Analysis Of Literary Elements In Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman At Point Zero
Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero, tells the harsh story of a woman’s life, Firdaus, as she grows up in Cairo, Egypt. Firdaus’ environment and setting that she grows up in contributes to her oppression of religion, the disillusionment of men, and the struggles that women face in order to survive in society. As revealed in the novel, the majority of Woman at Point Zero is told as a flashback providing a shift in perspective for the protagonist. In Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero, the repetition of the motif of eyes and descriptive passages is used to demonstrate a change in perspective and growth of the protagonist to portray the formation of individualism and identity.
El Saadawi uses the repeating motif of eyes to establish a relationship for Firdaus with other characters. Firdaus frequently assesses people by the immediate feeling she becomes overwhelmed with when she perceives their eyes. When Firdaus was young, the act of female circumcision was performed on her. Although she endured an immense amount of pain, she clung to the remembrance of “Two eyes that alone seemed to hold me up”. The eyes are those of her mother and continued to be described as “two rings of intense white around two circles of intense black”. The descriptive imagery of eyes and repetitive diction of the word “intense” creates the idea that eyes, in general, have a tremendous impact on Firdaus. The metaphor and symbolic connotation of eyes being capable to relieve one’s pain exemplify the connection that Firdaus feels with the majority of the women in her life. Since Firdaus tends to associate the majority of women as a maternal figure, it demonstrates a sign of faith and acceptance in a dishonest world. The motif of eyes also appears when Firdaus encounters Sharifa Salah el Dine. Firdaus is shocked to see “the black pupils in the center of her eyes seemed to have turned green”. The shift in tone by having Sharifa Salah el Dine’s eyes change color expresses the anomalous account of this woman’s eyes. This exemplifies that Sharifa Salah El Dine refuses to follow the custom of a patriarchal society and fall into the oppressed, universal role that woman play. Salah El Dine’s eyes symbolize honesty and change for Firdaus as they represent a role model figure by teaching her how to rise above a patriarchal culture.
As Firdaus becomes exploited by the world around her, eyes start to embody despair and contempt for Firdaus. As Firdaus flees from her Uncle’s house, she sees two eyes, “or rather felt them, moving towards (her) very slowly, closer and closer”. The individual’s eyes had a negative impact on her when “a shudder passed through (her) body, like the fear of death, or like death itself”. The comparison of the stranger’s eyes to the feeling of death illustrates Firdaus’ fear of the male-dominated society as well as her resentment towards the men who take advantage of her. When Firdaus has an arranged marriage with Sheik Mahmoud, she feels that “anything I would have to face in the world had become less frightening than the vision of those two eyes, which sent a cold shiver running through my spine whenever I remembered them”. The frightening tone demonstrates that Firdaus realizes that as she grows up she feels like she can’t trust anyone, especially men. Firdaus now associates eyes as a threat and is left feeling self-conscious and preyed on. The transformation of Firdaus’ perspective portrays her grasp for individuality in an unendingly tyrannical world.
Throughout Woman at Point Zero, Firdaus begins to realize the self-worth and power she has when she becomes a prostitute. Firdaus feels as if “A woman’s life is always miserable. A prostitute, however, is a little better off”. Firdaus explains her new profound dominance by “deciding on the food I wanted to eat, the house I preferred to live in, refuse the man for whom I felt an aversion no matter what the reason, and choose the man I wished to have”. The irony in Firdaus having more control over her life when she becomes a prostitute shows the role that sex plays in the society in which Firdaus lives in. However, she manipulates the act of sex to benefit herself and describes it as when she “saw from the expression in his eyes that he feared me only a master can fear his slave, as only a man can fear a woman”. The simile of comparing a master and his slave to a man and a woman shows a relationship that’s based on dominance and fear. In this case, Firdaus feels more powerful than the men that surround her and use the hierarchy of power to overthrow her ‘master’ and seize the power away from them. Although she does not have much to call her own, she now has a powerful mindset and feels as if “My body at least is mine”. The independence and freedom of choice that Firdaus discovers she has, highlights the sexual pressure from society that she rises above to overcome it.
Nawal El Saadawi also uses the motif of a veil to represent rebirth and the formation of a new identity. As Firdaus progresses in the journey of discovering who she is, she begins to realize the truth of the hypocritical society that surrounds her. When Firdaus speaks to the psychiatrist in her prison cell, she tells her that, “I was the only woman who had torn the mask away, and exposed the face of their ugly reality”. The metaphor of tearing off a mask portrays that she is the most powerful when she dares to seize control of her own life. Firdaus showing her true identity to society demonstrates how she has grown to form her own identity and rely solely on herself in life. When Firdaus begins to receive payment for her prostitution, she begins to have a new opinion on life and truly realize her self worth. By receiving money in exchange for sex, “It was as if he had lifted a veil from my eyes, and I was seeing for the first time”. The repeated motif and metaphor of a veil being lifted from her face exemplifies the idea that Firdaus sees the world from a new perspective as she is growing into a new version of herself. However, as Firdaus progresses in her occupation, she begins to realize that money, in fact, has no power at all. Nothing in Firdaus’ life mattered to her more than the truth. Firdaus begins to associate money with all of the men in her life that have done her wrong. As she’s holding the piastre, “The movement of my hands as I tore the money to pieces, tore off the veil, the last, remaining veil before my eyes, revealed the whole enigma which has puzzled me throughout, the true enigma of my life”. The act of her shredding the money made her feel as if, “It was as though I was destroying all the money I had ever held, my father’s piastre, my uncle’s piastre, all the piastres I had ever known, and at the same time destroying all the men I had ever known”. The simile of Firdaus comparing the destruction of money to the destruction of men underlays the inescapable truth of the hypocritical society of men oppressing women for illicit sex. Firdaus’ realization of the truth allows her to grow as a protagonist and become self-dependent in the unlawful world she grew up in.
Throughout Woman at Point Zero, Firdaus faces struggles and hardships as an oppressed woman growing up in the city of Cairo. Ironically, her time as a prostitute helps her understand what it means to take control of her body and become an independent woman. The repeating motifs used by El Saadwai reveals the artificial society which explicates that the truth causes permanent opinions that can’t be changed. Firdaus’ journey and difficulties over time have allowed her to realize who she truly is and support her growth as a protagonist into a self-reliant individual.
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