“The Emperors Babe” By: Bernardine Evaristo
In “The Emperor’s Babe” By: Bernardine Evaristo, this contemporary writer explains the way those women occupy the space of London. The main character Zuleika was taken advantage of at a very early stage of her life and also in her arranged marriage with her husband. She was sexually abused and raped in the early pages of the novel. This point of her life shaped the rest of the story and affected her experiences through out. On page 29 of the novel it explains more in depth about the abuse that Zuleika experienced and had to go through. At the end of the scene she says, “and each time I woke up, it was my first night in the kingdom of the dead.” She was describing how each time she experienced the abuse it was just as terrible and horrible as the last. This is showing the disrespect that women had in third century London. Then, going back a little farther into the text you see that Zuleika did not want the kind of life that she had. She wanted the freedom she had as a young child and to feel respected as a person. She wanted to feel reckless and alive and to just have fun with her friend Alba. She was so young and innocent and had only a little experience of what freedom felt like. On page 20 it says, “desperate to run into the night forever, to find the river and disappear in it. I was swimming in the dead of it; my frozen limbs struggled up the beach, my dress instantly soaked. I ran back through the deserted streets, feeling my blood warm up my joints becoming fluid again, the only sound of my sandaled feet on hardened earth, my harsh panting breaths.” This quote shows how she felt free. It explained how much freedom meant to her as a young child, so after her tragic experience of abuse from her husband, there was freedom taken away from her. While she was with her husband (who is a wealthy business man) her role of a woman is taken differently with the class she is in.
On page 27 it says, “A lady uses powdered horn to enamel her teeth dontcha know, and powdered mouse brains to keep her breath sweet. I am pampered by maids, an ornatrix is weaving Indian hair into my own, six pads- Vestal- style. They are painting me white with chalk, my lips and cheeks with the lees of red wine, don’t talk! Black ash is dabbed onto my eyes.” The married life was a way of life for women of that century. Also women did not have much of a choice when it came to whom they were to marry as well. It seemed as though it didn’t matter if a woman wanted, or was even mentally prepared to be a wife. It was about the status. It was about the class, and about the money. It was not about the women as a person, her values or her humanity. Chapter two in the novel it is called “Metamorphosis” which is basically maturity and becoming an adult. I think that is an interesting choice for the title because Zuleika is becoming an adult at a very young age.
On page 33, it is describing her sexual enslavement role as a wife and the way that she “should” be. She cannot play into the role because something just doesn’t feel right to her. She feels something is missing, a lack of freedom. The material possessions and economic stability can only keep her sane for so long. It is not fair that women should not feel real passion for her marriage. And also, it is definitely not healthy for women to helpless and venerable in the marriage as well. The material possessions would soon turn into only a distraction from the hurt. So Zuleika moves on to another man. Because unfortunately now, she feels her only way to find true happiness is through another man. She finds it hard to accept herself and be one with herself again.
On page 121, she explains how she needs to feel something again, explaining that she doesn’t even feel alive anymore. “She turned on me: ‘you’ll be playing with fire’, ‘I want to be on fire. I want to burn. I want to be consumed. I’ve been dead since my wedding night. I’ve been living inside myself for years, I want to feel extreme pain and extreme pleasure.” This passage her is explaining her sexual awakening. She wants a change; she wants to feel pleasure and actual passion from a man. This could also be taken as a way to hide or numb the pain of the past. Her past experience made her feel hopeless. I feel that she could be seeking a man to find actual happiness and pleasure. She feels as though a man is the only way she can bring those feelings back into her life.