“Ma Le’s Bracelets” is a story plotted around a Burmese husband’s domestic abuse toward his wife. The narrator reveals much more in the beginning about the husband Lay Than’s character: he is Westernized, self-indulgent and abusive. The wife, Ma Le, is revealed more indirectly, shown gradually rather than described outright. The narrator implies her exchange of food with neighbors, as well as her attachment to her bracelets, a family inheritance. When Ma Le’s husband sells the bracelets for money, he forces Ma Le to say that she lost them. Fearing his violence, Ma Le complies, but she can’t stop her tears or her rage from coming out, even if slightly. The story ends on an ominous note, as Lay Than sees his true character revealed in his wife’s eyes, an “I know you know I know” moment. More notably, the story elicits Ma Le’s irrepressible spirit despite her own efforts to quell it for her survival.
The story suggests on a larger level Burma’s indignation over British colonial rule, shaded by Lay Than’s Westernized behavior, and Ma Le, completely Burmese, who acts with grace and dignity, submitting to abuse without losing her humanness. The depictions of Ma Le’s attempts at complicity toward her husband are eloquent and revealing.
Compared to other stories I read recently, “A Husband,” by Prema Shah, and “A Blaze in the Straw,” by Guruprasad Mainali (1), it does not speak as directly to the concerns of women who experience domestic violence, but by framing it metaphorically still evokes the problem of abuse, particularly in post-colonial families. I count it among other South Asian stories that depict domestic abuse in a manner directly or indirectly raising consciousness about the issue.
- Hutt, M. (1991). Himalayan Voices : An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press.