In present day, to be modern is to reflect aspects of cosmopolitanism and universalism. In Ghassan Kanafani’s 1963 Men in the Sun, modernity to Palestinians is to be an expatriate rather than finding peace or settlement. The quest of the three refugees seeking better life and opportunity in Kuwait is an allegory for individuation, pursuing nationhood and identity.
In this essay, I will argue on how the social and historical factors such as the male roles and expectations in a broken patriarchal society caused hardship for the fictional characters to ‘cross the borders’ as well as to their general life conditions; nonetheless, I believe that the refugees death was imminent in the narrative because their agency such as voice and status were stripped away throughout the story giving a sense of lost or no hope.
In comparison I will look at Ferdinand Oyono’s 1956 post-colonial novel Houseboy of what it means to be modern, as well as the male, social and historical pressures that caused the protagonist “Toundi” difficulty to individuate. Firstly I will introduce the story, allegory and the irony behind the refugee’s quest and aspect of masculinity, notion of sociopolitical and historical pressures, lastly tie it to Oyono’s Houseboy to understand the difference in expected male roles, and the social, historical, and political pressures.
Three Palestinian refugees travel inside a smuggler’s water tanker to Kuwait post the 1948 Palestine civil war in hope to find work opportunity, The allegory behind the three refugee’s quest of is to individuate and find their place as a nation in society (Limbu 278); pursuing of status, moving between borders is the hunt for stripped identity (Deggan 2). The irony, moreover paradox in this concept is that because the Palestinians are stripped off their citizenship, it is difficult for them almost impossible to cross the borders and thus individuate.
Their mission already being difficult due to the sociopolitics and settlement issues, the pressure of being a male in a broken patriarchal society puts more weight and expectations towards their role. Making money is the common cause between the three characters in Men in the Sun to travel because it is the male duty to provide for the family. The unspoken roles and expectation of the male in a patriarchal society goes along with the allegorical idea of Pan-Arabism and uniting nations together. Arab countries are ought to unite and create a bond together, an unspoken “expectation” between Arabs.
Kanafani’s characters unable to fulfil their male duties of providing is an implied narrative of Pan-Arabism failing. For example, “Abu Qais” is the oldest and weakest of the three characters, he is compelled to leave and work in order for his family to survive (Limbu 273). Abu Qais was not looking forward to travel but the social pressure of no work, him being a refugee already, as well as “Saad”’s peer pressure and his wife accepting to leave by saying “soon he too will grow up” in reference to their other child, all play part in influencing him if not “forcing” him to leave. Thus failing to fulfil his default duties because of being “spoilt” making difficulties, old age, or simply not taking enough agency is Kanafani’s way of implying silence and saying Palestinians have not taken enough personal measure when addressing the settlement situation (Kilpatrick 27).
Along with the social pressure and inability to perform because of old age or no jobs, it is also ironic that Abu Qais is not taking enough agency as any dying nation would if it was in their position to fight back.
In Bishupal Limbu’s journal article ‘illegible humanity’, he talks about the notion of human rights and refugee being somewhat a counter part of the humanity concept (257). Limbu argues a different ending, similar to the 1973 movie The Dupes by Twefik Saleh in which the three refugees may actually have knocked on the lorry walls or made sounds before asphyxiating to death but no one being there to hear them; in contrast to the familiar ending of them being silent not doing anything to survive (277).
Either ways their situation is critical because no one is there to help or understand them (done by the narrative focusing on Abul khaizuran), it is an allegory for other Arab countries not intervening. The story is set 10 years post the 1948 civil Palestinian war and deprived human rights and social status is a matter of national crisis, thus the social and historical times also play a role into the plot and characters (Limbu 257). Although Abul Khaizuran is Palestinian, his position in the story is different. I believe that he stands for Pan-Arabism through the eyes of Palestinians as well as other Arab countries that tried to contribute into the formation.
In her blog ‘Men in the Sun and the Modern Allegory’, author Nadeen Shaker discusses the ambiguity and tension of the modern national and non-national allegory (Nadeen). She argues that Abul Khaizuran wanting to get married is him wishing to restore his masculinity, the stance is actually a desire for nationhood (Nadeen). Linking it to Limbu’s journal, he argues that the irony of this lies in the fact that he is left without genitals, “a national allegory stating the failure of Palestinian leadership” (280). The pressures of manhood in a patriarchal society, failure of governance and ignorance from other countries, deprived human and sociopolitical rights all speak the irony of pan-Arabism and Abul Khaizuran’s castration metaphor, hence making his quest of masculinity or uniting nations almost nonviable.
On the other hand, to be modern in Oyono’s post-colonial novel Houseboy is to be white. Particularly to act, speak, and individuate like the French (Deggan 1). The historical and sociopolitical aspects of Oyono’s story differ from Kanafani’s Men in the Sun, but in both novels the characters seek their quests of finding their identity and status.
Set in 20th century Colonial Cameroons, Toundi the protagonist runs away from his abusive father, gets adopted by the church and turns to Catholicism, later becomes a house servant to the commandant who is in charge of the colony after father Gilbert’s death (Deggan 1). Babatunde Moruwawon’s journal article The Trauma of Colonialism in Une Vie De Boy discusses the realities of the Houseboy narrative, and how colonialism trauma affects the everyday life and cycle of violence, such as Toundi’s father abusing Toundi (42). Thus the trauma plays in the social and historical aspect when analyzing Toundi’s position, as a colonized young male living in the French-Cameroon colony, his agency, roles and expectations as a person is limited in society. Oyono’s irony of the commandant uncircumcised penis is allegorical for failure of colonialism (Deggan 1).
Colonialism is all about authority, thus it is masculine and patriarchal in that aspect (Moruwawon 44). The constructed masculine male identity such as to be circumcised, fails in the eyes of Toundi, or the colonized because the French themselves are not following their own norms, so the aspect of masculinity and colonialism fails as a whole. Similarly, his expected roles are limited because of his status and class living in a colony; he must obey orders and continue being the other because it is difficult to get out of alterity unless he escapes away. Nonetheless, females would have similar roles, working in the field outside or as servants or cooks inside the household.
Kanafani’s quest for identity is through the expected roles of males in a patriarchal society and masculinity; Oyono’s identity hunt on the other hand is done by individuating into the French elders and later becoming the “other” in a colonial system. The colonial allegory is that individuals are un-homed in their own land. The quest and national allegory behind both is to find their identity and place in society, as well as their human rights leaving trauma and shock. The situation presented is ironic because it is paradoxical, Kanafani’s characters were imminent to death because their voices were not heard, even if they were it would not have made a difference because no one is there to hear them, metaphorically ignored by other Arab countries and weak leadership (Limbu 277). Limbu points out the human condition in which the existence of refugees counterpart the notions of humanity and human rights (257).
Although to be modern in both novels differ, the allegorical search for identity and status is the primary concern of the fictional characters. Given the place, time, and sociopolitical conditions, their expected roles and agency play a role to their overall experience, making them less able to achieve their individuation.
-Deggan, Mark. “Ferdinand Oyono: Colonial Focus & The Impossibility in Race” World Literature 100 Seminars. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver. 29 Jan. 2016. Lecture
-Deggan, Mark. “The Border As Place : Men in the Sun” World Literature 100 Seminars. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver. 01 Apr. 2016. Lecture
-The Dupes (The Deceived). Dir. Tewfik Saleh. 1973. Film.
-Kanafānī, Ghassān, and Hilary Kilpatrick. Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1999
-Limbu, B. “Illegible Humanity: The Refugee, Human Rights, and the Question of Representation.” Journal of Refugee Studies 22.3 (2009): 257-82. Web.
-Moruwawon, Babatunde S. “The Trauma Of Colonialism In Ferdinand Oyono’s “Une Vie De Boy”” Michigan Sociological Review 26 (2012): 42-57. Michigan Sociological Association. Web.
-Shaker, Nadeen. ““Men in the Sun” and the Modern Allegory.” Web log post. The Postcolonialist. 11 Mar. 2015. Web.