themes of the tradition. The second chapter presents a review of critical writings in English on the Urdu ghazal. The third chapter presents a discussion of methodology. In this chapter I use Peter Rabinowitz' analysis of the reader's beliefs in my attempt to define what I mean by the reader's involvement in the world of the text. According to Rabinowitz, a fictional work invites its reader to pretend that its plot is a historical account, even though the reader knows that the world of the text is imaginary. To account for the reader's dual role, Rabinowitz divides the reader's beliefs into what he calls the "authorial audience" and the narrative audience." Briefly, the authorial audience can be viewed as the competent reader, the one who possesses the required knowledge to understand the text, to decipher its allusions, but who knows the world of the text is a fiction. The narrative audience sees the fictional text as a description of events that "really" happened. My investigation of the reader's attempt to discover the world of the text is from the point of view of the narrative audience. The third chapter attempts to apply Rabinowitz' views to some general features of the plot structure in the ghazal text. The fourth and final chapter examines the ways in which the ghazal text forces the reader to become aware of the process of discovering the world of the text.

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