University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Essay for the Sandpiper
Tragedy, in multiple views leads to grief, misery and may even cause emotional desensitization. However this solely depends on the cause of such tragedy. A simple tragedy exists as a result of the irony of combining diverse religion and cultures and is especially expressed in the story “Sandpiper”. Here author Ahdaf Soueif expresses cultural differences through the breaking relationship of a European writer and her Egyptian husband. Acquiescent undermine passivity Being the protagonist, the narrator becomes the view point character in the story and this is where audience criticisms take place. From the beginning she seems to display a sort of weakness and compliance towards events; watching the waves swoop back into the sea; conforming to her lack of work and loss of identity ; “watching (her husband) vanish”, and watching her daughter “grow away” from herself. The sand image, as the story opens portrays her compliance-The way she did not wish to obstruct nature`s pattern of “one grain of sand” because of her movement. Later as Um Sabir (her “husband`s old nanny”) prevents her from doing any work, her feminine independence also appears to be deplored yet she simply accepts this fact and though seeming solemn, does not take any action. The reader soon becomes critical about such fragility. Notice how the writer mentions -“watch” her husband vanish. Due to her foreignness, she seemed to slowly fade away from her and her husband`s relationship and displays severe grief. However it appears indeed so absurd for the reader, because this narrator does not develop any sort of resistance to her dilemma. Furthermore her despondency grows gradually, and it seems that her daughter is being torn away from her the same way as with her husband. She simply pines her heart and the narrator grows a sort of dissent for the protagonist. Sandpiper a coastal bird which cannot fly too high nor too far from the coastal region (due to its habitat and feeding habits) is a perfect name for this story it seems. The way the protagonist’s life appears limited and restricted is definitely the main cause. However the reader may wonder why the narrator does not rebel to this lifestyle. There may be numerous causes. Firstly notice the narrators patience as she sits by the beach observing the water`s “frilled white edge nibbling at the sand”. As she displays no qualms to her situations (for example being deprived of work as previously mentioned) it seems she still retains hope- of a happy lifestyle. This exaggerated patience she conforms, may perhaps be one of the reason she
does not rebel. Another may be simply her love of and to sustain the happiness of her daughter.
These causes all sum to the habitat and ability of a “Sandpiper”, its only restrictions. Therefore it seems that the protagonist subsists in a self imposed jail, like a sandpiper and indeed does not soar beyond the beach which could momentarily give access to another sort of freedom, mentally, from her own conscience. However if we pay attention to the situation the author rejects such criticisms-instead condemning the readers as absurd. Certainly following different cultures is not the protagonists fault. The consistent confusion and grief of the narrator’s situation is perhaps the cause of her helplessness. This way the author deems the protagonist as universal for humans; which either are NOT exceptions, to displaying similar responses, in such emotionally grim situations and though her image is portrayed as weak it is not held true to how we asses her. In some way the writer creates ambivalent views one portraying the theme of ‘fate’ and the other ‘free will’. A customary feature, to be noticed in this story is the authors unvarying image of the beach. Obviously this picture signifies the present and therefore, perhaps, alludes to the narrators ‘drifting’ thoughts. It also seems, the descriptions of the sand and the sea reflect her emotions. As the story opens, observe the serene albeit somewhat somber, descriptions (of the beach), in the past participle: “I used to see patterns…I did not want …. I used to sit”. Definitely the narrator is affectionately looking back at nostalgia, yet with regret. Her emotions drift in melancholy as a compliant stream of conscience guides her and suddenly we imagine a somber weak character, in passivity to not stir a single “grain of sand” from its ‘natural’ pattern. This is where the readers display an interest to this character`s matters. Slowly her emotions begin to frill as the descriptions become gradually violent –“the sea unceasingly shifts…surges forward with a low growl… like thousand snakes” .By now the reader is absorbed into the persona`s feelings. The usage of the personal pronoun “I” becomes highly universal to the reader and definitely induces sympathy. Finally, as she “revert(s) to (the) dry grains that would easily brush away” the emotions are returned to the previous serenity however now there seems to be a hint of pain, a hint of helplessness.
This way the writer skillfully attains the reader`s attention to the story, and somewhat forth shadows incidents in the story, pertaining to the emotions. Hereby the atmosphere seems so somber, so calm; slowly the reader drifts in with the thoughts of the writer. What the reader may also take notice, with hindsight, is that perhaps Soueif uses this initial beach image as an extended metaphor for the life of the narrator; as in the beginning her life was filled with bliss (in love with her husband), which suddenly changed to desperation and somewhat anger (as he slowly “slip away” from her) and finally grief (of the freedom she lost). Proactive pragmatic The next imagery of the beach occurs after she mentions the second summer at the “beach house west of Alexandria”. Here the narrator utilizes the sand and the sea as symbols for her husband and herself, the way these two entities seemed to “meet and flirt and touch” and establishes the theme of love. However, reading between the lines, perhaps the writer forth shadows a sort of obscurity in the relationship. Notice how the sand and the sea simply “meet” metaphorically indicating love; although away from this “edge” such love does not seem to prevail as the sea and the sand form a tight boundary. Also the sea consistently “drifts” and the sand itself shifts, especially with the pressure of the waves: perhaps the author accentuates fluid emotions which flow and “shift” with due time and therefore depicts this couple to slowly “drift” apart from each other. This way another theme, of relativity of time and emotion is established here. The ending of the story also prevails with this beach image. It seems the narrator is back to the present and this picture plays the greatest significance as she sees “different things from those 6 years ago”. Now she appears calmer yet more melancholic. The reader can effectively perceive such emotion; especially in the lines “the last of the foam is swallowed bubbling into the sand” and “with each ebb of green water the sand looses part of itself to the sea”. This definitely feels somber; as if love is being persistently broken down by the force of nature. Realistically, it seems such force subsists as cultural pressure. Where the couple belonging to 2 different cultures altogether formed such a relationship, the narrators “foreignness…began to irritate him (her husband)”.
Cultural pressure and foreign tensions arise as a conflict due to the ignorance of each other`s culture and perhaps a development in this slowly weakened their relationships. Not only does the husband feel irate yet this deplored the protagonist`s freedom- “I tried at first at least to help, but she would……ease the duster or the vacuum cleaner from my hand”. Coming back to the coastal descriptions, note how the author mentions “the…foam is swallowed bubbling into the sand” and how these two bodies meet but never ‘mix’. Probably the author, here portrays the theme of immiscibility. As sea and sand are immiscible it appears the foreignness and its resultant family tensions never intended a strong relationship; the love of both the narrator and her husband was immiscible, which would interact, yet as easily drift away. Perhaps this way the author undermines the system of religion. Indeed such a trivial matter, as exemplified is the commencement of weak relations and eventually such tragedies; for certainly, every being strays ethnocentric and this simple arrogance leads to major conflicts. This is later supported as the narrator finally questions-“But what do the waves know of the massed, hot, still sands of the desert? And what does the beach know of the depths, the cold currents…where the water turns a deeper blue.” .Duplicity is heavily prevalent due to ignorance of other religion, and like the sand and the sea it extends massively. What the writer Ahdaf Soueif is attempting to accentuate is that this concept of worldly cultures actually constructs a sort of mistrust amongst others and its great irony is exhibited in the form of this story Another image which we can relate to this theme is the difficulty, even dislike the wife shows towards adapting to a different culture. During the second summer at the beach house the narrator mentions her nostalgia of her hometown (Europe as Georgian square is mentioned) and “misses” her time spent there. The moment this is mentioned suspicion rises in the readers mind; of her happiness following the new culture. She does display a sort of irritation as she is not allowed to work at home. Finally (later) she appears to complain- “my foreignness…my inability to remember name…struggles with his (her husband’s) language”, etc. Definitely the author is attempting to depict another cultural pressure here; despite the passage of time, evidently she depicts, that the wife has problems shifting to the new culture. Ironically, though, this foreignness actually appealed her husband yet now repelled him.