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CIRCUMCISION

BY: Pramoedya Ananta Toer

SUMMARY The narrative does follow the fundamental outline of plot. The first six paragraphs map out the exposition: the characters, setting, and conflict ( . . . brave enough to be circumcised? par. 6). The tension rises from dreams of the 44 houri and fishing rivers of milk to the adoration of his parents and community and the anticipation of the pain, until the ritual ceremony begins the conflict. The conflict is anticlimactic as the narrator does go through the ancient rite as planned, but bear in mind sensing the description of the procedure is dicey for half the reading population. Finally the tension resolves, although the pain is still present, and the narratordisillusionedchanges substantially his desire to be a true Muslim. Though the 9-year-old narrator is the protagonist, the antagonist, like in The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish, is the boys environment, particularly Islam in this case. He thought that after the ritual he would feel like a true Muslim, but he feels nothingnotwithstanding his steadfast piety in performing all his prayersand journeying to Mecca is out of the question. It cost him great pain and discomfort to feel nothing like the spiritual awakening he was expecting, and now its never going to cost money either. His father, who always terrified [him] (par. 7) issues a manly challenge when offering his son the prospect of becoming a true Muslim. Besides that, we dont get a whole lot of specific information other than the implicit understanding that no good son could refuse. Older foster sons may skip out on the practice, a true son and Muslim does not. They have a traditional relationship of the traditional father and the obedient son, who at first share religious aspirations. But the relationship with his father has to change eventually when the boy dejectedly realizes that his father, not having the funds to send either himself or his children to Mecca, is essentially not a true Muslim. The narrator is living this tale in the moment, maintaining an innocently reverential tone throughout the recounting of the complications. He relishes the attention and honor of circumcision and the event itself is rendered stoically with utter acceptance. Nevertheless, the tone changes sharply and cynically at the very end. The long view and the moral dilemma of the situation arent developed in the meat of the narrative but they are eventually shared at the cynical, empty end: And after I had healed, the thought of becoming a true Muslim never again entered my mind (par. 78). On some level the boy understands the need to endure pain for his beliefs but cannot find comfort knowing money and, indirectly, his father bar his religious peace and dreams. While, in the main, this plot is advanced out of the boys religious faith and devotion, it abruptly ends in cruel disenchantment. Knowing what his decision means, the tension builds evenly. Then the readers apprehension for the protagonist is increased as the sacramental moment is illustrated. Afterward and swiftly hes left to wonder, as is the reader, which pain is worse, the physical or the abstract. What will his life hinge on now? The issue of wealth is hinted at early in the story, when the narrator mentions the pious old man who had made his pilgrimage to Mecca. Also, the narrators excitement at receiving new clothes (I also began to think of the new kain and new pair of sandals I would likely receive, 96) suggests he
WORLD LITERATURE

is not used to owning much property. However, wealth and poverty does not become a conflict until late in the story, after the boys are circumcised. The narrator does not feel like a true Muslim even after the ceremony, he doesnt feel any different. Although his mother suggests the answer might be a pilgrimage, the narrator realizes immediately that such a trip would require wealth. From this, he immediately concludes, all hopes of becoming a true Muslim vanished. I knew that my parents werent well off and that we could never afford to make the pilgrimage (par. 75). Although he presses the issue and asks why his father has never made the pilgrimage, and he experiences a yearning to become rich, that desire does not solidify into any life change, and thus the narrators epiphany about wealth is one of resignation rather than action. His disillusionment at ever realizing true faith is crushing to his entire sense of stability. Is he doomed to hell or everlasting angst? Is he now still no different that his older, uncircumcised friends (par. 33)? These types of questions plague his faith and pain him deeply, even more than the ceremony ever could.

WORLD LITERATURE