Restricted Patriarchal Society
Salih offers us a ‘novel [that] lies between traditional categories of East and West’ (Makdisi, 1992, p.807). The narrator begins to unravel his story to an audience of men, revealing to the reader the story of Mustafa, and inside these stories are the ones Mustafa used to seduce white women. Isabella Seymour for example; the stories told to her by Mustafa, even though they distinctly echo those told by Othello in the pursuing of Desdemona. They are lies, ‘I related to her fabricated stories about deserts of golden sands, and jungles where non- existent animals called out to one another” (Salih, 2003, p. 45). The novel is compact with intertextual references not only to western literature such as Othello, the Tempest, Richard III, even the workings of Freud and the most apparent Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. It also references to the Quran, pre- Islamic poetry and Arabian Nights.Arguments have spurred around this significant Arabic text as to whether modernity is an overpowering force, which opposes the traditional structure of Islamic society Salih is presenting. This balance or thin line between East and West is mainly seen through the handling of women.
The three initial Englishwomen that Mustafa had encounters with, all perish after they hear his stories of Africa and have slept with him. Mustafa says when discussing Jean Morris, “she entered my room a chaste virgin and, when she left she was carrying the gems of chaste self – destruction” (Salih, 2003, p.35), he goes on to say about Ann Hammond that she ‘spent her childhood … in my bed, I transformed her into a harlot’ (Salih, 2003, p.30). While western culture has its own connotations for sexually promiscuous women such as a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore’. Salih is presenting what succumbing to the pressures of a patriarchal society looks like. While on the one hand we have these tainted portrayals of British women who are barren towards fulfilment and have cheap encounters with men. This is a perception that is reinforced in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight. On the other hand, Salih gives a restricted patriarchal society, where the males play judge and jury. A woman is unable to fight the advancements of men and as a result, is alienated from society. They become black balled to the point they commit suicide because of their suppression.
The subjugation of Sudanese women is seen in the seizure of the narrator’s village. Hosna, the widow to Hosna is beaten and forced into marrying Wad Rayyes. This is primarily down to the fact that her father did not want the embarrassment of a daughter who did not obey his command. The relationship between Hosna and her father is an acknowledgement made by Salih, that the restriction held against women is something that is inherited through cultural customs and beliefs in a Sudanese society. The statement made by Majoub, ‘women belong to men, and a man’s a man even if he’s decrepit’ (Salih, 2003, p.77), is a reflection of how a man in a patriarchal world can endure regardless of the devastation he makes of himself and others. One thing is for certain, Salih’s depiction of men is immersed in a sense of community