“Children of the New World” a Novel by Assia Djebar Essay
Updated: Oct 8th, 2020
Assia Djebar was one of the remarkable female writers of North Africa. The scope of her writing encompassed prose, dramaturgical, and journalistic works. One of the famous novels of this writer is Children of the New World. This book reveals the status of women in Muslim society, which has been a forbidden topic for the majority of Arab writers for decades. The purpose of this paper is to review Djebar’s Children of the New World and discuss the various examples of the emerging female agency in the book.
The novel is devoted to the description of the Algerian War. In particular, the book exhibits the role played by women during the military conflict in the face of nurses, revolutionaries, messengers, and so on. The text also shows a wide social, ethnographic, and historical background in order to fully recreate the traditional way of living in the country (Deb 15). The reader can observe the national specifics of the state and comprehend the complexities of the lives of women at that time. In this reading, the emphasis is made at a recreation of the psychological portrait of a generation that has been able to reach a social breakthrough.
The particular historical circumstances have influenced the birth of the heroines of the novel. Notably, while the country was gaining independence from France, the women of the state were attaining their freedom from the existing social order. Through the disclosure of real human types, the writer showed how women had assisted in the achievement of both independence and social change. The novel was written in 1960 when the war was at its peak.
The book was published in 1962 when the war took the lives of about 300 thousand people, and the struggle for independence had almost ended (Loytomaki 69). Consequently, the chronotope and events in the book realistically reconstruct the circumstances of the war. All the events unfold in the southwest of the country (in a small town Blida). Due to the chosen time and place, the writer skillfully put forward the problems of Algerian women living in the era of independence.
Emerging Female Agency
The images of women in the book are numerous. Each of the heroines has her own background and traits, but all of them are connected by the desire to achieve self-identification and independence (Hiddleston 96). Since the actions take place against the background of the war, every woman was developing in the conditions that the military conflict had offered them. By describing the fate of different women, Djebar had led the heroines to a single goal.
One of the examples how the sense of self evolved in women was Cherifa. She was a militant’s wife (Djebar 11). She learned that the police wanted her husband, and she needed to warn him about it. However, Cherifa had never been outside her house without her husband. The woman had to choose either to save her husband by violating all the existing traditions or to expose him to danger while remaining committed to the customs.
The woman decided to leave the house in the name of saving her husband while risking to lose him in any case. Apart from that, the emerging female agency in her case was also reflected in political engagement. According to the book, “all the violent emotions that had fed her increasingly strained willpower and that had revealed her temperament had pushed her beyond herself” (Djebar 143). By attending a political fight, the woman comprehended the importance of exhibiting her will that empowered her.
One of the heroines in Djebar’s book who both resembles and contrasts with Cherifa is Lila. In particular, she was trying to find emotional balance after the departure of her husband and the death of their child (Djebar 39). Although she did not go into the maquis, the woman gave shelter to her relative who was a rebel. She was arrested for it; nonetheless, she decided to fight the existing order at her individual scale (Djebar 22). Much like Cherifa, Lila would wait for her spouse by bringing change at her locale.
Suzanne was another female character in the story who had undergone a significant transformation on her path to independence and achieved a new level of consciousness. She was a French intellectual who was supportive of other women (Djebar 73). She decided to espouse the anti-colonial movement because she had comprehended its significance. It is important to note that Suzanne was a young French woman who loved the Algerian land and its people.
For this reason, she realized that joining the war for independence would be a manifestation of this love. Thus, the emerging female agency has occurred in different ways depending on the heroine. However, these paths have been intertwined with each other due to the fact that all women strived for reaching a single goal. The main aim of each of the heroines was the formation of women as individuals in the world struggling for justice and independence.
In his book, Fanon also discusses female empowerment. According to him, the approach of the French during the war was to unveil the women of the country. The researcher claimed that the population had resisted this intention strongly (Fanon 167). However, Fanon revealed the way the significance of this process had altered in the course of the war. According to the text, the revolution would drastically change all the individuals participating in it. Despite the fact that the author of Children of the New World described the transformations experienced by women, this narrative did not allow regarding the events in the same light as suggested by Fanon.
Language and Narrative Style
The language and the narrative style of the book are quite remarkable. The author does not simply use the first person to let the characters speak. Djebar tells the story from the side of multiple characters to reveal the setting more comprehensively.
She uses flashbacks and detailed depictions to make the reader share the thoughts and feelings experienced by the main characters (Djebar 23). Each of the heroines is different, and the reader can interpret the setting and the events of the war from the lens of each particular individual. Every person reveals the story from her educational, social, and cultural background. This technique has allowed producing a gendered perspective of the events.
The author had chosen to avail herself of a modernist narrative style to make the tone of the book optimistic but nuanced. On the one hand, it transmitted the message that the oppressed would win the war. On the other hand, the author made the reader speculate about the rights of women who had been suffering from oppression as well (Gunaratne and Jarvis 121). In addition, it had allowed the author to reflect the reality in its pure form through fragmentation of women’s life stories.
Thus, it can be concluded that the book by Djebar is a reflection of the fundamental changes that have taken place in society. This novel reveals the way a sense of self-worth and the need to prove their human worth was awakened in women. Each of the heroines comprehends that she is a person who can make independent decisions. Through this understanding, the heroines resurrect and become freed from the chains of oppression.
Deb, Basuli. Transnational Feminist Perspectives on Terror in Literature and Culture. Routledge, 2014.
Djebar, Assia. Children of the New World: A Novel of the Algerian Nation. Translated by Marjolijn de Jager, Feminist Press, 2005.
Fanon, Frantz. “Algeria Unveiled.” The New Left Reader, edited by Carl Oglesby, Grove Press, 1969, pp. 161-185.
Gunaratne, Anjuli I., and Jill M. Jarvis. “Introduction: Inheriting Assia Djebar.” PMLA, vol. 131, no. 1, 2016, pp. 116-124.
Hiddleston, Jane. Understanding Postcolonialism. Routledge, 2014.
Loytomaki, Stiina. Law and the Politics of Memory: Confronting the Past. Routledge, 2014.
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