Fadia Faqir’s Pillars of Salt
The fictional accounts of women’s experiences in Fadia Faqir’s, Pillars of Salt, illustrate issues articulated by women’s rights activists in the Middle East. Traditional roles of women and men and a mythology of femininity and masculinity are juxtaposed with the disparate realities of the characters. The damaging forces of colonial rule, war, and Westernization are also exposed.
I focused particularly on Pillars of Salt, because it contains very sophisticated juxtapositions of women’s reality and mythological accounts of women. It also demonstrates that issues of gender roles are much more complicated than a hierarchy of cruel, powerful men, bent on tradition who maintain the system and progressive women who are helpless to resist or oppose it. For example, the villains of the narratives, Daffash and Um Saad’s father and husband, represent perversions of traditional masculinity. Daffash the ‘more progressive’ (I use this phrase ironically) male character, does not adhere to his traditional duties to his family, to the extreme detriment of his sister and father. The novel does expose the flaws of a system that conditions women’s happiness and well-being on the idea that the men in her society will act in her interests. Also, many of the female characters trust in and are loyal to ideas that inhibit women’s ability to obtain rights and freedoms.
The Islamically based conception of equality between men and women is “an equivalency of rights and duties so as to ensure complementarity” (Egypt’s reservations to Article 16, which regards marital law, of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). This ideology which appears in most religious doctrines (not only Islam) contends that a man’s natural role is that of protector and provider, while a woman’s is that of a dependent and homemaker. Furthermore, women are often seen as a symbol of cultural preservation and a measure of family honor. In conditions of war and colonial rule, which represents an attack on men’s honor and dignity, attention to women’s roles as prescribed by cultural tradition is often intensified. However, the unusual conditions of war and resistance to colonial rule also may provide openings for women to reconfigure their roles and rights, based on new needs of society.
People are fed dreams, stuffed with dreams the way I used to stuff the hens with grain. Suddenly you discover that what you have been eating all these years is dust and what you have been drinking is just thin air. (p. 223)
In this section of the paper I would like to examine character’s relation to and the ways in which they internalize the mythology of their culture. The book displays many elements of mythology which are quite removed from actual experience and yet become a part of characters’ identity and gain a certain power in their minds. The storyteller’s narrations are an obvious example of a sort of mythology. He...