Woman at Point Zero: Post-colonialist Novel?

To what extent can Woman at Point Zero be considered a post-colonial novel?

In Nawal El Saadawi’s creative non-fiction novel Woman at Point Zero, readers follow a retelling of the life story of Firdaus, a female inmate on her last days on death row, as she develops into a young woman under an oppressive patriarchal society. Despite having the entire novel take place within a Middle-Eastern region, this novel should not be considered as post-colonial due to the background of the author herself, as well as sentence and story structure.

Although Nawal El Saadawi has experienced sexism and other countless injustices against her own gender within her childhood and career in Egypt, it’s her refuge in Western countries that influenced her perspectives and thus prevents Woman at Point Zero to be a true post-colonial novel. As El Saadawi’s social views in terms of feminism parallels that of Western ideals, it can be said that she tends to apply Western bias towards Middle-Eastern actions. An example of this would be “He was already over sixty, whereas I had not yet turned nineteen” (46). In western culture, this massive age difference may seem very weird, unusual, as well as predatory; however, Woman at Point Zero fails to argue the perspective of the Islamic culture, and how it’s quite common and accepted within society.

Regarding sentence and story structure, we can see that the range of sentences, as well as pacing, allows for western readers to be more comfortable with their reading. This would fall under the Adapt stage of Post-colonial literature, where El Saadawi takes traditional western literature form and adapts it to fit the story of Firdaus in an Islamic Egyptian society. This connects back with the first point as readers are then left with half of the story: is this a problem within Islamic culture, or is it a humanitarian crisis?

Despite these points, some may view Woman at Point Zero to be post-colonial in the sense that it does indeed point towards cultural differences between the West and the Middle-East. Looking in pages 20-21, we can see that “…they invoked Allah’s name and called upon His blessings…,” as well as “they cut off a piece of flesh from between my thighs,” which are prevalent within Islamic culture. Thus, Western readers are introduced to foreign cultural practices (Islamic prayer, female genital mutilation). However, this different perspective fails to consider the message of the novel, which details about the oppression of the patriarchy within Middle-Eastern culture. This critical perspective thus urges the reader to judge actions taking place in the Middle-East with Western ideals. This creates an unbalanced view, as mentioned earlier, that does not properly portray the cultural differences (from the Middle Eastern perspective).

As powerful as it is, Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero should not be considered as post-colonialist as it fails to balance the perspective of Middle-Eastern culture, but rather subjects it to Western ideals and critique through author bias and tailored story structure, no longer “comparing” cultural differences.

1 thought on “Woman at Point Zero: Post-colonialist Novel?

  1. Interesting! Is the fact that El Sadaawi offers ‘Western’ bias not a product of being raised in a colonized Egypt? Might her West-leaning views not be a direct result of being raised under British rule? Might her own bias be unknown to her? This would suggest why she feels able to criticize the more Islamic aspects of the new Egypt? Just a thought.

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