The Study of Existents in Sandpiper
In a short story like "Sandpiper", where the protagonist does little except move around in her beach-house in an uneventful afternoon, thinking her thoughts, readers must look for an attraction alternative to the plot. Indeed, the writer, Ahdaf Soueif, has chosen to offer to us an interesting array of existents, in place of the story line, as the main focus of this narrative. In the following essay, I shall discuss how existents--the collection of characters and setting--are used to invoke feelings of dispossession and displacement in the story "Sandpiper", which are essential in raising the main issue of the story, which is the question of one's identity.
Having agreed that the event itself, a summer afternoon spent at a beach-house, is rather inconsequential, we go on to deduce that the actions of our characters, since they do not contribute to the plot, are actually reflections of their personality. This is what French structuralist, Tzvetan Todorov proposed as a characteristic of psychological narratives, narratives which place their main focus on the development of their characters (Chatman 114). We can therefore, identify distinctive traits belonging to the characters by observing their actions.
The characters in this narrative are few: namely the protagonist, "I"; her estranged husband (she refers to him as "her lover"); her daughter, Lucy and her husband's old nanny, Um Sabir. Since it is only the protagonist that appears most often and to whom the readers interact directly, I shall focus most of my discussion based on her development . Our protagonist, "I," can be further differentiated into the narrator, I-now and the character, I-then. I-now is the present figure that has come to Alexandria with the rest of her family for a summer holiday and recalling the past in the beach-house. I-then exists in her memories. Not only is there an age difference between I-now and I-then, I-then's frame of mind has changed greatly over the span of her marriage and its degradation to become I-now. Therefore, the process of retrospection, in which I-now recalls the deeds and experiences of I-then, serves as a basis for comparison, highlighting mainly a sense of loss.
In order to enhance the feeling of dispossession, the protagonist herself must have traits that make such a loss possible in the first place and be someone who feels deeply for the loss. Indeed, traits of characters must be aptly depicted to bring out the desired effect of the story. Certain traits predispose people to react in a specific way to a stimulus. We recall I-then's sentiment, as she walked on the beach six-years ago, in the words "I did not want one grain of sand, blown by a breezeI could not feel, to change its course because of me" (Soueif 23). This remark, together with the fact that she now stays alone in her room, instead of joining Lucy (and the rest of the family) outdoors however much she misses her, tells us that our...