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Woman at Point Zero

Reading Woman at Point Zero brings to mind a book with a similar premise that I read in high school, A Thousand Splendid Suns. In both novels, the protagonist is executed for killing a man. Firdaus’ impending execution is the frame story for Woman at Point Zero, while Mariam’s execution in A Thousand Splendid Suns occurs towards the latter half of the book as part of the natural sequence of events, but both characters never had a chance of escaping their sentence because of the culture they lived in. Both women are finally compelled to fight back against their male tormentors after years of suffering but make no attempt to contest their death sentences. Mariam, like Firdaus, refuses all visitors when she is in prison, and both characters are well-known among their fellow prisoners because of their crimes.

One major difference in the telling of these two stories is the perspective from which they are told. Firdaus is looking back on her life in the last few hours before her death, while Mariam is not. This difference in perspective contributes greatly to the tone of each novel. Firdaus seems to feel every emotion deeply and viscerally, and confides to Saadawi: “All my life I have been searching for something that would fill me with pride, make me feel superior to everyone else …” (Saadawi 13). Mariam generally comes across as a gentl character, while Firdaus is more willing to fight for what she wants. Firdaus and Mariam also kill for different reasons: Firdaus because her rage at all the men who have ever mistreated her has finally broken free, Mariam because she is protecting the lives of those she loves from her abusive husband.

From what Saadawi says in the preface of Woman at Point Zero, it was fairly common for women to be imprisoned and given harsh sentences for fighting back against the men who tormented them. Still, I wonder if A Thousand Splendid Suns was inspired at least in part by Saadawi’s novel.

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