Death, Beauty, Struggle
Untouchable Women Create the World
Margaret Trawick, Ann Grodzins Gold
Death, Beauty, Struggle represents a long labor of love and the summation of forty years of Margaret Trawick's groundbreaking research. Centering her gaze on the lowest castes of India, now called Dalits, she describes the experience of women at this precarious level who are still treated as sub-human, sometimes by family members, sometimes by higher-caste men. Their private worlds, however, are full of art; rural Dalit women sing beautiful songs of their own making and tell remarkable narratives of their own lives.
Much that Tamil women shared with Trawick is rooted in the passionate attachments and acute wounds generated within families, but these women's voices resonate well beyond individually circumscribed lives. In their songs and life stories they critique social, political, economic, and domestic oppressions. They also incorporate visions of natural beauty and immanent divinity. Trawick presents Tamil women's words as relevant to universal human themes.
Trawick's frames of analysis, developed throughout her long career of fieldwork in India, inform her ethnography of expressive culture. The songs and stories of Dalit women were recorded and transcribed, to be translated into lyrical passages in her own work. Death, Beauty, Struggle demonstrates a conviction that persons without privilege—from the rape victim to the landless laborer—possess both power and agency. Through verbal arts, Dalit women produce not only acute cultural critiques but also astonishing beauty.