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  • Mapping Out Socio-Cultural Decadence on the Female BodySadeq Chubak's Gowhar in Sange-e Sabur
  • Claudia Yaghoobi (bio)


Sang-e Sabur (The Patient Stone, 1966) is Sadeq Chubak's last and arguably most acclaimed work. Sang-e Sabur is set in a collapsing house in Shiraz where Ahmad Aqa, Gowhar, Kakolzari, Jahansoltan, Belqeys, and Belqeys's opium-addicted and impotent husband live. Seyf ol-Qalam, an Indian doctor, and a moralist, who lives outside this house, desires to cleanse the world from venereal diseases through murdering pimps and prostitutes. The story is based on a series of actual murders, which occurred in Shiraz in the 1930s.1 It begins when Ahmad Aqa, a young schoolteacher who dreams of becoming a writer, gets concerned about Gowhar's disappearance. The divorced Gowhar supports her little son, Kakolzari, and her invalid ex-maid, Jahansoltan, through sigheh (temporary) marriage, which is considered prostitution by the other characters of the novel. Gowhar, however, was once permanently married to Hajji Esma'il. Although she was much younger than he, she was his favorite wife and seemed to be content in her marriage. But due to their jealousy, Gowhar's co-wives concocted a story of infidelity in regard to Kakolzari's birth and forced Hajji Esma'il to divorce Gowhar. Thereafter, Gowhar began practicing sigheh marriages to survive and provide for her family.

Chubak wrote Sang-e Sabur during one of the most momentous and bewildering times in modern Iran in the 1960s. This was a time of fear, despair, and anxiety, and the shadow of this desperation can be felt in the literature of the period. In terms of gender relations, this was a time when outwardly women were given some prominence and rights, such as access to education, employment, or even in choosing their future spouses, but it was also a time of uncertainty. [End Page 206] According to Cyrus Schayegh, "the rapid sociocultural transformation of modern urban society and its debilitating effects on women … women's increasing integration into the work force and their presence in the public sphere … [were seen as factors undermining] their maternal role and instinct."2 On the one hand, most of these changes, such as the access to education and employment, were beneficial to women. On the other hand, however, these reforms were viewed as threats to the institutions of marriage, family, and motherhood. The dangers of modern life stood at the heart of the idea of female criminality, best known via prostitution. The female sexual drive was viewed as biologically constructed by maternal instinct; that is, it was believed that women who were mothers would not have become criminals due to their responsibilities toward their family. Hence there was a divide between the figure of aberrant criminal-prostitute-woman and the mother-woman.3 It was a time of apparent progress and modernization as envisaged by the nation, and yet also a precursor to the revolts that culminated in the Islamic revolution of 1979. Even though the setting of the story is believed to be the 1930s, Sang-e Sabur highlights anxieties and uncertainties still pertinent in the 1960s, particularly regarding gender relations. While these changes of urbanization and modernization began from the Constitutional period (1906–1911), they took a solid shape during the interwar period.

Previous scholarship has investigated the socio-cultural and moral decadence of the time within Persian literature and in Sadeq Chubak's Sang-e Sabur. Examining Persian literature written by women, Farzaneh Milani's Veils and Words explores the divided male-female world of the time and the harsh and immoral socio-cultural measures taken toward women. Milani shows how women's bodies were confined and their voices silenced; yet women such as Forugh Farrokhzad broke their silences and moved away from tradition.4 Likewise, focusing on Sang-e Sabur, Liora Hendelman-Baavur's article "Grotesque Corporeality and Literary Aesthetics in Sadeq Chubak's The Patient Stone" discusses the ways in which oppressive religious, class, and gender systems of the time dictate the world of Sang-e Sabur. Hendelman-Baavur's focus is an examination of grotesque female bodily conditions within Sang-e Sabur.5 While Hendelman-Baavur and...


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