Post-Colonial Criticism in ‘Women at Point Zero’

Explain how ‘Women at Point Zero’ can be considered a post-colonial novel

‘Women at Point Zero’ by Nawal El Saadawi is written in a culture and time after colonialism, and remnants of colonialism is present in her work. Post-colonial criticism is applicable in discussing the form and language in the work.

Post-colonial criticism proposes that there are three shifts in attitudes in post-colonial writers, which are divided into adopt, adapt, and adept. The first phase is adopt. They begin with an unquestioning acceptance of the authority of the colonizing culture (western models) and with the ambition of writing works that will be masterpieces entirely in this tradition. The writer’s ambition is to adopt the form as it stands, the assumption being that it has universal validity. The second phase is adapt. It aims to adapt the western form to the existing form of the colonized culture, thus partially keeping the original subject matter. The final phase is adept. It is a declaration of cultural independence whereby the writer remakes the form to their own specification, without reference to western norms. In other words, adopt is when the writer is a humble apprentice, adapt is when the writer is a licensee, and adept is when the writer is truly independent.

‘Women at Point Zero’ was published in Beirut in 1973. Unlike other post-colonial writers who experienced a shift in attitudes in the 1980s and 1990s, El Saadawi did not use her own form with mere supplements from European-derived influences, rather, she works primarily with European genres and adds to them a degree of her own Egyptian background. It can be argued that the form of ‘Women at Point Zero’ is therefore in the adapt stage. The form of the work is of a novel or a prose. El Saadawi utilizes the European genre of a novel to construct her writing. Not only does did she had to adapt her story to a western form, El Saadawi had also spoken out on the hardship of publishing her work: she had to publish in English, and had had her work translated. Although it was a language foreign to her, she had to adapt her story to the western language in order to publicize her work and message. This shows the constraint put on post-colonial writers in order to obtain a sense of universal validity.

However, we must not see three phases (Adopt, Adapt, and Adept) only in relation to the form of post-colonial writers, they also characterize the subject matter of the works. If the subject matter of ‘Women of Point Zero’ is inspected under the three phases of post-colonial criticism, the work would be in the adept phase. The entirety of the novel focuses on women’s rights in Egypt and raises the urgency and necessity of change in women’s way of living in terribly unequal and unjust areas of the world. Similar to the final phase of feminist criticism, the female phase (as opposed to the feminine and feminist phases) the novel looks particularly at female experience, and particularly at the abusive and discriminative experiences.

Although ‘Women at Point Zero’ is one of El Saadawi’s most renowned works, post-colonialism criticism shed light on the fact that its creation was put under the constraint of obtaining universal validity (and thus had to adopt the western form and language). Understanding this, perhaps the process of accommodation and translation could have limited the work’s potential and hindered the delivery of El Saadawi’s message.

One Comment

  1. kdalton said:

    Absolutely! This is very well-considered. Your handling of form, language and subject matter lead to a convincing argument. You could have quoted from the text to support your points.

    May 9, 2020
    Reply

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