On-line version ISSN 2309-9070
Tydskr. letterkd. vol.45 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2008
Naomi Nkealah is a doctoral candidate in the Department of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article sets out to explore the theme of silence and voice in selected short stories by two North African women writers, Alifa Rifaat and Assia Djebar. In their representations of women's lives in Egypt and Algeria, respectively, both Rifaat and Djebar present different strategies employed by women to counter gender oppression. Although the female characters portrayed by both writers encounter diverse, and sometimes opposing, circumstances, they tend to share a common plight - the need to break free from the constricting fetters of patriarchy. A comparative reading of selected stories reveals that Rifaat's characters resort to silence as a means of self-preservation, while Djebar's characters, on the other hand, use techniques ranging from writing to outright protest to show their rejection of gender-based segregation. In spite of this difference in approach, it can be said that both Rifaat and Djebar have made a great contribution to feminist literary creativity in North Africa.
Key words: Alifa Rifaat, Assia Djebar, Islam, women, short story, feminism
Full text available only in PDF format.
1. The term "Arab feminism" is used here to refer to feminist movements in North Africa and the Middle East. While it is used in the singular form for the purpose of convenience, it recognizes that different brands of feminism exist within Arabo-Islamic societies.
2. Different forms of female circumcision are practiced throughout North Africa (see Camillia El-Solh & Judy Mabro (1994: 13). This paper, however, refers specifically to clitoridectomy, which involves the complete removal of the clitoris (see Dorothy Wills 1995: 164).
3. All text quotations are from Alifa Rifaaf s Distant View of a Minaret (1983).
4. The Qur'an states: "And among his signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and he has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are signs for those who reflect" (Sura 30: 21). Commenting on this verse, Abdullah Ali (The Holy Qur'an 1993: 1056) states that there is a special kind of love and tenderness between men and women, which differs in quality from that between men, and that this kind of tenderness may from a certain perspective be likened to mercy, the protecting kindness which the strong should give to the weak.
5. According to Islamic religious teachings, a woman has the right to reject any marriage that is contracted without her consent. In practice, however, this right is suppressed through institutions that force women into silence.
Accad, Evelyne. 1991. Sexuality and Sexual Politics: Conflicts and Contradictions for Contemporary Women in the Middle East. In C. T. Mohanty, A. Russo & L. Torres (eds.). Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 237-250. [ Links ]
Ali, Abdullah (ed.). 1993 . The Holy Qur'an. Durban: Islamic Propagation Centre International.
Alkali, Zaynab. 1988. The Stillborn. Essex: Longman. [ Links ]
Amuta, Chidi. 1989. The Theory of African Literature: Implications for Practical Criticism. London, New Jersey: Zed Books. [ Links ]
Boyce-Davies, Carole & Elaine Fido. 1993. African Women Writers: Toward a Literary History. In O. Owomoyela (ed.). A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press. [ Links ]
Bruner, Charlotte (ed.) 1993. The Heinemann Book of African Women's Writing. Oxford: Heinemann. [ Links ]
Cameron, Deborah. 1990. Introduction: Why is Language a Feminist Issue? In D. Cameron (ed.) The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader. London, New York: Routledge, 1-28. [ Links ]
Cham, Mbye. 1987. Contemporary Society and the Female Imagination: a Study of the Novels of Mariama Bâ. African Literature Today. 15: 89-101. [ Links ]
Coullie, Judith (ed.) 2004. The Closest of Strangers: South African Women's Life Writing. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. [ Links ]
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. 1988. Nervous Conditions. London: The Women's Press. [ Links ]
Djebar, Assia. 1957. La soif. Paris: Julliard. [ Links ]
_____. 1958. Les impatients. Paris: Julliard. [ Links ]
_____. 1985. L'amour, la fantasia. Paris: Jean Claude Lattès. [ Links ]
_____. 1987. Ombre sultane. Paris: Jean Claude Lattès. [ Links ]
_____. 1992a. Forbidden gaze, severed sound. In Women of Algiers in their Apartment . Trans. Marjolijn de Jager. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 133-151. [ Links ]
_____. 1992b. Women of Algiers in their apartment. In Women of Algiers in their Apartment. Trans. Marjolijn de Jager. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 5-52. [ Links ]
_____. 1993a. My father writes to my mother. In C. Bruner (ed.). The Heinemann Book of African Women's Writing. Oxford: Heinemann, 157-161. [ Links ]
_____. 1993b. Three cloistered girls. In C. Bruner (ed.). The Heinemann Book of African Women's Writing. Oxford: Heinemann, 162-165. [ Links ]
_____. 2002. There is no exile. In E. Fallaize (ed.). The Oxford Book of French Short Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 315-325. [ Links ]
Driver, Dorothy. 1988. "Woman" as Sign in the South African Colonial Enterprise. Journal of Literary Studies 4(1): 3-20. [ Links ]
El-Saadawi, Nawal. 1980. The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World. London: Zed Books. [ Links ]
_____. 1983. Woman at Point Zero. Trans. Sherif Hetata. London, New York: Zed Books. [ Links ]
_____. 1985. Two Women in One. Trans. Osman Nusairi & Jana Gough. London: Al Saqi Books. [ Links ]
El-Solh, Camillia & Judy Mabro. 1994. Introduction: Islam and Muslim Women. In C. El-Solh & J. Mabro (eds.). Muslim Women's Choices: Religious Beliefs and Social Reality. Oxford: Berg, 1-32. [ Links ]
Golley, Nawar. 2004. Is Feminism Relevant to Arab Women? Third World Quarterly 25(3): 521-536. [ Links ]
Hiddleston, Jane. 2004. Feminism and the Question of "Woman" in Assia Djebar's Vaste est la Prison. Research in African Literatures 35(4): 91-104. [ Links ]
Johnson-Davies, Denys. 1983. Translator's Foreword. In Distant View of a Minaret. London: Heinemann, vii-ix. [ Links ]
Keddie, Nikki. 1991. Introduction: Deciphering Middle Eastern Women's History. In N. Keddie & B. Baron (eds.). Women in Middle Eastern History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1-21. [ Links ]
Lemsine, Aïcha. 1976. La chrysalide. Paris: Des Femmes. [ Links ]
_____. 1978. Ciel de porphyre. Paris: Jean-Claude Simeon. [ Links ]
Lockett, Cecily. 1989. Feminism(s) and Writing in the South African Context. Unpublished Paper: AUETSA Conference, South Africa. [ Links ]
Machera, Mumbi. 2004. Opening a Can of Worms: a Debate on Female Sexuality in the Lecture Theatre. In S. Arnfred, S. Re-thinking Sexualities in Africa. Uppsala: The Nordic Africa Institute, 157-169. [ Links ]
Malti-Douglas, Fedwa. 1995. Men, Women, and God(s): Nawal El Saadawi and Arab Feminist Poetics. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. [ Links ]
Manzalaoui, Mahmoud (ed.). 1985. Arabic Short Stories. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press. [ Links ]
Mayer, Ann. 1990. Current Muslim Thinking on Human Rights. In A. An-Naim & F. Deng (eds.). Human Rights in Africa: Cross-cultural Perspectives. Washington D.C: The Brookings Institution. [ Links ]
Merini, Rafiki. 1999. Two Major Francophone Women Writers, Assia Djebar and Leila Sebbar: a Thematic Study of their Works. New York: Peter Lang. [ Links ]
Mernissi, Fatima. 1987. Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. [ Links ]
Moghadam, Valentine. 1993. Modernizing Women: Gender & Social Change in the Middle East. Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner. [ Links ]
Mohanty, Chandra. 1991. Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. In C. Mohanty, A. Russo & L. Torres (eds.). Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1-47. [ Links ]
Mortimer, Mildred. 1990. Journeys through the French African Novel. London: James Currey. [ Links ]
_____. 1997. Assia Djebar's Algerian Quartet: a Study in Fragmented Autobiography. Research in African Literatures 27(3): 102-117. [ Links ]
Nagy-Zekmi, Silvia. 2002. Tradition and Transgression in the Novels of Assia Djebar and Aïcha Lemsine. Research in African Literatures 33(3-4): 1-13. [ Links ]
Rifaat, Alifa. 1983. Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. London: Heinemann. [ Links ]
_____. 1990. Who will be the Man? In M. Badran & M. Cooke (eds.). Opening the Gates: a Century of Arab Feminist Writing. London: Virago Press. [ Links ]
Shaikh, Sa'diyya. 2003. Transforming Feminisms: Islam, Women, and Gender Justice. In O. Safi (ed.). Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism. Oxford: Oneworld, 147-162. [ Links ]
Wills, Dorothy. 1995. Economic Violence in Postcolonial Senegal: Noisy Silence in Novels by Mariama Bâ and Aminata Sow Fall. In D. Lashgari (ed.). Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women's Writing as Transgression. Charlottesville, London: University Press of Virginia, 158-171. [ Links ]