Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi Essay
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Captivity in Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, is a strongly emphasized theme. Fideaus the protagonist is constantly constrained and surveilled within the realms of the Egyptian society subsequently being emotionally, and twice literally, captive. The significance of captivity in Woman at Point Zero is not only for plot or dramatic effect. In the writing of Woman At Point Zero Nawal El Saadawi wishes to inform the reader about the captivity felt by some women in suppressive countries. In this way, she means the protagonist Firdaus to not only represent one woman but many. Captivity in Woman at Point Zero is not only that of the literal, lock and key. Throughout the novel Firdaus is subject to varying forms of captivity, emotionally…show more content…
On describing her captivity in marriage Firdaus also states 'A virtuous woman was not supposed to complain about her husband, her duty was perfect obedience.', thus, in order to be 'good' one must be totally submissive. This description of a virtuous woman shows how ingrained social expectations were in the society of 1970's , if one must be perfectly obedient to one other person at all times, then obviously they are captive in both expectations and duty, a duty that was for Firdaus, forced upon her. The captivity is not physical, but rather mental and inflicted onto Firdaus from societal expectations. Firdaus later reflects upon the captivity she felt in her marriage stating “I would rather be a free prostitute than an enslaved wife.” The adjective 'enslaved' shows that Firdaus believes wives to be, literal slaves, captive in their marriage. Stating she would prefer to be a prostitute instead of a wife is shocking to a western reader, as generally being a wife is thought to be freer and safer than having to sell your body. Al Sadawi in this phrase not only shocks the reader, but further introduces the reader to the foreign paradigm of a middle-eastern wife and the sheer desperation due to captivity experienced.
Literal captivity in Firdauses life is experienced under Bayoumi, who entraps Firdaus and prevents her from having physical and emotional freedom as he traps her in his apartment, using her a sex-object for himself and his
Historically, Politically Speaking
In his book Intimate Enemies: Jews and Arabs in a Shared Land, Benvenisiti, a reporter for the New York Times, probes into the political situation responsible for the "elusive peace" between these groups. A peace, which currently seems more unpromising than it did during the volatile struggle for resolution during the 1990's Gulf War. This text provides a grounded picture of the Middle East, taking into account the United State's contributions to the political climate through unsuccessful land negotiations determined through the early portions of the '80's Camp David accords. Benvenisiti swims in the deep end of the pool, but his theoretical analyses are very accessible by his use of precise, no-frills language, and colloquial tone with which he addresses readers. In the "Elusive Peace" chapter, he discusses the veil of peace created by the U.S. feigning interest in peace negotiations 1991. The problem however, being that the US never actually made a public, concrete commitment to sit down and work the messy situation out with the participating countries. He sets up well the circular and hidden political agendas of the US, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Israel contributing to the further complicating of the peace process, pushing the chances for permanent peace farther and farther apart. This book provides a fascinating backdrop to examine the political and historical contexts scaffolding stories like Woman at Point Zero, Men in the Sun, and The Day the Leader was Killed.
About the Author: Nawal El Saadawi
Saadawi is a graduate of the University of Cairo, class of 1955. There she earned a degree in psychiatry and held a government position as the Director of Public Health, until 1972, when her controversial Women and Sex was published (Pasquini, 65). She is the author of over thirty books which have been translated into approximately twenty languages. Her most recent work is Love in the Kingdom of Oil (Pasquini, 65). Saadawi consistently speaks out internationally on what she feels is political injustice, including attacks on US foreign policy. She was recently arrested in the summer of 2001,in a campaign by Islamic fundamentalists resistant to her feminist political stance, to force a divorce from her Muslim husband, Dr. Sharif Hattatta, a man who is reported to exhibit great respect for his wife and her devotion to freedom for women. Lawyer Nabih Al Wahsh filed a case that the marriage be dissolved on the grounds that Saadawi indicates an abandonment of the Islamic faith (We!, 8). On July 30, 2001 the Egyptian Court rejected the petition, leading Saadawi down another path of political reform to abolish the "Hisba Law" which allows for "any Muslim to sue other people for promoting beliefs that are deemed harmful to society" (We!, 8). Her "rebellious" writings on "women's oppression in cultural and religious traditions" bring about sharp criticism by many who claim she is "a troublemaker who became famous by siding with Westerners in their prejudices against Arab and Islamic culture" (We!, 8). With Saadawi boldly labeling US military in Afghanistan during the fall of 2001 as "real terrorism," it is hard to take such a criticism seriously.
Nationalism by Male Reformers and Egyptian Women's Movement
Firdaus' world as portrayed by Saadawi in the mid-1970's had its political roots in the hundred years of Egyptian government preceding the story. Palestinian Women of Gaza and the West Bank by Suha Sabbagh contains a brief overview in the book's introduction tracing the male reformers in Egypt and the women's rights movement as it gathered momentum from the 1870's to late 20th century. There are five, fascinating pages where Sabbagh traces the contributions of early, modernist writers around the turn of the century during the "early contact with European culture" and the adoption of the "Western genres" like the novel (20). Postcolonial critic Edward Said speaks frequently in the chapter to the "cultural renaissance in the Arab world" as a result of the changes in Islamic world view by European colonization (20).
The book then raises the question of new, more liberating "ideas about women's roles that began to emerge in Egypt" as Arab women saw Western women being educated as scholars and playing significant political and social roles in Europe. The women's rights movement was, naturally, complicated by the religious mandates of Islam. Male reformers like Qasim Amin who visited France and returned to Egypt with a clear objection against women's reform, believing it was in direct violation of the laws of the Quran, or ordinations by the shariah (21). There were several male reformers during the 1870's interested in "women's emancipation" for Arab women, such as Ahmed El Shidyak and Riffaa El-Tahtawi, two men concerned with modernizing education to include young women (21). One woman author at the time, Kumari Jayawardena, author of Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, "affirms that during this period nearly every aspect of women's emancipation was being discussed, with very little agreement among authors (21).
The mere fact of women daring to challenge existing political laws barring them from participation in public, governmental affairs suggests that, "their consciousness had been transformed" (22). Women were "willing to question traditional values that require exclusion from the political sphere" (22). Sabbagh notes that National Liberation and a Feminist Consciousness were "two, separate struggles taking place simultaneously" (22). Egyptian women, as early as 1919 "demonstrated on the streets of Cairo, chanting nationalist slogans through veils covering their faces" (23). Only three, short years later Egypt "gained its independence" from Britain, and "political activism and street demonstrations in which women participated had led led to the emergence of a political movement that also recognized the rights of women" (23). From this time forward, a number of Egyptian women novelists "rose to prominence through their writings" (23).
Sabbagh mentions several women writers of this period who paved the way for authors like Saadawi to openly publish their work. Malak Hifini Nassif (pen name "Bahissat al-Badiaa" was one early writer to receive an education and was very "vocal in her criticism of the institutions that form a woman's life: polygamy and divorce, denial of education, veiling and seclusion, and denial of the right to work outside of the home" (23). Her program for "compulsory elementary education for women" was approved and put into place in 1911 by the Egyptian Legislative Assembly (23). Two other women authors, May Ziyada and in the West, Huda Shaarawi each participated anticolonialist activities, working to bring Egyptian women's issues to the forefront of political agendas (24).
As Americans living under a long history of democracy, we often condemn and criticize nationalism, perhaps in light of such tragic historical events like Hitler's mass genocide of Jewish people during W.W. II. To nationalism's credit however, is the platform it established for women to "voice their demands for greater equality and to be heard" in their push toward emancipation. Sabbagh concludes the section stating the unfortunate fact that post 1930's the "interest in women's rights began to decline" and "lost its early appeal" among Egyptian women (24).
It is authors like Saadawi whom I would credit with the resurgence of women's rights concerns being brought to Egyptian legislators. Saadawi, as stated in the "about the author" section, is repeatedly criticized and even arrested for her work to abolish laws like the Hisba, permitting Muslims to sue (and in Saadawi's case, call for a forced divorce) anyone who "promotes beliefs deemed harmful to society." Saadawi is labeled a "militant" feminist, though by American definition and tradition, her struggle to keep her marriage and maintain her family life is closer to conservative, family values than stereotypical "liberal feminist" ones. Her situation is one of the best examples of the drastic differences between living in a country like Egypt and one that attempts democracy. Islamic religion and tradition is so deeply embedded in Egyptian law that it regularly spills over into the personal lives of citizens, dissolving any separation of church from state. Saadawi's life is marked with one political battle after another, from the publication of her first book. What is incredible about this author is that she calmly accepts the situation and begins work on changing the laws and traditions responsible for each battle she faces. Her persistent working for the "women's cause," or, in the case of the Hisba law, the cause of any less-fortunate citizen charged with violating it, but would not have the means to push back, has allowed Saadawi an active role in affecting thousands of lives for the better- now, and well beyond her death.