Study Guide

Cutting for Stone Identity

By Abraham Verghese


At such moments I remember to thank my twin brother, Shiva—Dr. Shiva Praise Stone—to seek him out, to find his reflection in the glass panel that separates the two operating theaters, and to nod my thanks because he allows me to be what I am today. (P.28)

Though we can't know it when we first read the prologue, we know now that Marion feels that he and his once-conjoined identical twin Shiva have been reunited in the flesh. Shiva "allows" Marion to be what he is because he donated part of his liver to him, saving his life. The brothers' identities fuse by means of this transplant.

Born in Africa, living in exile in America, then returning at last to Africa, I am proof that geography is destiny. Destiny has brought me back to the precise coordinates of my birth, to the very same operating theater where I was born. (P.30)

Matron mourned the fact that many people who die in Ethiopia (like Sister Mary Joseph Praise or the Italian soldiers) are not actually from Ethiopia. Marion is one of the few characters we get to know who was actually born there and who gets to live out his adulthood there. He is Ethiopian, though his parents are not.

Twin brothers, we slept in the same bed till our teens, our heads touching, our legs and torsos angled away. We outgrew that intimacy, but I still long for it, for the proximity of his skull. (P.32)

The boys build up their identity as a collective. They are "the twins," and this position that they sleep in at night reinforces the togetherness that they experienced when they were joined at the head in the womb. Even after the stump that connects them is cut, they continue to feel as though they are a unit.

We two unnamed babies, newly arrived, were without breath. If most newborns meet life outside the womb with a shrill, piercing wail, ours was the saddest of all songs: the stillborn's song of silence. (1.10.1)

The boys don't have names because one of their parents is dying and the other is busy falling apart. Their lack of names means they don't have an identity—no one has claimed them, no one will take care of them, and no one even realizes they are alive. And so they don't speak, or cry, either.

Why had Hema taken on the naming of the babies? It felt premature. He couldn't get his lips around the names. Were the names negotiable? What if Thomas Stone showed up? And why name the child of a nun and an Englishman after a Hindu god? And for the other twin, also a boy, why Marion? Surely it was temporary, until Stone came to his senses, or the British Embassy or someone made arrangements. Hema was acting as if the kids were hers. (2.15.18)

This paragraph is just packed with thoughts about how identity is constructed. First up, Hema names the babies, which is sort of like claiming them as her own kids. Would changing parents change the twins' identities?

No matter how far apart Hema put [the twins], when she came to them again, they would be in a V, their heads touching, facing each other, just as they had been in the womb. (2.15.55)

There's a strong argument for nature over nurture going on here. Whereas everyone treats the boys as though they were two separate people (because they are, physically), they remember where they came from. They share an identity as the conjoined twins, one and the same.

"Look," Hema hissed, embarrassed by his behavior, "the father is supposed to whisper the child's name into its ear. If you don't want to do it, I'll call someone else."

That word—"father"—changed everything. He felt a thrill. He quickly whispered "Marion" and then "Shiva" into each tiny ear, kissed each child, then kissed Hema on the cheek before he could pull away, saying "Bye, Mama" [...]. (2.16.30-31)

Just as Ghosh realizes that Hema has become a mother when she names the babies, he gets that he must be her partner if she's calling him their father. The way that a person reacts to being identified as a certain role is very telling. It's as though Ghosh were waiting to be called a father all of his life, and he rises to the challenge.

The twins weren't easy to tell apart but for the anklet which Hema had kept on Shiva as a talisman. (2.16.32)

The difference between Shiva and Marion is artificial, just like the surgeon's slice that separated them from one another just after they were born. Here, rather than having a birthmark or a tic that identifies them, Shiva is marked by Hema. She has him wear bells that let her know which one he is.

If they didn't show awareness of each other, Hema believed it was because they thought they were one. When they were bottle-fed, one in Rosina's arms, the other in Hema's or Ghosh's, it helped greatly for them to be within earshot, heads or limbs touching; if they took one twin to another room, they both became fussy. (2.16.34)

It takes a while for the babies to realize that they are two separate people. Psychologists say this is a normal part of development, but usually the baby believes it is merged with its mother. Shiva and Marion have lost their mother, so they become all things to one another.

Had ShivaMarion been delivered vaginally (impossible, given how our heads were connected), Shiva, presenting skull first, would have been the firstborn, the older twin. But when the Cesarean section reversed the natural birth order, I became the first to breathe—senior by a few seconds. I also became spokesperson for ShivaMarion.

Here's another way in which the twins' separate identities are actually inseparable. Usually, siblings (even twins) identify by birth order, but Shiva and Marion can't even differentiate in that way. Shiva was the first to start on his way out, but Marion was the first to be pulled out. They are the same.