Date of Award

1-1-2012

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Sub-Department

French

First Advisor

William Edmiston

Abstract

The idea of sati, or the immolation of widows with the corpse of their husbands, has permeated much of Western discourse about the Indian subcontinent. This thesis examines some of the philosophical issues surrounding the practice as they appear in French literature. An introductory chapter is included to give background on sati as it was actually practiced in India, as well as prevalent categorizations with which Western scholars have defined and discussed it. Chapter 2 examines Michel de Montaigne's essay, 'De la vertu,' which criticizes the attribution of opposite meanings to the act of suicide by making a direct comparison between the Indian rite and a French wife's suicide. Chapter 3 compares the ways in which male characters dissuade widows from self-immolating in Zadig by Voltaire and La Chaumière indienne by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. Chapter 4 criticizes the depiction of a widow's rescue from her husband's funeral pyre as an ethical imperative based on a simplified moral system in Jules Verne's Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours. The ethic of human rights actually conflicts with the ethic of cultural sovereignty and preservation in the question of sati's legality, but various narrative traits have erased the ethical ambiguity inherent in the episode. Close reading strategies have been applied to provide a critical basis for observing how sati is used to further artistic and philosophical ends in each of the works included in this study.

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