In a novel full of redemption, El Saadawi’s “Woman at Point Zero” is abundant in motifs such as eyes, books, and money as a way to show Firdaus’ journey toward liberation to a great extent, by recognizing soul relationships with characters in the novel who keep her alive during the trials and tribulations that include male dominance and loss of self dignity.
Firdaus is the main character of this story, and it opens up with her being a prisoner at a jail, where she is visited by a journalist who wishes to interview her. All attempts to do so were initially denied, but after enough time to think, Firdaus spends her last day alive before her death sentence, telling this journalist who she is and what she has been through that made her end up in the penitentiary. As she tells her story, she breaks down her childhood and how it was not a enjoyable one due to how she was left unnoticed, yet used by almost her whole family for their personal pleasure.
Once she had grown old enough she let herself go to become a prostitute, to which she learns all about male domination and how she must rebuke it in order to continue to thrive on her own without the help of the opposite sex. The author tells this story from a personal standpoint, which further helps to show the importance of relation between the author and the text in terms of experiences and textual purpose. The significance behind this question is the idea of how certain elements and concepts that come up along the way, help to lead up to a double meaning behind ordinary situations that hold larger explanations behind them. These ideas ultimately help to bring purpose and reasoning towards the inner struggles the main character feels that lead up to her breakthrough.
In order to thoroughly map out how the road of redemption came to be for the main character, it is important to notice the certain motifs that come up within the text to show these gradual steps. The first one motif that one will come across within the text is the idea of a set of eyes. When it comes down to how the image of eyes play a role within this novel, they are the definition of what to look out for in someone in order to figure out their identity. In this case they are the open doors into someone’s soul. By looking into someone’s eyes, Firdaus can determine whether or not this person is genuine and or faithful in terms of their morals and or belief systems.
If one does not possess any gleam of radiance within their eyes, she automatically disregards them as being anything less than special due to their lack of compassion and or glow in the way they hold themselves. The first text example that helps to prove the significance of this motif is when it states, “No light seemed to touch the eyes of this woman, even when the day was radiant and the Sun at its very brightest”.(El Saadawi,1975, p. #17). Based on this text example, one see that Firdaus pays close attention to tiny details when observing someone’s facial features. She does so in order to quickly construe what type of person she is interacting with. When it comes to the certain people that she finds herself associating with throughout the novel, she takes social relationships very seriously.
The only person that she ever knew to possess such a “glow” within their eyes was her own mother, at least who she believed to be her mother. A text example that helps to show insight of what type of person Firdaus’ mother was, is when it states, “My mother was no longer there, but instead there was another woman who hit me on my hand and took the mug away from me. My father told me she was my mother. In fact, she looked exactly like my mother, the same long garments, the same face, and the same way of moving, but when I used to look into her eyes I can feel she was not my mother. They were not the eyes that held me up each time I was on the point of falling.
” (p. 17). Based on this text example, Firdaus has obtained the ability to recognize genuine identity just by looking into one’s eyes for clarity. Although her father had lied to her in terms of who her true mother was, it did not stop her from being able to identify her only mother figure, which this woman did not procure. In other situations, eyes continue to hold importance, in terms of identifying personality as well as intention. One could argue that her father did not tell her who her real mother was because he did not think that she would notice but in actuality she did through her facial characteristics. A text example that helps to support this when it states, “They were the eyes that killed, like a knife, probing, cutting deep down inside, there looks steady, unwavering. Not the slightest movement of the lid.
Not the smallest twitch of a muscle in the face.” (p. 7). By being so descriptive when mentioning the action of eyes in this piece of text, the narrator is trying to show how a set of eyes reveal more than what they show at first, but tell a lot when taken into consideration. In another portion of the text, eyes have the ability to possess almost a physical power towards a person because of how much they possess as well as how much they can influence.
A text example that proves this is when it states, “Two eyes – two eyes alone fasten themselves upon mine. No matter how far I shifted my gaze, or how much I moved my head, they followed me closely, tightened their hold. Everything was now enveloped in a growing darkness in which I could no longer the start of the slightest glimmer of light, except for the two jet black eyes and circled by two rings of dazzling white”. (p. 33) From this text, one can see that not only do eyes appear to be powerful if one should decide to look into them, they physically are powerful if one gives into them. One could argue that she is being descriptive of the eyes in order to pose a sense of imagery, however this imagery helps to lead to a deeper meaning of how things are not what they seem. The last way in which eyes play a role in terms of leading up to the character’s overall development is when it states,” As I continue to gaze into them, the white seem to turn an even whiter, and the black even blacker, as though light flow through them from some unknown magical source which was neither on the Earth, nor in the heavens, for the Earth was enveloped in the cloak of night, and the heavens had no sun nor moon to give them light”. (p.
29-30) From this text, it is correct to say that as Firdaus encounters different variations of eye sets throughout the text, she is slowly learning how to differentiate right from wrong. By paying close attention to the the color changes within the eyes and how they have a connection or not to universal entities, she is learning what to avoid or what to cherish in people she comes across that could possibly benefit her in the long run as a companion and not a foe. The next motif that the reader will come across in the novel that helps to lead up to Firdaus’ redemption, is the concept of money. In this novel, Firdaus was known to have grown up in a lower class family dynamic.
All of her family members were cheap and rarely spent their money if it was not put to use wisely, meaning they would not even give Firdaus any money if asked upon. By the time she grows old enough to leave her home to pursue a life in Cairo, she learns that there are different ways to receive profit, without having to do more work than she should since, the product she would sell off is already provided for her, this being her body. Knowing that the opposite sex would do anything to obtain the pleasure of utilizing her body, she uses this is a tactic to gain large amounts of money depending on how generous she feels towards her customers. Although some may see this occupation as being shameful or profane in terms of societal respect, she admires her independency and ability to woo anyone she pleases. A text example that helps to support this realization, is when it states “The movement of my hand as I clasped the ten pound note solved the enigma in one swift, sweeping movement, tore away the shroud that covered up a truth that I had in fact experienced when still a child, when for the first time my father gave me a piastre, a coin to hold in my hand, and be mine. My father had never given me money”. (68-69). Based on this text example, one can see that money was something Firdaus could never obtain when she was younger, due to the fact that it held so much value, to the point where her father felt as if she could not handle it on her own.
One could argue that the only reason her father did not let her have her own money, was because he needed it more than her, however he knew exactly how much power money holds when given at the right time. Now that she is older, he believes that she has the ability to do what she may with money, but in such a way where it is used efficiently. This shroud that she explains to have been covering the truth, was the truth behind money having be a sense power and how it has the ability to change one’s life forever if gained responsibly. Another text example that exemplifies the capability of money is when it states, “I will pay you whatever you ask for, no, believe me, I will pay you anything you want, you cannot pay my price, it is very high” (106). Based on this text example, money is weighed in significance and value of what it is being spent on and not what the amount is exactly. In this scene a man is trying to pay Firdaus for sexual services.
By being so persistent in terms of throwing his money away just to have her please him, shows just how much power she has against him in terms of what she physically has to offer, ultimately helping her see how she is able to reign against all who try to defy or use her. The next point that elaborates on this bodily potential, is when Firdaus is having a conversation with a well experienced prostitute by the name of Sharifa, that has decided to share living quarters with her, as well as her sexually based business. As she talks with her, she asks her if she is of any value.
From here Sharifa goes on to tell her, that a man does not know a woman’s value, but the higher you price yourself, the more the man will realize your worth, to which he will be prepared to pay with the means at his disposal. One could argue that Sharifa is telling this to her only to promote her own business, however as a fellow woman and prostitute, she lets Firdaus know this trick in order to add on to her skill and technique for the future whether it be pursued by her side or on her own in the real world.A text example from here that further enhances the significance of this conversation is when it states, “Of course. Nobody can touch me without paying a very high price. You are younger than I am and more cultured, and nobody should be able to come near you without paying twice as much as what is paid to me.
” (59). Based on his text example, one can see that Sharifa is trying to reveal to Firdaus just how much potentiality she has in terms of inflicting control over whomever she pleases, just by being skilled and independently determined in herself and her work. By Sharifa explaining how she views her own worth in comparison to Firdaus, since they both share the same line of work, she helps Firdaus discover who she is.
Another text example that goes on the topic of self evaluation of purpose that helps to lead to redemption, is when it states, “It’s not that I value my honor and my reputation more than the other girls, but my price is much higher than theirs.” (82). Just by reading this quote, one can see that Firdaus has taken Sharifa’s words into consideration, to where now she values herself higher than any other prostitute in her game. By having her mentality be alternated for the better, Firdaus is able to tackle whatever may come her way, whether it be self or outward given doubt by males or females, ultimately making money gainage her top priority and well as her biggest gain thanks to her new found confidence in her femininity. The last quote thats helps to bring meaning to the idea of money being her stilts in obtaining success and status amongst those who wish to use her for their own personal interests, is when it states, “And so, as the years went by, I begin to look in the other direction every time I saw someone count his money, or even take a few coins out of his or her pocket. It was as though money was a shameful thing, made to be hidden, an object the sin which was forbidden to me and yet permissible for others, as though it had been made legitimate only for them.” (73).
From reading this quote, one can see how Firdaus is very observant in terms of trying to see what others do with things that hold great value, such as money, and how they compare or differ to her and how she utilizes it. By her saying that she now looks away from those who count their money or only take a few amounts of it from their pockets, she is trying to show the reader how he she is offended by those who wish to treat money as something that is forbidden to be shown or made public. This is for the reason being half the people she has came across that wished to pay for her services, have had no problems in giving all the money they had to her. However, if she should try to show off her gains, it is frowned upon, although she genuinely earned it. This quote elaborates on the idea of how money holds no appropriate societal value unless it is gained through respective occupations, which Firdaus obviously does not fit under since she is a prostitute, despite the fact she works hard to obtain her currency. By observing what other people do with the same money that she just gained in different ways, she is able to see as she holds just as much appraisal, if not more as anyone else who has money in her Egyptian society, regardless of the fact that she decided to retrieve it in a more risky or apprehensive way.
Another motif that the reader will see holds value to the speaker Firdaus, in terms of her personal journey towards feminine growth, it is the worth of books and book reading. At a very young age, Firdaus was introduced to books by her uncle. Not only did he introduce them to her, he would make attempts to teach her how to read them. With this being said, by having these one-on-one moments with her uncle, a sense of compassion on his part grew. By reading books and figuring out things she had never known before, she was slowly starting to learn about lives other than her own. When the separation came between her uncle to pursue schooling, she would reside in books to bring back to life the pure simple moments she shared with him. Eventually her uncle had drifted away from book reading, in order to pursue money, ultimately making her feel deceived and misled, and as the novel goes on books tend to leave, re enter, and leave again from her life, causing what gave her the most happiness and tranquility to disappear. A text example that helps to support this bond Firdaus holds with novels is when it states, “I had developed a liking for culture, ever since I had started going to school and had learned to read, but especially during this last period, since I could now buy books.
I had a large library in my apartment, and it was here that I spent most of my free time.” (75). Based on this text example, one can see that Firdaus has taken her interest in books from when she was young, into her adult life, ultimately showing that books have been implemented into life forever and that they must have a place in her life in order for her to function. One could contradict this observation of her interest in books as being a simple hobby, but Firdaus made it clear that she thanks books for essentially helping her learn how to read and now ever since then she finds herself wanting to know more and more. Another text example that elaborates on this connection, it when it states, “So I discovered that the school had a library. A neglected room in the backyard, with its shelves falling to pieces, and books covered in a thick layer of dust. I used to wipe off the dust with a yellow cloth, sit on a broken chair under the leg of a feeble lamp, and read.
” (26). This text example gives insight upon a room that Firdaus discovered at a young age when she used to be in school. Most schools around the world acquire a library that is well-managed and and properly stocked despite the fact that some people may not enter it depending on what they need from it. This library in her school in particular, has been deserted and is not living up to its purpose of providing students with books to further expand their knowledge beyond the classroom. The fact that Firdaus describes the undervalued library in such detail, she is making a connection to how she used to read books with her uncle but now she must read them on her own, so in order to do so, she needs to dig up the memories and bring back what once was hers to cherish. One could argue that the dismantled library attracted her attention because she had nothing else to do while she was at school, but the fact that Firdaus took the time to wipe off the books of the thick layers of dust and to sit down on a not so sturdy chair just to read them, shows her dedication to discovery. The next text example that helps show how books are apart of Firdaus’ building of persona and particular interests, is when it states, “I developed a love of books, where with every book I learned something new. I got to know about Persians, the Turks and the Arabs.
I read about the crimes committed by Kings and rulers, about wars, people’s, revolutions, and the lies of revolutionaries. I read love stories and love poems. But I prefer to books written about rulers”. (26). Based on this text example, one can see that Firdaous not only likes to read books but she has grown a love for them, to which every time she reads a new novel she enjoys obtaining a new piece of knowledge. She also reveals to the reader how she prefers one genre over the other. Instead of finding interest in the typical fondness of romantic novels, she would much rather immerse herself into a book that deals with politics, especially with people of power. With this being said, one can assume that she has an infatuation with finding her own power through reading about those who have already obtained high amounts of it due to public support.
However one can also argue that she does not wish to obtain her own sense of power, but just marvel others, but it is quite evident that her character development relies on literary analysis to tell her what she can obtain by just taking into account what the message reveals in her case within each book. A text example that helps to break down how Firdaus evaluates pieces of text whatever the form it my come in, is when it states, “Newspapers and magazines were delivered to the library regularly. I got into the habit of reading what was written in them and looking at the pictures. And so, quite often, I would stumble on the picture of one or other of these rulers as he sat with the congregation attending Friday morning prayers.
There he sat opening and closing his lids, looking out through them with an expression of great humility, like a man stricken to his depths”. (27). As one reads this text example, it can be seen that Firdaus is very observant in terms of trying to Inspect the context of certain situations that have to deal with public figures that are male. As a woman, she scrutinizes men in higher power because although they have been given the highest of titles due to popular agreement, they do not share the same morals as she does. Along the way in the book it can be seen it at she does not fair well with men for that they hold multiple personalities that hold negative connotations due to their selfishness. By keeping herself well informed with current events that deal with men of higher power, she is gaining knowledge upon what society sees fit in terms of gender inequality as well as teaching herself how she can strive to be just like them if not better by sticking to her femininity in a determined fashion.
Another text example that deals with how Firdaus keeps herself well informed through different forms of literary awareness, is when it states, “Each time I picked up a newspaper and found a picture of a man who was once one of them I would spit on it. I knew I was only spitting on a piece of newspaper which I needed for covering the kitchen shelves. Nevertheless I spat, and then left the spit where it was to dry”.
(9). From this text example, Firdaus despises men that are similar to those who has degraded her in the past for being a woman to the point where she cannot even enjoy reading, in particular the newspaper for that she will see their faces as a constant reminder of her past experiences of cruelty from the opposite sex. One could argue that she does not like the men in the picture because they did not like her back, however she makes it quite clear that she has no respect for those who wish to cheapen the image of women for their own amusement. In the beginning reading was something she enjoyed, and she turned her passion into her power by having reading help her become educated and aware of the transgressions around her. Therefore, the novel’s main purpose is to appeal to the readers’ emotions by explicitly understanding the life of Firdaus through the motifs of eyes, money and books.
In doing so, this novel inspires one to expose the danger of gender inequality, materialism, and failed relationships.