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The main characters Toundi from Houseboy and Firdaus from Woman at Point Zero were unable to
complete their rites of passage. It is evident from the begin of both novels
that neither character would be reincorporated into society due to their
incapability to “follow the rules” that were set for them as second-class
citizens.  In Firdaus’ case, women lived
in a patriarchal society where women were supposed to be the submissive gender.
However, she demonstrates the need for women to take charge of their lives and
not live under the power of men. Toundi, on the other hand, attempts to
encounter a life filled with advancement and improvements from the Whites,
however soon realizes that the French have no intention of allowing Black
people to be their equals. The authors of both novels utilize the technique of
rites of passage to depict the harsh reality that second-class citizens such as
the main characters, and individuals similar to them, are obliged to withstand.

Oyono’s novel Houseboy recounts the
separation stage of Toundi’s rites of passage when he leaves his village and
arrives at the doorstep of a French priest, Father Gilbert. Instead of allowing
his father strike him after stating that his “greediness will be the ruin of
us. Anyone would think you don’t have enough to eat at home. So, on the day
before your initiation, you have to cross the stream to go begging lumps of
sugar from some white man-woman” (Oyono 10), Toundi avoids the beating and
expresses that he has done nothing wrong and had not insulted his father in any
way (Oyono 11). This situation is the cause of the separation stage to begin.
Toundi decides to leave behind his African society, before his initiation, in
order to experience French society.

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the novel, Oyono presents the connection between Toundi’s rites of passage and
his status as a second-class citizen. The first instance this is evident is
after Toundi separates from his family’s village, during his ordeal stage.
Father Gilbert is an imperious individual who demonstrates the superiority of
Whites compared to the subservient Africans. Although Toundi held Father
Gilbert in high regard, he was paraded around other Whites who visited the
Mission as “his masterpiece” (Oyono 15). This demonstrates how Toundi was
disregarded as an individual, rather he was treated as a pet worth admiring. Throughout
his ordeal stage, Toundi is exposed to the true nature of the whites. They had
no intention of incorporating the Africans into their society. Their
identities, practices, and culture were being stripped away and replaced with a
newfound religion. Through this novel, we follow Toundi’s transformation from
the naïve mentality of White colonialists to, according to Cajetan N. Iheka
(2014), one that is “shocked to witness the violence, hypocrisy, and soulless
attitudes of the Europeans” (para. 4). Toundi’s rites of passage reinforces the
idea of White superiority and power over the subservient Africans.  

the ordeal phase, the reader has a glimpse into how Africans, such as Toundi,
assimilated into French society and the cruel reality that depicted the inhumane
conditions Africans endured. However, Toundi views European society as the
ideal and continuously attempts to move closer to this world. Toundi does not
comprehend that although the French allowed Africans to become French citizens,
this did not allow them to become equal to the Whites. The veils are lifted
from Toundi’s eyes as he is continuously exposed to the injustice between the
colonists and the Africans. When Toundi went to deliver a letter to Moreau,
from Madame, he watched as two African were stripped to the waist and
handcuffed (Oyono 76), beaten until their flesh was torn and they were unconscious.
At this moment, Toundi asked, “Is the White man’s neighbor only other white
men” (Oyono 77). It is at this point Toundi realizes that, although the Whites
presented Africans with a new life, they would only be considered property.

El Saadawi’s novel Woman at Point Zero
demonstrates Firdaus’ separation stage beginning the moment her parents passed
away and she was sent to live alongside her uncle who resided in Cairo. Her
life with her uncle goes well at first, however, after he remarries Firdaus is
sent away to boarding school. She is a good student who achieves academic wise.
Once she graduates, she returns to live with her uncle and his wife. She is
married off to Sheikh Mahmoud, a man who is much older than she is. The wife of
her uncle notes that if he marries “Firdaus she will have a good life with him,
and he can find in her an obedient wife, who will serve him…” (Saadawi 37).
Women in this society were expected to be subservient to men, allowing their
body and soul to be controlled by them. Not only was she constantly abused by
the husband she was married off to, but also by her own family member. Firdaus
was sexually abused by her uncle throughout her childhood. Her uncle hand “would
continue to press against my thigh with a grasping, almost brutal insistence”
(Saadawi 13). Firdaus’ uncle was like any other man in her life, mistreating a
woman for their own benefit.

the ordeal stage of Firdaus’ rites of passage, it is evident that the difficult
occurrences Firdaus is faced with are directly related to being a second-class
citizen. It not only sheds light on the difficulties Firdaus encounters but
also the cyclical oppression many women face in Arab culture. From a young age
Firdaus’ was taught that a woman’s purpose in life was mainly to serve the men
in their lives. When she had grown “a little older my father put the mug in my
hand and taught me how to wash his legs with water. I had now replaced my
mother and did the things she used to do” (Saadawi 16). She had no control over
her body or her life, everything was dependent on a man. Throughout the novel,
the reader is exposed to the abusive actions toward women.

Firdaus’ life, she was constantly violated by men who had claimed they cared
for her. At one point in the novel, she begins to describe her experiences as a
prostitute at a time when she was consciously able to separate herself from her
body. This was done in order to protect “my deeper, inner self from men, I
offered them only an outer shell. I kept my heart and soul, and let my body
play its role, its passive, inert unfeeling role” (Saadawi 93). By doing this,
Firdaus was able to withstand the abuse she encountered during her time as a
prostitute. At one point, Firdaus has a false sense of independence and control
over her own mind when she met Bayoumi when she ran away from her abusive
husband. He appeared different from any man she had encountered because he had
asked her, “Do you prefer oranges or tangerines?” (Saadawi 50). Although the
question does not appear to hold much significance, it was the first time any
man had asked what Firdaus preferred. Normally, men took control over women’s
lives, including the decisions they make. However, when Firdaus stated she
wanted to find work, Bayoumi would beat her and isolates her. El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero introduces Firdaus’ “history
of the systemic abuses she endured and it reveals the shape of her Egyptian patriarchal-class
society” (Faulkner, para. 10). Through all the abuse that Firdaus has
encountered, she continued to be courageous and attempted to reclaim her life
from her oppressors.

main characters were unable to complete their rites of passage. During their
ordeal phase, the reader has a glimpse into the injustice both characters
encounter. Africans, such as Toundi, are allowed to assimilate into French
society but are only treated as property that is disposable and subservient to
Whites. In Firdaus’ case, she struggles to find her own identity because men
continue to take control of her life. Since a young age, she never had control
over her own body. She was constantly chastised and belittle. Firdaus’ life
ended with her holding her head with confidence and “despite her misery and
despair, evoked in all those who witness the final moments of her life, a need
to challenge and to overcome those forces that deprive human beings of their
right to live, to love and to real freedom” (Saadawi xii). Her imprisonment did
not diminish her self-determination, rather it allowed her to be freed from the
hypocrisy and lies of society. Although she was unable to be reincorporated
into society, Firdaus achieved personal liberation and took control of her own
life, not allowing herself to be oppressed by men. Toundi’s life ended with him
questioning his identity, asking “What are we black men who are called French?”
(Oyono 4). At first, he was entranced with White society, wanting to be
incorporated into it. He later learns that Africans would not be given such
opportunities of equality.  

and Toundi were both gotten rid of by the oppressors because of the truth that
they became aware of and because they knew too much. The truth that Firdaus learns
is that society is filled with hypocrisy and the constant oppression women are
exposed to by men. Knowing this truth brought fear to the men in her society,
Firdaus “was the only woman who had torn the mask away, and exposed the face of
their ugly reality” (Saadawi 110). Firdaus challenged the role that society
placed her in. She did not want a man to control her, rather she wanted to be
able to attain complete dominance over her own body and decisions. In Toundi’s
case, his demise was a result knowing too much. It is apparent that he cannot
draw a line between himself and Whites, he constantly asks questions, which
leads the cook to state, “…you are only alive to do their work and for no other
reason” (Oyono 87). Because he knows their business “they can never forget
about it altogether. And they will never forgive you for that” (Oyono 100).  The reader is left to infer, that Toundi was
killed as a direct result of his race. He was an African servant who knew too
much about the Commandant and his wife. Toundi’s death was the only manner to
get rid of him. The authors of both novels depict the demise of the main
character as a result of their interaction with their oppressor.

and Firdaus encountered many difficulties throughout their life due to their
gender or race. It is evident through their uncompleted rites of passage that
being a second-class citizen in their society resulted in the unfair treatment
of individuals such as themselves. Women, such as Firdaus, were treated as
subservient to men, continuously abused both mentally and physically. Africans,
such as Toundi, were given the opportunity to assimilate into French society, however,
they were only viewed and treated as property. Both characters were unable to
follow their role as second-class citizens, which resulted in their demise.
Firdaus challenged the patriarchal society, bringing to light the injustice
that many women face in her society. Toundi attempts to replace his life with
the white advancements but soon learns that they have no intention to allow
Africans to be their equals. Both characters continuously attempt to break the
barrier between themselves and their oppressors. The authors of Woman at Point Zero and Houseboy introduce the technique of the
rites of passage in order to depict the harsh environment the individuals, such
as the main characters, have to withstand.




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