Woman at Point Zero


Woman at Point Zero: Oppression of Women

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

In many patriarchal societies, women find it difficult to unchain themselves from the control and power of men. Women are oppressed in order to serve men and prolong the existence of patriarchal command. This makes it difficult for women to be able to find release from a society that endorses this lifestyle. In the 1950s, Egyptian culture believed that a woman was expected to bear children, especially sons. They are viewed to be homemakers and care for their husbands. It was a practice to pull females from school as they reached puberty to minimize interactions with males as men preferred to marry a woman who was viewed as pure from other men. Nawal El Saadawi illustrated this culture in her book Woman at Point Zero. The story follows Firdaus, a woman that struggled throughout her life with consistent oppression from many men including family members and complete strangers. The oppression of Firdaus is demonstrated through situations of child marriage, physical abuse, and rape that is accepted by the Muslim culture of that time.

Female oppression begins early in life where family members choose a husband for their daughter at a young age. Women in a Muslim society do not choose their own husbands and are arranged one by their family. “This practice enables the girl’s family to get rid of her because she is regarded as an unnecessary liability” (Fwangyil). Firdaus was forced to marry Sheikh Mahmoud who was much older than her because her uncle’s wife no longer found it important to have her in their household. The dowry also benefits the family of the bride so they usually try to find a husband that can give them a large sum. Firdaus did not love Sheikh Mahmoud nor did she find him attractive. This is shown by her description of her husband, “When the hole dried up, I let him kiss me… but on days that it was not dry I would turn my lips and face away to avoid the odour of dead dogs which emanated from it” (El Saadawi 57). Even though she tries leaving, she finds that there may not be a safe place for her outside of Sheikh Mahmoud’s home, so she returns. She later suffers from many instances of physical abuse.

In Egyptian Islamic culture, it was taught that physical abuse was normal as girls watched their mothers get beaten. Then as they matured and had husbands themselves, they were also beaten. As Firdaus grew up, she routinely watched her mother get beaten but mostly when her male siblings had passed. Later when she was older, she states, “But my uncle told me that all husbands beat their wives, and my uncle’s wife added that her husband often beat her. I said my uncle was a respected Sheikh, well versed in the teachings of religion, and he, therefore could not possibly be in the habit of beating his wife. She replied that it was precisely men well versed in their religion that beat their wives” (El Saadawi 59). This indicates that the Islamic religion in Egypt allows the action of beating their wives. It was often normalized by Muslims, as in the Quran it states that when women are disloyal or show ill-conduct, men can strike them as it is allowed by Allah. Women were taught to be submissive and dutiful without question. Firdaus withstands physical abuse from her husband but also other male figures throughout her life such as Bayoumi, Marzouk, and many other men that she crossed throughout her time as a prostitute and a female official in a company. Physical abuse was not the only type of abuse that she withstood but also rape.

Due to the Islamic view that women are servants of men, many men took their power and abused it to rape women. Firdaus first experienced sexual manipulation at a young age with her uncle after her parents passed. Right after Firdaus received her primary school certificate, he touched her and kissed her sensually. Once living with Sheikh Mahmoud, she is continually raped as a wife is meant to serve her husband. Later, after she leaves her husband after an awful beating, she met Bayoumi who took her in and seemed like he truly wanted to help her. But, when Firdaus wanted to use her education for work, Bayoumi locked her into his apartment where he then repeatedly raped her. He even allowed his friend to come in to use Firdaus. Gloria Ada Fwangyil, a faculty of arts member of the University of Jos, Nigeria, agrees that “Sheikh Mahmoud and Bayoumi molest Firdaus because culture demands that she submits to male authority (Fwangyil). Firdaus later employs herself as a prostitute as she finds this is the only way she can use what she has to take advantage of men to overcome the oppression.

The oppression of Firdaus is due to the beliefs and values of the Muslim culture. This culture makes it difficult for women to escape this oppression as it is engrained in their religious beliefs that are found in the Quran. Therefore, Firdaus uses her agency at the end of her story to continue with her death sentence so she can finally be free of the constant abuse from men that she fought her entire life to accomplish. Even though Woman at Point Zero was illustrated in an earlier Egypt patriarchal society, there are many instances in other cultures and religions that mistreat women. It has been brought forward to educate readers on the detrimental effects that the oppression of women brings to other societies.

Works Cited

  • Fwangyil, GA. “Cradle to Grave: an Analysis of Female Oppression in Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero.” Afrrev Laligens: An International Journal of Language, Literature and Gender Studies, https://www.ajol.info/index.php/laligens/article/view/106500.
  • Saadawi, Nawal El. Woman at Point Zero. Zed Books, 2015.
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Women Vs. Men in Egyptian Society (based on Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero)

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi one of the major themes is the role of women vs. men in society, namely in Egyptian society. The power, honor, and respectability women and men possess based on their gender is often examined. El Saadawi further inspects gender and exposes the differences and similarities between specific types of men and women. She compares and contrasts women who are prostitutes, wives, and slaves. She also correlates three types of men: pimps, husbands, and masters. Her thoughts about gender roles and power are illustrated through the main character, Firdaus. Firdaus is a strong, independent woman who goes from a poor child to a powerful prostitute to a prisoner. Throughout her journey, she meets many different kinds of people and is herself many different people. She experiences having no power and experiences having the power she thinks she has being shattered by others, especially men. Regardless of her appearance, occupation, or social statues, there is always a man with more power than her that steers her fate. Men in Cairo constantly assert their power over women, while some women allow this to be their fate and other women like Firdaus fight them for it. In Woman at Point Zero, through flashbacks and conflict Nawal el Saadawi demonstrates the constant power struggle that all types of women, prostitutes, slaves, and wives face against all men.

Primarily, Nawal el Saadawi uses flashbacks to reveal the differences between women who are prostitutes, wives, and slaves. “Now I realize that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute that marriage was a system built on the cruelest suffering for women” (Saadawi 94) says Firdaus while telling her life story. At this point in the novel, Firdaus has lived as a wife, a working office woman, and a prostitute. Firdaus thinks married woman are delusional because they live a life of mental, physical, and emotional abuse in order to fulfill their “duty” of being a good wife. While being a wife, Firdaus received some of her worse abuse at the hand of her husband. A prostitute, however, can chose when to give her body up, is not bound to a man for life, and can support herself. Firdaus describes a prostitute as the following, “She is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it. She experiences the rare pleasure of having no ties with any one, …of being completely independent…, of enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage, or to love” (Saadawi 95). The ties of oppression that a wife in a society such as Cairo’s is very similar to that of a slave; she does chores, is beaten, must obey her master, and does not have the freedom of choice. A prostitute, however, is free to live independently and as freely as she wants.

Additionally in Woman at Point Zero, men are repeatedly referred to as a whole or as one. Due to Firdaus’ many negative experiences with men, she often comes to the conclusion that all men are the same, regardless of their status. “All women are victims of deception. Men impose deception on women and punish them for being deceived, force them down to the lowest level and punish them for falling so low, bind them in marriage and then chastise them with menial service for life, or insults, or blows” (Saadawi 94) says Firdaus. This quotation is significant because all women, prostitutes, wives, or slaves are deceived by men, pimps, husbands, or masters. A pimp deceives a woman into believing he cares and is protecting her in order to make a profit off of her body. A husband deceives a wife into believing that without him she cannot survive. A master deceives a woman into believing the she is worthless and no one else will want her. All these men are similar in that they hold power and use deception over women in order to control them. Can you give examples of these found in the novel? The gender roles exposed in Woman at Point Zero are extremely important to Egyptian society. “Yet not for a single moment did I have any doubts about my own integrity and honour as a woman. I knew that my profession had been invented by men, and that men were in control of both our worlds, the one on earth, and the one in heaven” (Saadawi 99). Men represent the people who are in control, they lie, they are corrupt, and always come out on top because of their strong power over women. Throughout Firdaus life was controlled, exploited, and abused first by her father and Bayoumi who acted more as masters, then by her husband, Sheik Mahmoud, and finally by Marzouk who was her pimp. These men, all who did not have much power in society still were able to hold power over Firdaus which caused her to be defiant and eventually led to her becoming a murderer.

Furthermore, El Saadawi describes wives and slaves to represent the powerless in Cairo who are submissive and allow themselves to be controlled. While prostitutes represent those without power who are defiant and reject their lack of power. Firdaus claims “All women are prostitutes of one kind or another. Because I was intelligent I preferred to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife” (Saadawi 94) . Because of the social norms in Cairo, all women regardless of their status, are subject to giving her up for sex; however, a Firdaus who choses to be a prostitute has control over herself, can refuse men, and set her own price, while an enslaved wife takes her beating laying down. Can you find textual evidence of this? The prostitute is the person with strong will who refuses to be controlled; she is the person who not only demands power and to have a voice, but who will take power and be heard by any means necessary. “A woman’s life is always miserable. A prostitute, however, is a little better off. I was able to convince myself that I had chosen this life of my own free will” (Saadawi 97). Regardless of the little power that Firdaus holds as a prostitute, she is still able to recognize that her flaw of being a woman will always be a barrier and a root of pain and misery. Still Firdaus tried to convince herself that being free as a prostitute was better than being a voiceless wife or slave.

Overall in Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, gender is revealed to be a main source or the cause of a lack of power in the Egyptian society. Being born a woman comes with a life of suffering, oppression, and abuse. Some women like Firdaus are defiant and reject the traditional roles of women by becoming prostitutes and not a silent enslaved wife. Prostitute, wife, or slave, women and Cairo are still often at the mercy of men. Men lie and deceive them, they use their power in order to control women and they usually come out on top. Women like Firdaus are fighters and demand the power and respect that they deserve. They will do whatever is necessary takes to get what they want even if fighting comes with the ultimate price, their lives. Some redundant claims that lack supporting evidence and analysis. You do not identify many literary strategies.

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Illusions of Respect: Tone and Techniques in Woman at Point Zero

July 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero portrays a cruel, patriarchal society and focuses on a neglected, pain-stricken prostitute who escapes a childhood full of submission to discover power in prostitution. Throughout her entire life, Firdaus is torn between possessing power and earning the respect of her society. At one point, she is so intent on becoming respectable that she trades prostitution for a typical office job. However, after only three years, she returns to being a prostitute, prioritizing power over respect. Saadawi depicts an inverse relationship between power and respect in order to comment on gender inequities in Egyptian society.

Saadawi utilizes tone in order to illustrate the power Firdaus gains when defying social norms. After leaving her unsatisfying office job, Firdaus believes “she is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it. She experiences the rare pleasure….of being completely independent….[and] enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man” (95). Saadawi includes “free,” “pleasure,” and “independent,” to represent the liberation she has been striving for her entire life. By using an exceptionally confident tone, Saadawi exhibits the power that Firdaus now possesses to obtain her desires. Similarly, the tone used to portray herself after leaving the office job contrasts greatly with the embedded, self-descriptive tone at the beginning of her employment. Firdaus originally obtains this socially-acceptable job in order to gain respect, but ironically is described by a male superior as a “poor, miserable employee, unworthy of esteem” (81). This man’s supercilious tone is evident as he obscenely describes Firdaus while subjectively implying that his self-image and lifestyle is superior to hers. In this position, “[Firdaus’] body was….hemmed in by other bodies in the bus, [and was] a prey to male organs pressing up against it from in front and behind” (81). By comparing herself to a prey, Firdaus is recognizing her submission and more importantly, her lack of power. Conventionally, one is thought to have more power in an office job than in prostitution, but Saadawi destroys this faulty presumption by displaying contrasting tones in different stages of Firdaus’ career.

Additionally, Saadawi uses an aloof tone to establish Firdaus’ growing respect resulting from a lack of effort put into her job. Not only does Firdaus stop searching for acceptance in the workplace, she loses the determination she had when she was so desperate for respect. Satirically, “the word went round that [she] was an honorable woman….in fact the most honorable, and the most highly considered of all the female officials in the company” (83). The phrase “in fact” particularly conveys a nonplussed and slightly sarcastic tone that Saadawi uses to illustrate her lack of self-empowerment. By losing this power in herself, she gains respect from her colleagues, thus demonstrating the inverse relationship between power and respect. On top of Firdaus’ newly defined honor, “It was also said that not a single high-ranking official had been able to make me bow my head” (83). Once again, the standoffish tone conveys the lack of devotion Firdaus has to receiving and maintaining her honor. More importantly, by including the phrase “it was said,” Saadawi conveys the detachment and indifference Firdaus has towards this respect received from her colleagues. This detachment can be translated into a lack of power in herself, which ironically results in an augmentation of respect. Overall, Saadawi’s usage of an haughty tone following gained respect shows the inverse relationship between power and respect.

Along with distinct tones, Saadawi uses oxymoron and paradox to comment on the inequities in Egyptian society. Traditionally, a wife is seen as superior to a prostitute. However, after leaving her job, Firdaus considers herself to be “a very successful prostitute” (97). This phrase is oxymoronic because a prostitute is seen as the least desirable job. Success is defined as achieving wealth, fame, or respect. None of these qualities are ever associated with prostitution, yet Firdaus dares to consider herself successful. To attach a highly desirable characteristic to a dire job is paradoxical. Furthermore, Firdaus prefers “to be a free prostitute, rather than an enslaved wife” (99). This oxymoron redefines the socially-accepted definition of freedom, because society assumes that a prostitute is bound to her job, and unable to escape the endless cycle of manipulative men and involuntary actions. As Firdaus considers herself “free,” she is commenting on the inequities in Egyptian society. In addition, Firdaus claims that “the more respectable the profession, the higher the salary, and a person’s price goes up as he climbs the social ladder” (99). As a prostitute, Firdaus charges the highest price for her body, and lives a life full of wealth and prosperity. By saying “a person’s price goes up as he climbs the social ladder,” it can be inferred that Firdaus considers herself to be at the top of Cairo’s social ladder, which is a paradox. Society perceives those at the top of the social ladder to be successful, and more importantly, respected. By placing prostitutes, whom society equates with the Untouchables, at the top of the social ladder, Saadawi is illustrating the different perceptions of success and respect, thus criticizing the profound inequities in Egyptian society.

Saadawi uses metaphors, along with contradiction, to reveal the the prevalence of the inverse relationship between power and respect in the workplace. While Firdaus was still in the corporate world, “the building….had two doors: one for the more important higher level employees which remained unguarded, and another for the lesser officials which was guarded by one of the employees, very much like some kind of a doorkeeper” (80). The distinction of these two doors serves as a metaphor to show the unmistakable differences between high- and low-level employees, and further in high- and low-class members of society. A superior employee is portrayed to be respected and powerful simultaneously; yet this concept is spurious. When top executives would approach Firdaus, she “had no wish to humiliate [her] body at a low price” (82). By specifically using the word “humiliate,” a bold, audacious tone is created, displaying a compelling respect for herself. This tone contrasts with the other female employees “who were guileless enough to offer their bodies and their physical efforts every night….just to ensure that they would not be treated unfairly” (82). Describing these other employees as guileless further emphasizes the poor connotations associated with the word, and manipulates the women’s innocence into naiveness. Also, by including the word “just” it is evident that the assurance of their job is not worthy of their “physical efforts.” By offering their bodies at such a low price, they are losing any power that they previously had in themselves. However, this is necessary to gain an austere amount of respect from superior officials. This inverse relationship between power and respect is illustrated by Saadawi’s explicit use of metaphors.

Saadawi’s strategic use of various literary techniques depicts the inverse relationship between power and respect, while simultaneously commenting on the inequities in Egyptian society. Saadawi uses tone, oxymorons, paradoxes, and metaphors to display the illusion and different perceptions of the importance of power and respect. In the end, Firdaus prioritizes the power that she finds in prostitution, and subsequently gains self-respect.

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Prostitution as a Source of Power and Independence

May 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

In her essay “From the Women’s Prison: Third World Women’s Narratives of Prison,” Barbara Harlow argues that the solidarity that transcends race, gender, class, and other social categories is a vital component in the fight against oppressive forces. She also claims that Firdaus’s affiliation with the psychiatrist in Nawal El Saadawi’s novel Woman at Point Zero ultimately allows Firdaus to share her story and become part of the collective struggle against “the authoritarian political structures and patriarchal hierarchies of Egyptian society” (Harlow, 512). However, throughout the novel, Firdaus continually turns to prostitution as a way of life, and it’s her decision to become a prostitute that poses the question as to whether or not Firdaus can truly defy the social order of her society. For example, Harlow argues that Firdaus objectifies her body and sells it in a way that places her in a role subordinate to men. On the contrary, one may argue that as a prostitute, Firdaus gains more power and independence than other women in her society. Ultimately, Firdaus does obtain some degree of power and independence by proving to herself that she “owns” her own body and that she is the one who determines her own destiny. Therefore, Woman at Point Zero challenges “the social order which has assigned women to a subordinate position under the control of her male partners” (Harlow, 512) in that Firdaus controls the ways in which she utilizes her body as a prostitute to gain power and independence.The first time Firdaus becomes aware of her own power is when Sharifa introduces her to prostitution. Sharifa is the one who, through the skillful application of cosmetics, helps Firdaus to see her inner beauty and strength. Firdaus claims that Sharifa opens her eyes to unseen features of her face and body, making her more aware and understanding of them. And it’s with Sharifa’s help that Firdaus discovers that she has “black eyes with a sparkle that attract other eyes like a magnet” (Saadawi, 58). Beauty for Firdaus is one way she is able control her own body. For example, a man does not determine how Firdaus’s hair will be styled, what clothes she will wear, or how her make-up will be applied. Rather, it’s Firdaus herself who determines her appearance. Therefore, Firdaus uses her beauty as a way to lure and tease the men in her society. And while staying with Sharifa, Firdaus learns that she is the one who determines her own value. Instead of seeing her nose as big and round, Firdaus begins to see it with the “fullness of a strong passion that can turn to lust” (Saadawi, 58). She begins to embrace her appearance, which in return, raises her self-confidence, something she once lacked in childhood. By embracing her beauty and increasing her self-confidence, Firdaus is able to gain power and control, thus challenging the claim that men are in control of women. Although Firdaus learns to appreciate her beauty under the guidance of Sharifa, Firdaus decides to leave because she realizes that she needs to make her own money if she wants to obtain her own power and independence. And it’s not long after leaving Sharifa that Firdaus sleeps with a man who gives her a ten-pound note. This is the first time that Firdaus realizes that in order to obtain power, independence, and respect, she must acquire a lot of money. When Firdaus goes to the restaurant and gives the waiter the ten-pound note, she is treated with respect, and she realizes it’s the first time in her life that she eats “without being watched by two eyes gazing into [her] plate to see how much food [she] took” (Saadawi, 71). The waiter even bows over the table with a movement of “respectful humility” (Saadawi, 71) as he collects Firdaus’s money. This shows Firdaus’s control over him, which in return gives her a feeling of power and superiority that she has never felt before. The encounter with the waiter also helps Firdaus to understand how she can utilize her body in such a way that will allow her to acquire enough money to live independently. Firdaus’s apparent control also supports the claim that Woman at Point Zero challenges the social order that traditionally places men above women.After leaving the restaurant, Firdaus begins to believe in herself: she ceases to bend her head down or to look away. Instead, she walks the streets with her head held high and her eyes looking straight ahead. She even exclaims, “My footsteps struck the ground with force, with a new elation” (Saadawi, 73). As men pass her on the streets, Firdaus utilizes her control by declining the men’s invitations. She repeatedly mutters no, which puzzles them. One such male persistently asks Firdaus, “Well, why not?” and Firdaus confidently responds: “Because there are plenty of men and I want to choose with whom to go” (Saadawi, 73). As an independent prostitute, Firdaus begins to choose which men she will and will not sleep with. She also decides on the food she eats and the house she lives in. Because of this, Firdaus begins to believe in her own independence. In prostitution, Firdaus’s body becomes her own, to do with as she wishes. Firdaus even has free time to go to the movies and read books. She utilizes her free will, which once again challenges the statement that men are in control of women.Despite Firdaus’s accomplishments as an independent prostitute, her power is challenged when her friend Di’aa declares that Firdaus is not a “respectable woman” (Saadawi, 76). However, because Firdaus is so determined to be a respectable woman, she decides to look for work in an office instead of the streets. Firdaus gets a job but then she realizes that the men at the office think they can take advantage of her by raising her salary. Firdaus despises them for thinking such a thing, saying “the price of my body is much higher than the price that can be paid for it with a pay rise” (Saadawi, 81). She believes that as a prostitute she had been looked upon with much more respect and been valued higher than all of the female employees. Firdaus claims that she “feels sorry for the other girls who are guileless enough to offer their bodies and physical efforts every night in return for a meal, or a good yearly report” (Saadawi, 82). Unlike these women, Firdaus doesn’t let the men break her pride. For example, none of the officials are able to make Firdaus bow her head or lower her eyes to the ground. Although Firdaus is able to remain in control as an office worker, she decides that prostitution might be a surer path to dignity and self-determination than the “respectable” life of an office assistant.Upon quitting her job, Firdaus returns to the life of an independent prostitute, where she continues to challenge the social order by acquiring even more power than she had before. She is soon paid the highest price, becoming so successful that she obtains the power to employ any servant to wash her clothes or clean her shoes. Firdaus even donates money to a charity and gets her picture printed in the newspaper, which says that she is a “citizen with a sense of civic responsibility” (Saadawi, 100). By utilizing her body as a prostitute again, Firdaus convinces herself that she has chosen prostitution with her own free will. She claims, “my insistence on remaining a prostitute proved to me this was my choice and that I had some freedom, at least the freedom to live in a situation better than that of other women” (Saadawi, 97). Firdaus further believes that having to be a wife is much worse than being a prostitute, for marriage in Firdaus’s eyes is the “cruelest suffering for women” (Saadawi, 96). As a wife, Firdaus had to passively watch her husband make choices, beat her incessantly, and force her to have sex with him. But as a prostitute, she is free to do what she wants. Firdaus experiences the rare pleasure of being “completely independent, of enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage, or to love; of being divorced from all limitations” (Saadawi, 95). This power and independence that Firdaus achieves proves that the novel challenges the social order that places women in a subordinate position.As mentioned above, Firdaus prefers prostitution to marriage as a way of life, for as a successful prostitute she is independent and self-supporting, free to choose the men with whom she will associate. Firdaus therefore utilizes her body as a prostitute to gain power and independence. And it’s this power and success that gives Firdaus the confidence to defy the social code and murder the pimp. Even though Firdaus is condemned to prison to die, she becomes part of a collective struggle against oppression when she agrees to share her story with El Saadawi. Ultimately, “Firdaus’s personal story ends with her execution, but the narrative of her life becomes part of a historical agenda” (Harlow, 512). In the end, it’s clear that Woman at Point Zero challenges the social code that places women in a position subordinate to men.

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The Symbolic Significance of Eyes

February 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

In a society where women are made to be invisible, the ability to see and be seen is exceptionally impactful. Eyes serve as the ultimate testament to experiences and as a vital means of social commentary in a particularly misogynistic culture. Firdaus emphasizes eyes to reveal the emotional depth they hold, indicate the significance of relationships within her life, and stress the gender disparity she experiences throughout her life. The imagery of eyes is developed throughout the novel from a symbol of comfort to a statement of possession and dominance. Nawal El Saadawi utilizes eyes as a symbol of the forms of captivity present in Firdaus’ life in Woman at Point Zero.

Originally, eyes serve as a symbol for the comfort and security that Firdaus’ mother provides for her. The attention and affection one receives from a mother cannot be replaced, however it is this genuine connection that Firdaus so desperately yearns for for the entirety of her life. Firdaus’ reliance on her mother is strongly enforced by her need for a female role model in a society influenced purely by men, and eventually she learns to overcome the barriers even her mother could not surpass. Firdaus’ dependence of this relationship is evident as she describes the “two eyes to which [she] clung to with all [her] might… two eyes that alone seemed to hold [her] up” (17). However, what was once a symbol of validation becomes a constant reminder of her vulnerability, a by-product of her attempts to prove her worth and find acceptance. The first time Firdaus experiences rejection in this form is by her step-mother, and a crucial indication of this is within her imagery of her eyes, stating that “they were not two rings of pure white surrounding two circles of intense black… no light seemed ever to touch the eyes of this woman” (17). This imagery initially compares her eyes to her mother’s, and then emphasizes the difference in their emotional connotations, indicating darkness and fear. Because of the new intimations that become associated with eyes after this point, this significance of this symbol is no longer straightforward and simple. Eyes progressed passed plainly being an indication of trust or strength, and the symbol became complex by providing a dynamic representation of her relationships. From this point on, the complexity of eyes causes internal turmoil within Firdaus as she continues to seek the comfort and acceptance that is redolent of her past. However, her attempts to assert her personal value are constantly overshadowed by the fact that she is a victim of a fiercely patriarchal society that refuses to acknowledge her merit.

The evident eye imagery throughout Firdaus’ youth illuminates her search for comfort and acceptance, and becomes addressed particularly in an interaction with her teacher, Miss Iqbal. She intervenes with Firdaus’ pensive state of mind, prompting her to comment “I could see her eyes looking at me… despite the darkness…they were after me…holding on to me… refusing to let me go” immediately providing warmth and concern (28). Miss Iqbal’s motherly nature makes her easily comparable to Firdaus’ mother, and the parallelism between the two characters becomes undeniable once she is described as having the same “two rings of pure white, surrounding two circles of intense black” in her eyes (29). Her desperation for this motherly comfort is noted as she describes how “[her] fingers held on to her hand with such violence that no force on earth, no matter how great, could tear it away from [her]” (30). However, this seemingly unbreakable bond proves to be in vain, as Miss Iqbal fails to acknowledge the interaction furthermore. This abandonment causes the feeling of solace Firdaus once found in the eyes of another to become that of uneasiness and possession. The initial development in this symbolism becomes apparent when Firdaus is picturing Miss Iqbal’s eyes and “opened [her] eyes wide in panic as if threatened with blindness,” signifying how this symbol henceforth becomes haunting and despairing. The pattern that is established by the symbolic use of eyesemphasizes her tendency to rekindle a long lost memory that inevitably leads to loss.

Despite these newly developed nuances Firdaus begins to associate with eyes, she continues to cling to the remnants of a warmer past once linked to the symbol. Because the basic human right of acceptance has been denied throughout her entire lifetime, her desire for it only becomes more intense and evident within each of her interactions. Still seeking comfort in the eyes of others, she begins a new relationship with a man named Ibrahim. As she falls in love with him, she describes his eyes with the repetitive imagery of black and white rings, signifying the intensity of the relationship. However, this relationship follows the path of each before it, and turns into one of deceit and abandonment. Firdaus learns of Ibrahim’s impending marriage to another woman, and in her grief, she describes her natural tendency to yearn for acceptance and love by stating: “I wanted nothing, nothing at all, except perhaps one thing. To be saved through love from it all… To become a human being who was not looked upon with scorn, or despised, but respected, and cherished and made to feel whole” (94). This self-realization is essential to the character development of Firdaus, because as she finally acknowledges her own vulnerabilities, she can become stronger and more independent. Soon after this, Firdaus continues her revelations, understanding the truth of the discrimination and disparity in society. The parallelism drawn between Ibrahim and Miss Iqbal is uncanny, both including nearly identical scenes of Firdaus awakening from a frightened dreamlike state while imagining the eyes, then engaging in a conversation with a friend, stating both times that the love between Firdaus and the other is impossible. The blatant similarity between the two situations serves to equate the two, while also subtly emphasizing the difference in Firdaus’ reaction to each doomed relationship. She suffered after coming to realize that she would never again see Miss Iqbal, and though she did the same at the end of her relationship with Ibrahim, she finally used the experience to gain virtue and move forward with her life. This becomes clear when she notes how the greatest achievement is “being completely independent” and “enjoying freedom from any subjection to a man, to marriage or to love” (95). From this point on, she realized the atrocities that result from men, the uselessness of love, and the importance of independence. Losing her love with Ibrahim led to her finally grasping self-love and asserting her feminism, and accordingly, she never again mentions eyes as a symbol.

Throughout Woman at Point Zero, Firdaus has difficulty discerning the forms of captivity that are developed through the symbolism of eyes. She relishes the safety and comfort that can result from captivity out of love, because her desperate need for acceptance and affection cannot be fulfilled. Yet without fail, this captivity becomes one of fear, and Firdaus fully experiences the trauma of rejection and abandonment. Though eyes are symbolically utilized with both positive and negative connotations, ultimately, they represent others’ perceptions, something Firdaus learns to dismiss, after an incessant series of disappointment and loss.

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