The she demonstrates the need for women
The main characters Toundi from Houseboy and Firdaus from Woman at Point Zero were unable tocomplete their rites of passage. It is evident from the begin of both novelsthat neither character would be reincorporated into society due to theirincapability to “follow the rules” that were set for them as second-classcitizens. In Firdaus’ case, women livedin 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 andnot live under the power of men. Toundi, on the other hand, attempts toencounter a life filled with advancement and improvements from the Whites,however soon realizes that the French have no intention of allowing Blackpeople to be their equals. The authors of both novels utilize the technique ofrites of passage to depict the harsh reality that second-class citizens such asthe main characters, and individuals similar to them, are obliged to withstand.FerdinandOyono’s novel Houseboy recounts theseparation stage of Toundi’s rites of passage when he leaves his village andarrives at the doorstep of a French priest, Father Gilbert. Instead of allowinghis father strike him after stating that his “greediness will be the ruin ofus. Anyone would think you don’t have enough to eat at home.
So, on the daybefore your initiation, you have to cross the stream to go begging lumps ofsugar from some white man-woman” (Oyono 10), Toundi avoids the beating andexpresses that he has done nothing wrong and had not insulted his father in anyway (Oyono 11). This situation is the cause of the separation stage to begin.Toundi decides to leave behind his African society, before his initiation, inorder to experience French society. Throughoutthe novel, Oyono presents the connection between Toundi’s rites of passage andhis status as a second-class citizen. The first instance this is evident isafter Toundi separates from his family’s village, during his ordeal stage.Father Gilbert is an imperious individual who demonstrates the superiority ofWhites compared to the subservient Africans. Although Toundi held FatherGilbert in high regard, he was paraded around other Whites who visited theMission as “his masterpiece” (Oyono 15). This demonstrates how Toundi wasdisregarded as an individual, rather he was treated as a pet worth admiring.
Throughouthis ordeal stage, Toundi is exposed to the true nature of the whites. They hadno intention of incorporating the Africans into their society. Theiridentities, practices, and culture were being stripped away and replaced with anewfound religion. Through this novel, we follow Toundi’s transformation fromthe naïve mentality of White colonialists to, according to Cajetan N. Iheka(2014), one that is “shocked to witness the violence, hypocrisy, and soullessattitudes of the Europeans” (para. 4). Toundi’s rites of passage reinforces theidea of White superiority and power over the subservient Africans. Throughoutthe ordeal phase, the reader has a glimpse into how Africans, such as Toundi,assimilated into French society and the cruel reality that depicted the inhumaneconditions Africans endured.
However, Toundi views European society as theideal and continuously attempts to move closer to this world. Toundi does notcomprehend that although the French allowed Africans to become French citizens,this did not allow them to become equal to the Whites. The veils are liftedfrom Toundi’s eyes as he is continuously exposed to the injustice between thecolonists and the Africans. When Toundi went to deliver a letter to Moreau,from Madame, he watched as two African were stripped to the waist andhandcuffed (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 whitemen” (Oyono 77). It is at this point Toundi realizes that, although the Whitespresented Africans with a new life, they would only be considered property. NawalEl Saadawi’s novel Woman at Point Zerodemonstrates Firdaus’ separation stage beginning the moment her parents passedaway and she was sent to live alongside her uncle who resided in Cairo.
Herlife with her uncle goes well at first, however, after he remarries Firdaus issent 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 ismarried off to Sheikh Mahmoud, a man who is much older than she is. The wife ofher 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 theirbody and soul to be controlled by them. Not only was she constantly abused bythe husband she was married off to, but also by her own family member. Firdauswas sexually abused by her uncle throughout her childhood.
Her uncle hand “wouldcontinue to press against my thigh with a grasping, almost brutal insistence”(Saadawi 13). Firdaus’ uncle was like any other man in her life, mistreating awoman for their own benefit. Throughoutthe ordeal stage of Firdaus’ rites of passage, it is evident that the difficultoccurrences Firdaus is faced with are directly related to being a second-classcitizen. It not only sheds light on the difficulties Firdaus encounters butalso the cyclical oppression many women face in Arab culture.
From a young ageFirdaus’ was taught that a woman’s purpose in life was mainly to serve the menin their lives. When she had grown “a little older my father put the mug in myhand and taught me how to wash his legs with water. I had now replaced mymother and did the things she used to do” (Saadawi 16). She had no control overher body or her life, everything was dependent on a man. Throughout the novel,the reader is exposed to the abusive actions toward women.
ThroughoutFirdaus’ life, she was constantly violated by men who had claimed they caredfor her. At one point in the novel, she begins to describe her experiences as aprostitute at a time when she was consciously able to separate herself from herbody. This was done in order to protect “my deeper, inner self from men, Ioffered them only an outer shell. I kept my heart and soul, and let my bodyplay 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 aprostitute. At one point, Firdaus has a false sense of independence and controlover her own mind when she met Bayoumi when she ran away from her abusivehusband.
He appeared different from any man she had encountered because he hadasked her, “Do you prefer oranges or tangerines?” (Saadawi 50). Although thequestion does not appear to hold much significance, it was the first time anyman had asked what Firdaus preferred. Normally, men took control over women’slives, including the decisions they make.
However, when Firdaus stated shewanted to find work, Bayoumi would beat her and isolates her. El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero introduces Firdaus’ “historyof the systemic abuses she endured and it reveals the shape of her Egyptian patriarchal-classsociety” (Faulkner, para. 10). Through all the abuse that Firdaus hasencountered, she continued to be courageous and attempted to reclaim her lifefrom her oppressors. Bothmain characters were unable to complete their rites of passage. During theirordeal phase, the reader has a glimpse into the injustice both charactersencounter. Africans, such as Toundi, are allowed to assimilate into Frenchsociety but are only treated as property that is disposable and subservient toWhites. In Firdaus’ case, she struggles to find her own identity because mencontinue to take control of her life.
Since a young age, she never had controlover her own body. She was constantly chastised and belittle. Firdaus’ lifeended with her holding her head with confidence and “despite her misery anddespair, evoked in all those who witness the final moments of her life, a needto challenge and to overcome those forces that deprive human beings of theirright to live, to love and to real freedom” (Saadawi xii).
Her imprisonment didnot diminish her self-determination, rather it allowed her to be freed from thehypocrisy and lies of society. Although she was unable to be reincorporatedinto society, Firdaus achieved personal liberation and took control of her ownlife, not allowing herself to be oppressed by men. Toundi’s life ended with himquestioning his identity, asking “What are we black men who are called French?”(Oyono 4). At first, he was entranced with White society, wanting to beincorporated into it. He later learns that Africans would not be given suchopportunities of equality. Firdausand Toundi were both gotten rid of by the oppressors because of the truth thatthey became aware of and because they knew too much. The truth that Firdaus learnsis that society is filled with hypocrisy and the constant oppression women areexposed 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 oftheir ugly reality” (Saadawi 110).
Firdaus challenged the role that societyplaced her in. She did not want a man to control her, rather she wanted to beable to attain complete dominance over her own body and decisions. In Toundi’scase, his demise was a result knowing too much.
It is apparent that he cannotdraw a line between himself and Whites, he constantly asks questions, whichleads the cook to state, “…you are only alive to do their work and for no otherreason” (Oyono 87). Because he knows their business “they can never forgetabout it altogether. And they will never forgive you for that” (Oyono 100). The reader is left to infer, that Toundi waskilled as a direct result of his race. He was an African servant who knew toomuch about the Commandant and his wife. Toundi’s death was the only manner toget rid of him. The authors of both novels depict the demise of the maincharacter as a result of their interaction with their oppressor. Toundiand Firdaus encountered many difficulties throughout their life due to theirgender or race.
It is evident through their uncompleted rites of passage thatbeing a second-class citizen in their society resulted in the unfair treatmentof individuals such as themselves. Women, such as Firdaus, were treated assubservient 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 tofollow their role as second-class citizens, which resulted in their demise.Firdaus challenged the patriarchal society, bringing to light the injusticethat many women face in her society.
Toundi attempts to replace his life withthe white advancements but soon learns that they have no intention to allowAfricans to be their equals. Both characters continuously attempt to break thebarrier between themselves and their oppressors. The authors of Woman at Point Zero and Houseboy introduce the technique of therites of passage in order to depict the harsh environment the individuals, suchas the main characters, have to withstand.