Criticism on Saman by Ayu Utami

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Published: 01st April 2007
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Saman, written by Ayu Utami, a book that was controversial in Indonesia, however not so much so in North America, was trying to liberate women from social oppression. I, however, don't think that the book in success doing so. Furthermore, I think that her portrayal of women fell into the stereotype rather than beyond it because the author seemed to equate liberation with an easy ability to have extra-marital affairs.

The novel took place in various locales in Indonesia and New York City; and the setting changes over the course of the novel. I think that space is intimately connected to the actions or behaviours of the characters in an indirect way, which is the characters feel the effects of their ideological upbringing throughout the story. New York City, which to some measure encompasses the West, is stereotypically supposed to be a place of liberation, however it is arguable whether they are liberated or not: Laila is restricted by her Islamic faith; Saman and Yasmin develop.

Shakuntala is a protagonist because she describes the individual characters and their relationships with one another and she contributed much of the discussion of sexuality, such as dancing for oneself instead of for another. Saman is also a protagonist because the story is for the most part focussed around his personal development. The social structure in which Saman is set is an antagonist because it oppresses the characters, Wisanggeni's hallucinations, and also the self insofar as the characters seem to be struggling internally. They remain elusive because they are not tangible, although they are portrayed in a way that is obvious to the reader. These characters are struggling against themselves and society which takes the form of authority figures (parents, teachers, etc.) and various institutions (family, schools, etc.); they are not actual individuals as much as they are stereotyped roles which are played for the most part by significant others

The narrative offer a semi-closed ending because there was an unexpected outcome but an outcome nevertheless --that at the beginning it seemed Laila would be the one who would have extramarital affair with Sihar, but at the end it reveals that Yasmin, the one who was portrayed as a person who hold strict Christian faith, was the one who has extramarital affair with Saman. And Samsan, throughout the text was portrayed as a priest who was highly devoted to his religion, who remained as a virgin for the sake of his religion faith, but at the end, through the e-mails, it was shown that he was changed by the suffering he endured, and engaged in a love affair with Yasmin. But the novel was not ended with a concrete statement or events, rather with chains of e-mails that were exchanged between Saman and Yasmin.

The development of the story was disjunctive; although the development of the story is supposed to create a sense of realty, I felt as though it was entirely unorganized and I was therefore unable to engage deeply with the novel.

First, the story of Saman sounded so choppy and abrupt. In comparative to the novel The Prostitution or other classic novel that I had read, though the authors of these novels might also shifts from narrators to another narrator, or back and forth between past and present, they had better transition and solid grouping of events then as in Saman. Hence, I dislike the organization and thus, think it is disorganized; therefore, I have no intimate involvement with the narrators; however, I agree that journal entries are meant as a way to depict personal thoughts and therefore establish trust.

Second, I think that the criticisms of parents, teachers, etc. were insufficient (the author did not really go in details discuss how these hierarchy oppress women), apart from the way that the relationship between Saman and social authorities and the confession of Shakuntala love for dancing for herself, I think that the author missed the point, which is to say that she emphasized the problems within the relationship between lovers in particular those of extra-marital affairs. In the novel, women are too often portrayed in relation to their marriage so that their position is never really liberated beyond that level (a woman have multi-roles in society, family, etc... more than just a lover and a wife);

The explicit discussion of sex and sexuality is a form of liberation, which is to say the act of discussing sex and sexuality is an example of liberty; thus, I think the female characters focus so much on issues of sexuality because it was a forbidden topic in Indonesia: to discuss these issues is for the female characters a freedom of speech. I, however, think the novel is too concerned with women's sexuality (the open discussion of sexuality is healthy, but the author stress too much on lover relationship that I think indeed her description of women fall into stereotype. Hence, it painted librated women as easy, overly sexual, to me at least it seemed, while liberation does not necessary mean easy and overly sexual.

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