‘Honour Killing’ by Imtiaz Dharker is a free verse poem about the fight for freedom. The freedom of being able to express oneself and live a life in a manner that is true to one’s identity. In this poem, a woman is standing up for her right to be allowed to make her own choices about the way she represents herself. She does not want to be defined by her culture, spirituality, clothing, or image in the community. The narrator of this poem has expressed that she was following the silent crowd due to habit rather than desire and she no longer feels the need to be who she used to be. You can listen to the poem here.
Honour Killing Analysis
The first stanza of Dharker’s ‘Honour Killing’ is about disowning an identity. The very first line begins with “at last”, which is how the readers are being told that they are looking into the end of a journey for somebody. The narrator goes on to disown her “coat”; the coat is a garment meant to shield a person from harsh weather conditions, so this statement enlightens the reader that she is stepping away from the protection of any kind as she makes the decision to speak out. The coat is further described as “black coat of a country”, this description reveals to the reader that the coat is not an ordinary one; it connects the narrator to her country and her identity. In line three she swears that she had once accepted the country to be a part of her identity, stressing that this idea is something that she has moved past.
Then in line four, she exposes herself by saying she had worn this coat (that connected her to a country and identity she had once owned as her own) out of habit; she is conveying that she had placed very little thought and heart behind it, it was merely a habit. Line five makes it known to the reader that it wasn’t the “design” of the coat that she liked, signifying the values beliefs, and traditions; she claims it was an empty habit. The narrator seems to be disowning this coat and giving justifications as to why she felt the need to renounce it. The last two lines of this stanza give the reader a better understanding of the narrator and her relationship with this coat. She states that she was “born wearing it” and “believed [she] had no choice” in the matter. This stanza all together gives the impression that the narrator has a complicated history with this coat and has made a final decision to reject it.
Stanza two of ‘Honour Killing’ begins with a very important line. Through the first line, the reader discovers exactly what this black coat the narrator kept mentioning actually is: a veil. This is significant as it gives us a better cultural and perhaps religious background to better understand the story of the narrator. The first line of this stanza is also a declaration; the narrator is declaring and announcing that she is getting rid of this veil. Lines nine and ten continue the declaration by describing in detail that it’s not just the physical veil that she is disowning, but also the “faith that made [her] faithless”. It is quite apparent by now that the narrator is struggling to connect with the person that she used to be. She doesn’t want to be hidden behind a veil figuratively speaking and literally. Line eleven helps the reader understand that this is more about the narrator herself than religion as she adds that the veil had made her “faithless” to herself. This is noteworthy as it explains that she felt that wearing and holding on to this veil was an injustice to herself and what she felt was her true identity. Line twelve goes on to illustrate a tied mouth emphasizing that she felt restrained, held back, and could not express herself the way she wanted to while being veiled.
Lines thirteen and fourteen are extremely powerful in conveying the narrator’s anger and resentment to her previous self as she says the veil went as far as to give her “god a devil’s face and muffles” her voice. These last two lines of the stanza also allow the reader to be aware of the fact that she was struggling spiritually as well while she was wearing the veil, for the reason that it had started making her believe that her god was just trying to inflict her hardship which is something she would expect from the devil; this confusion and frustration she felt just resulted into muting her own voice. It is difficult to speak up against something that is so common and deeply embedded in your community and culture. The narrator seemed to have struggled with the decision to step away from the veil because her environment was heavily in support of it; which only facilitated in silencing her thoughts, emotions, and opinions.
The third stanza is centered around the narrator’s idea that in her experience, her culture had begun to strip her of her independence and unique identity. Line fifteen is a statement freeing herself of the “silks” that are embedded in the culture to drape a woman’s body to enhance her femininity; the narrator doesn’t want others to decide how her body should be dressed. Line sixteen carries on the same idea as the narrator also rejects “lacy things”, again wanting to decide for herself what she should “choose” to wear.
Line seventeen discloses that the narrator believes by following the rules set for how she should be dressed she is feeding “dictator dreams”, which is the last thing anyone wanting their own identity to be recognized by others would want. Lines eighteen to twenty describe the narrator’s point of view regarding her cultural jewelry, stating that by abiding by the cultural dress code she had been “beggared” of her true self. It appears that by dressing traditionally due to her environment expecting her to, the narrator feels trapped and stripped of any kind of individuality.
This stanza of ‘Honour Killing’ is the last stanza that begins with a statement of independence and freedom; it is also the shortest stanza in the entire poem. The stanza being only three lines, really allows for it to focus on its message and draw attention to the importance of it. It begins with the narrator declaring that she is freeing herself of the “skin”; the skin being an essential part of anyone’s body and identity is also the most intimate “garment” the human body wears. So by announcing that she is “taking off this skin” the narrator is detaching herself at every level from this culture that dictates who she should be.
The next two lines continue to list the other things that she is detaching from herself: “the face, the flesh, the womb”. The face and flesh are again two things that aid in forming a person’s identity, one that others can easily recognize and the womb is the most initial and intimate connection a person has to their identity. By disowning these things the narrator is emphasizing how deeply she wishes to sever her ties to the person and identity she had once owned.
Stanza five begins with the words “let’s see” which implies that the narrator is moving on from making statements of what she has left behind her, to what she will find in the future. It also implies that the stanza will focus on self analysis. Lines twenty six to twenty eight discuss the narrator wanting to know if she can take these stands when the ideas and emotions in her heart “squeeze past the easy cage of bone”; essentially meaning when her ideologies leave her body and meet the world, she wonders if she would continue to stand up for herself.
Stanza six is the last stanza of this poem and barely concludes the narrator’s story but does speak volumes about her relationship with her “black coat”. The first line again, begins with the words “let’s see” directing the reader to the future for the second time. Line twenty nine suggest that she has made the choice and action of undressing herself of the veil and the jewellery and has come “out” of the cultural dictatorship she had been enduring. She uses the words “making, crafting, plotting” to convey that she is improving or at least working towards becoming a person who creates and plans for herself instead on relying on following the expectations of society.
The final line of the poem heavily suggests that she has removed herself physically from the culture that was forcing her to not be herself by saying she is at her “new geography”. Whether that is a geography she created for herself or one she physically moved to, the reader gets the impression that she took the steps she intended on taking and has now moved on to a place ( figurative or literal) where she feels her identity has a chance of surfacing and being accepted.