As a precursor to my analysis, I should mention that ‘Woman at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi is about a woman’s story as she adapts towards an oppressive society in Egypt, eventually being put in prison where she tells her story towards an interviewer. Many have stated that ‘Woman at Point Zero’ is considered a feminist novel, but why?
Looking at the ‘Beginning Theory’ extract on feminism and how it can be utilised to critique literature, I’ve applied said knowledge to define ‘Woman at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi as a feminist novel. One portion of the extract states that “…a female phase (1920 onwards) looked particularly at female writing and female experience” (Barry). This most definitely applies towards the perspective of the book, which is more specifically a first-person perspective of both the interviewer, as well as Firdaus, the main protagonist of the novel. As the readers follow the bildungsroman format, they are subject towards the experience that Firdaus had undergone as she was a child transitioning into adulthood. The female experience is further emphasised by the “female writing” that the secondary first-person perspective achieves. The concept that a woman is rediscovering and sharing another woman’s life story shows an element of sisterhood that allows for women to be supportive of each other and generate a positive message in terms of femininity.
Secondly, another portion of ‘Beginning Theory’ states that feminist critics should analyse text for “[examining] power relations which obtain in texts and in life, with a view to breaking them down, seeing reading as a political act, and showing the extent of patriarchy,” as well as “[raising] the question of whether men and women are ‘essentially’ different because of biology, or are socially constructed as different (Barry). These two points, out of 12, are most important in terms of critiquing ‘Woman at Point Zero’ as Saadawi does use the book to explore such dynamics in contemporary society. In the modern that we live in today, Saadawi exposes such experiences that some women still have to undergo in societies that do support (to an extent) woman’s rights through law, yet still oppresses them through daily interactions. Changing the mentality is quite the challenge, even as Saadawi mentions the equality and hardships that woman face are equal, if not even more, sacrificing than men. In Saadawi’s novel, Firdaus had to subject herself towards degrading work, even if it gave her the false sense of security or power. Despite this, Firdaus was not acknowledged as an honest worker by men, and thus was rejected as a women, highlighting the stubbornness of social constructs by men against women.